I Want My MTV (To Cover Foreign Policy)

How new media are getting foreign affairs right.

By + More
FE_130509_rodman.jpg
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, left, speaks to the media at the airport in Pyongyang, before he leaves North Korea Friday, March 1, 2013. Rodman hung out with North Korea's Kim Jong Un during his improbable journey to Pyongyang, watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the leader and later drinking and dining on sushi with him.

Robert Nolan is an editor at the Foreign Policy Association and producer of Great Decisions in Foreign Policy on PBS. You can follow him on Twitter @robert_nolan.

It's no secret that major news outlets, particularly broadcast networks, have long been unwilling to pay for the international coverage that they falsely claim is "too expensive" – even as the world becomes more interconnected and earnings for big media companies skyrocket

But the shift away from global affairs, alongside trends in technology and media consumption habits, has opened up opportunities for new and innovative players in the field, particularly those aimed at younger audiences. Below are five places you might not expect to find compelling content about world events. But be forewarned, these emerging outlets bear little resemblance to your father's venerable collection of Foreign Affairs.

BuzzFeed

One of the web's fastest growing media companies known primarily for its top ten lists of cute animals and other user-driven pop-culture trivia is now moving into foreign affairs coverage. According to The New York Times, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith says the move is driven in part by the outlet's experience after the Boston bombings. Following the attack, Smith realized the draw of the site, which reports an estimated 16 million users a month, as a breaking news source, and is now building a team that will establish bureaus around the world.  

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Boston Marathon bombings.]

Smith and BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti could be on to something. Foreign Policy Magazine, which has long sought to bring foreign affairs to the masses, went "BuzzFeed for a Day," with lists like "9 Disturbingly Good Jihadi Raps," and "36 Moustaches that Explain Why There's No Peace in the Middle East." Venture capitalists have invested $46 million in the site, and as Andrew Rice writes in a glowing New York Magazine profile, "it's not because they adore kittens." Or even "14 Hairless Cats That Look Like Vladimir Putin," for that matter.

Vice

Vice is the media outlet old-school foreign policy hands love to hate. While I called their extremely misguided stunt sending basketball basketcase Dennis Rodman to North Korea "more Jackass than journalism," most of the reporting on their site provokes, humanizes and raises real questions about global issues largely ignored by the mainstream media. Recent offerings include mini-docs on the conflicts in Mali and Afghanistan, talking graffiti and Game of Thrones with Syrian rebels and a look ethnic cleansing in Burma. The group, founded as a magazine in Montreal by Suroosh Alvi, Shane Smith and Gavin McInnes in 1996, is also examining a wide range of cutting edge global issues in its new series on HBO.

globalpost

By far the most serious of the bunch, globalpost is the brainchild of Phil Balboni and Charles Sennot, who saw an opportunity for a for-profit news venture to plug "the enormous void that has grown up in coverage of the world by US news organizations," as they write in their mission statement. Staffed by more than 70 correspondents worldwide, the very existence of globalpost disproves the mantra that doing international news is prohibitively expensive. The group has taken home some of the top prizes in journalism, including a Peabody award, since its founding in 2009 and its reporters are on the front lines in hot spots worldwide.  Indeed, one reporter, James Foley, is currently being held by the government of Bashar Assad in Syria according to statements on the site.

[See a collection of political cartoons on North Korea.]

MTV

The music channel owned by Viacom is developing a political documentary series that will tackle some of the world's most pressing issues, exploring everything from the crisis in the Middle East to Afghanistan, India, Russia and Egypt, according to a recent job listing. The series will mark a return to global news coverage that began after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 featuring former correspondent Gideon Yago. It's not yet clear what shape the documentary series will take and who will be at the helm, but the series is reportedly already in production.

Wired

Though known primarily for its science and technology coverage, Wired made the leap into global affairs specifically with the launch of its Danger Room blog, named after the fictional training facility for the X-Men of Marvel Comics. Written primarily by Noah Shactman of the Brookings Institution and Spencer Ackerman (who recently announced he is moving to the Guardian) and driven by a heavy social media presence, the blog's tagline, "What's Next in National Security," seamlessly merges the worlds of defense, tech and policy for wonks of a certain age. Recent stories include a look at Israel's missile interceptors, China's new military hardware and U.S. Air Force sexual assault policy.

  • Read David Gompert: Naval Rivalry Brewing Between the U.S. and China
  • Read Michael Noonan: Military Must Avoid the Partisan Debate on Benghazi
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad