A New Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy's new Web site seamlessly blends academia and journalism

A month ago, Foreign Policy magazine debuted a new cast of bloggers at its Web site. It’s a pretty dramatic Web-forward manifestation of a publication that spent the first thirty years of its life as a quarterly academic journal. Not until 2000 did editor-in-chief Moises Naim re-launch the publication as a bi-monthly glossy with wider appeal; in 2006, the editors added the Passport blog to the magazine’s Web site.

As of January 5—exactly one month ago—they’ve added ten more blogs, a step that was planned since the Washington Post purchased the magazine from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in September. The new site brings together luminaries from the disparate worlds of academia and journalism—a service the print magazine has performed for a long time.

“There were two core ideas that I had at the beginning,” explains executive editor Susan Glasser of the redesign. “One was to add coverage of the people and institutions that make up foreign policy as well as the ideas.” Secondly, “We were very lucky in this sphere relative to other kinds of coverage areas, that there are so many wonderful writers and thinkers,” many of them already blogging on their own.

The Web site is now home to, among others, longtime professor-bloggers Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark) and Daniel Drezner; national security affairs reporter (and CJR contributor) Laura Rozen, formerly of Mother Jones; and a group blog called Shadow Government, staffed by several former Bush administration policy advisors.

Lynch thinks the new FP site might be part of a larger trend of Web publications bringing together formerly independent bloggers in one place. As writers and academics started joining sites like the Atlantic, the American Prospect, and Huffington Post, Lynch says, “I was starting to feel like an endangered species.” But he was also getting tired of doing Abu Aardvark on his own, so when he saw news of Daniel Drezner’s move to Foreign Policy in his Facebook status, he asked Drezner to get him in touch with Glasser. Lynch is pleased with his new URL, but does find it interesting that “there’s been this trend toward consolidation. There aren’t that many academic foreign policy bloggers who are still working independently.”

Glasser, too, notes that the new FP has been compared to the Atlantic, but hopes to showcase more original reporting than that site does. It was to that end that she recruited Rozen, as well as her former Post colleague Tom Ricks.

Ricks’s blog, “The Best Defense”, represents a kind of hybrid between arms-length analysis and ground-level beat reporting, as Rozen points out. Ricks covered military affairs for The Washington Post, wrote two books on Iraq (Fiasco and the forthcoming The Gamble), and is currently a senior fellow at a national security think tank.

And, though it’s relatively new to him, he loves blogging. “I never really felt comfortable with the newspaper medium,” he says. He admits that after twenty-five years in newspapers, he still has difficulty writing a lede. In late January, he experimented with an investigative report in blog format, a seven-part anatomy of a battle gone wrong in Wanat, Afghanistan. He linked to documents and used reader comments as “navigational guidance” for later posts in the series, out of his conviction that the “magisterial voice” of newspaper reports is part of “what really pisses people off about journalism.” Ricks doesn’t see blogging’s ascendance as a threat to enterprise stories; he maintains that blogging’s interactivity “actually makes for sharper journalism.”

Rozen, meanwhile, came on about a week before the official January 5 launch of the new Web site, which allowed her to cover the Presidential transition. Her blog, “The Cable,” has already established itself as a go-to site for diplomatic scoops and national security staffing developments in the new administration. Rozen was happy to have a built-in audience waiting for her when she made the move to FP:

There’s something very satisfying about being able to write for the audience that most cares about the issue I cover. You don’t have to do anything to make them want to read foreign policy news. You don’t have to make these issues sexy for this audience. You don’t have to do a lot of explaining and boilerplate.

Glasser promises more improvements to the site in the future. Meanwhile, Lynch is offering up preliminary analysis to Iraq’s Saturday provincial elections, while Ricks is taking some time to digest before he writes anything. “Why wait?” he wrote on the blog. “Because, unlike my former colleagues in the newspaper racket, I can.”

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Kathy Gilsinan is the associate editor at World Politics Review