Borderstan People: Jay Newton-Small, Time Foreign Affairs Reporter

by September 27, 2012 at 10:00 am 5,045 0


Jay Newton-Small. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Alden Leonard. Contact him at alden[AT] and follow him @aldenleonard on Twitter.

The streets of Borderstan are rich with journalistic talent. Previous Borderstan People profiles include Julie Mason of Sirius-XM radio fame (Politico and newspapers prior to that), Harry Jaffe of the Washington Examiner and Washingtonian, Sommer Mathis of The Atlantic Cities (and former editor) and Mike DeBonis with the Washington Post (by way of the Washington City Paper).

Today’s interview is with Jay Newton-Small, currently a foreign affairs reporter for Time magazine and a resident of the Dupont-Logan area. She has also covered general politics as well as the White House and the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns.

Borderstan: We are interested in your residence history, especially as it shapes your view of Borderstan. Tell us a bit about where you were born, and where you grew up. Where was the most memorable, or the most challenging, or enjoyable? How does Borderstan compare? What do you miss about the latter, and what do you love (or hate — be honest!) about the former?

Newton-Small: My parents were both United Nations professionals. My mother was Chinese-Malay and an international lawyer working mostly for the UN Conference on Trade and Development out of Geneva. My father’s Australian and spent most of his career crunching budgets for the UN Development Programme.

They met in Zambia, married in Malawi and had me in New York. We lived all over — spending time in 10 countries across five continents. What was my favorite place is a common question. Bumping around that much is hard for a kid: you just are getting to know a language and culture and make some friends when it’s already time to go. But in retrospect, I realize I’m lucky to have had these life experiences.

The better question would be: What was my favorite time and place? The world, especially the developing one, changes so quickly. Everything you once knew can be replaced in a matter of months. My favorite time and place was Malaysia when I was 17. That Kuala Lumpur lives as a bubble in my heart. All my friends have since scattered and virtually nothing remains of our favorite haunts — indeed the entire city center has since been moved. For lack of being able to revisit it physically, I rely on photos, certain recipes (smell is a powerful reminder!) and reminiscing with friends. So, that’s my very long answer to your simple question! Can you tell I’m a magazine writer?

Borderstan: Living abroad with Foreign Service parents, I can understand how you came to your current profession, and to DC. But what brought you to Borderstan in particular, and what kept you here?

Newton-Small:  This is the first home I’ve ever owned and, really, the first time I ever lived alone. I travel so much that it doesn’t really feel like I live here full time — or it hasn’t until recently. It took me seven years to finally unpack the last of my boxes and paint the house! Nesting is a process, but I’m getting there in fits and starts. I love Borderstan because a) my office is a 10 minute walk and b) every time I come home there’s five new places on 14th Street to discover. It has the perfect mix of static and motion.

Borderstan: Being a Congressional correspondent, one might assume you would have chosen to live on Capitol Hill — any particular reason  you didn’t?

Newton-Small: Since January I’ve covered foreign affairs for Time and before that I covered politics in general. A lot of that was the Hill but it was also campaigns — I covered the Kerry and Obama campaigns in 2004 and 2008 — and the White House. So, I bounced all over from the Hill to the White House to Iowa and New Hampshire. These days it’s the State Department. I just got back from a trip to Iran. In that sense, Borderstan is very centrally located between everything!

Borderstan: While we know you are incredibly busy, what are some of your favorite Borderstan spots for drinks, coffee, dinner, to get a good book or have a meeting?

Newton-Small: We moved offices a couple of years ago but we used to be located just above Tosca on G between 11th and 12th. I got to know the chef — Massimo Fabbri — pretty well. So when Massimo opened Posto on 14th, I immediately became a barfly. I meet a lot of sources there and half the time bump into colleagues from the New York Times or Politico. Seems like it’s a popular destination for political journos.

Borderstan: In your years here, what are a few of your favorite ‘only in DC’ experiences?

Newton-Small: I lived in NYC before moving to DC and all my New York friends can never understand why I’m not dying to go back. New York was full of lawyers and bankers all trying to make enough money to go off and follow their real dreams — becoming artists, musicians, actors, journalists, etc. DC is full of people pursuing their dreams. You may not agree with their goals or, often, their methods. But whether they’re environmental bleeding hearts, Wall Street lobbyists or World Bank economists, you can’t say they’re not interesting and passionate to engage. That’s what I love about DC.

Borderstan: Anything else you would like to share with the readers of Borderstan about your life or work?

Newton-Small: As someone who grew up without really knowing where “home” was, I like that my block is so close. We had a block yard sale this summer — unfortunately on the hottest day of the year — and we have wonderful leaders who’ve pushed the city to be better about policing the neighborhood and tending to the trees and streets. I’ve learned a lot about community from them and I feel lucky to be blessed with such civic-minded and engaged neighbors. I’ve covered government at its highest levels but seeing the grassroots from the ground up has been a powerful lesson on how much one person — or a block of people — can change things.

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