It has been a little more than five years since I started writing at this site, and what began as a personal blog has developed in ways I didn’t foresee. I was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations when I began blogging as a hobby and an experiment, and neither I nor The American Interest staff had any idea how things would work out. Somewhat to our surprise, my quest to figure out what I wanted to do on the Internet would mesh with The American Interest’s quest to understand how the dynamics (and the economics!) of the Internet would affect such a staid and well established form as a journal of opinion.
From the nineteenth century forward, journals of opinion have played a distinguished role in politics and the arts. What publications like the Edinburgh Review (re-founded in 1802) and the North American Review (founded in 1805) did in the 19th century, publications like The Public Interest did in the 20th. The American Interest was founded in this tradition, and we remain committed to the ideal of serious public debate about important political and cultural matters that this journalistic tradition has celebrated and done much to advance.
The tradition has never been static. The North American Review, for example, dabbled in fiction and published The Ambassadors in serial installments. (Much as I love Henry James, it is hard to imagine that crowds stood outside the publisher’s door, eager to snatch the next episode while the ink was still wet.) The august quarterly reviews were challenged by monthly magazines (like the Atlantic and Harpers) and weekly and biweekly magazines ranging from the New Yorker to the New Republic to the Nation, the National Review, and the Weekly Standard joined the fray.
In the 21st century, this venerable genre of publication is undergoing considerable change. The arrival of the Internet has challenged the old divisions between quarterlies and bimonthlies on the one hand and the weeklies on the other. Readers are moving massively away from print, and advertising revenues (rarely robust for serious magazines, but always helpful) have fallen as the nature of the business has changed. Newsmagazines like Time and Newsweek have largely migrated to the web, aggregators like RealClearPolitics and Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit have created a new kind of instant publication, and the competition for the attention of serious readers has never been greater. At the same time, the global reach of the Internet has vastly expanded the universe of readers, and publications today need to be edited with the needs of international readers kept in mind.
Every serious publication is working to remain both useful and solvent, and many interesting approaches have been tried. No doubt many more will appear; the genre remains unstable and the economics are still in flux. At The American Interest, as much by luck as by design, we’ve found an approach that combines the longer form commentary and essays found in traditional print journals of opinion with short posts and day to day commentaries that engage readers looking for insight into breaking news.
My original blog on this site, which we called Via Meadia, was our first experiment in this kind of publishing. My goal was to identify a manageable number of major story lines and trends, both domestic and international, that illuminated the most important developments of our times, and to cover these by a combination of essays and short updates. Readers liked the format, and, as the traffic exploded and I was being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work involved, we decided to take the experiment a little farther. About three years ago, the editors of The American Interest and I began to work with younger writers to orient them to the big stories the publication wanted to follow and to prepare daily posts in a “house voice” that would provide updates on the big stories with a regularity and depth that I could not do on my own. We hoped that this approach would give Via Meadia the kind of immediacy that works well on the Internet while integrating those daily pieces with a background of more reflective essays and commentary.
The expanded Via Meadia attracted more readers than the original version did, and although most readers understood that I couldn’t possibly be churning out all the material on the site by myself, thanks to a lot of hard work by the writers and editors the site kept the sense of being the product of a coherent and personal vision even as its reach grew.
Meanwhile, we began to look at ways of integrating the print journal with the web content. Under the editorial leadership of Adam Garfinkle, and with the input of an active editorial board chaired by Francis Fukuyama, the print edition of The American Interest has established itself as a distinctive presence on the political and intellectual scene, and over the years many of the most interesting and well known thinkers and writers from around the world have contributed to the magazine. As Adam and I worked more closely with the whole editorial team, we increasingly came to believe that we could collaborate more closely on a web and print mix that could bring the talents and the voices of The American Interest print writers into a conversation with the themes and concerns that Via Meadia had been exploring online.
Over the last year we’ve gradually worked to make the vision of a new kind of web journal real, and our online publisher Damir Marusic has built a new platform for the journal as we now conceive it. The American Interest Online is still very much a work in progress, and no doubt further changes will be coming down the pike. But beginning today attentive readers will notice some changes on the site—besides the introduction of a porous paywall. (Even journals of opinion have bills to pay, so we hope that many of you will choose to subscribe and support our work.) We’ve made these changes with the hope that they will make the site both more useful and more interesting to readers; your comments are as always welcome and in addition to commenting below this post you can contact the editors directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) You will notice that Via Meadia, which was temporarily rebranded as The Feed while we worked on unifying our internal workflow, is now explicitly back. It remains anchored to the homepage of the site, just like The Feed was, so there is no need to adjust your bookmarks.
Via Meadia’s purpose is to provide readers with the essential information and insight they need to follow what, in our judgment, are the most important stories of our time, especially those that in our view are being neglected or poorly covered by the mainstream media. The goal isn’t to duplicate the coverage found in daily newspapers or elsewhere on the web, but to add value to important news by giving the context and perspective that makes the news make sense.
I, in consultation with Adam Garfinkle and the editorial board of The American Interest, am responsible for directing and guiding this part of the site, and the topics that Via Meadia covers and the general editorial approach to them reflect that. I work closely with the editorial team and our writing staff to ensure that VM stays focused on the big stories and all of us work toward the goal of having every post add value to the news. Some VM pieces are written by me, either alone or with research assistance from the staff. Those pieces carry my explicit byline (such as this post) or in the case of shorter posts my initials are appended to the end of the post. We will be adding the initials or co-bylines of the staff who made a material contribution to a post when it is appropriate.
The majority of VM pieces, which are written to the house editorial voice, will carry no byline whatsoever. Our internal guideline is that if they reasonably could have been written by any staffer attending our regular editorial meetings, they remain unbylined. Posts that involve more research and initiative by the writer, however, will be credited with initials at the end of the post. We are still striving to put out a unified, coherent publication with a consistent voice, and not a group blog. Nevertheless, Via Meadia is a group effort. We hope that over time you will become acquainted with our talented team of young writers.
2) The Features and Reviews sections contain staff and commissioned pieces that Adam Garfinkle, the editorial team and I select to extend the debate and discussion of the important issues of our time beyond Via Meadia’s scope of coverage. In this section of the site we host a broader conversation, inviting interesting thinkers and practitioners to share their observations about the issues that engage The American Interest Online. As in a traditional journal of opinion, the editors will present readers with different points of view and different angles of approach. We hope to combine the depth of the best of traditional journals of opinion with the timeliness and focus that the Internet makes possible today. We are looking to create a space for both established and new voices to bring their perspectives to bear on the 21st century debate. If you want to submit a proposal, drop us a line at email@example.com.
3) Earlier this year, we started work on a weekly podcast, with my talented colleague Richard Aldous of Bard as host. We have been inviting our Features writers, board members and editors to talk about what is on their minds each and every week. Unfortunately, with the old website design, the AI Podcast would quickly get lost in the flow of the fast-moving Feed. We have now broken it out and made it sticky on the homepage. The podcast archive can be found here in case you want to catch up with what we have already done. But we encourage you to give the Podcast a listen and hope you make it a part of your regular information diet.
4) Finally, we still have landing pages for our more regular contributors which you can bookmark in case you want to follow them alone. My writing can be found here, Frank Fukuyama’s thoughts on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law can be found here, Adam Garfinkle’s Middle East & Beyond can be found here, Peter Berger on Religion & Other Curiosities can be found here, Lilia Shevtsova’s Russia Diary is here and Andrew Michta on Europe & Security is here. If you are a regular reader and have had these writers bookmarked earlier, you don’t have to do anything—your bookmarks will redirect automatically.
We have further ideas as to where we might take the site in the coming weeks, months and years, but we also want to hear from you, our readers. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a challenging time to be publishing online, but it is also an exciting time. We all feel like we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. We hope you will stay with us as we continue to improve and refine this experiment.