SA: I try to see what’s behind a certain story, or see if I can really get into its guts. That’s something that often a marquee publication won’t always allow a reporter on what can often be a niche beat to really get into. Here, I’ve written stories about the continuation about the provincial reconstruction team program in Iraq. Some publications, and I’ve worked for some, don’t always allow you—for good reasons of considering what their more general audience expects—to do something like a really deep in the weeds piece or post about a particular program.
And at the Independent, we recognize we’re not a newspaper and we’re not a news network, and we’re not an aggregator—we’re not going to be all things to all people. We’re not going to be a news organization that provides you with everything you need to know during the day. What we are going to be is a news organization that provides you with extremely deep, detailed, innovative coverage on select beats, that we think an audience wants to know more about, and particularly wants to know more about in an online fashion. And I think there’s something that was missing before we came along, in terms of really, really deep coverage on these particular topics that have proven to have a resonance and a readership, in particular online.
GM: So if you’re filling a need that hadn’t been filled before, who do you see as your primary competition, either other publications or other reporters on your beat? Who do you measure yourself against?
SA: Who do I shake my fist and say, ‘Oh man, I wish I had that?’ Julian Barnes at the LA Times is doing fantastic work, in terms of covering the military, in terms of covering the Gates Pentagon, in terms of covering its changes. I just gain a tremendous amount every time I read his stuff. He went to Afghanistan recently with Gates, interviewed McChrystal. There are some people who will just take the newsmaker interview and sort of leave it there; he injected a tremendous amount of skepticism, a tremendous amount of context, and his stuff’s great. Yochi Dreazen at the Wall Street Journal does the same thing.
I don’t think you can call yourself a national security reporter unless you’re obsessively refreshing Small Wars Journal. What I love about Small Wars Journal is that I basically get what sources of mine are thinking in real time—I get great ideas for stories. Similarly, you’ve got to read Danger Room at Wired. One of the greatest things Noah Shachtman has done is, for an extremely tech-interested audience, write again and again and again about the limits of technology and warfare and national security. And he does things like run Awesomely Bad Military Patches, which is a wonderful feature. He doesn’t lose his sense of joie de vivre when covering a subject that’s basically about killing people, as much as we can sometimes get around that. DoDBuzz, the guys who contribute to that on military.com. For intelligence, Jeff Stein at CQ, Mark Mazetti at the Times, Dana Priest and Walter Pincus at The Washington Post, anything that Barton Gellman writes. And at ProPublica, anything that Dafna Linzner writes. I apologize to everyone I’ve missed, because I read your stuff voraciously.
For the second part of this interview, click here.