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American Affairs: A New Print Journal, Born From The Web, That Provides A Forum For A Much Needed Public Policy Debate– The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Julius Krein, Editor, American Affairs…

June 26, 2017

“The surprising popularity is what lead us to conclude that we should do something more and move from an anonymous blog to a signed, fully out-there larger publication—with a print edition as well as an online presence—and try to build on the success of the online blog. Make the content a little more formal, a little more far reaching, and hopefully offer something unique intellectually.” Julius Krein…

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch story…

When a relatively unknown blog that began during the last presidential campaign begins to take off with viewers by providing a forum that takes exception to the more conventional partisan platforms, what could the powers-that-be at this new player in the political media game do next to top that surprising coup? Why, bring a print component into the game, of course.

Julius Krein is the editor of American Affairs, a quarterly journal of public policy and political thought. According to part of the magazine’s mission statement: We (American Affairs) seek to provide a forum for the discussion of new policies that are outside of the conventional dogmas, and a platform for new voices distinguished by originality, experience, and achievement rather than the compromised credentials of careerist institutions.

I spoke with Julius recently and we discussed this new policy journal called American Affairs. Along with being a (now) magazine editor, Julius is also an investment analyst and said that the differences between journalism and investment analysis aren’t as many as some might think. Uncovering facts and discovering unique and new views on the world is a must for either profession.

Photo by N.Y. Times

And with American Affairs, and Julius’s own background in finance, they’re hoping to bring many new voices and perspectives to the journal, giving the magazine a much-needed contrast from some of the other, more traditional political media outlets.

So, I hope that you enjoy this intellectually stimulating and informative discussion with a young man who has a definitive idea about what a journal on public policy should be, and it’s called American Affairs.

But first, the sound-bites:

On why he decided to publish American Affairs, with all the journal-type magazines already out there: The magazine basically arose as a response to the 2016 campaigns, the issues that came about during them, and the surprising results revealed to everyone. There had been a lot of issues that hadn’t really been addressed in conventional, elite political discourse. We wanted to do that.

On the public’s reaction to the magazine’s first issue: So far, the reaction has been very positive. There has been a lot of media attention, both from conservative media as well as from liberal media, including places like The New York Times, The Nation, etcetera. Most of it has been pretty positive and pretty open-minded. Inevitably, you get some very critical and hostile pieces as well, but that’s all part of the game.

On that moment of conception for the magazine: This journal really arose out of a blog that we did. It started in 2015 and then went on in early 2016 through the primary campaign, and this was just a little anonymous blog on a blogspot.com address, absolutely nothing fancy. We didn’t really think anyone would read it, but it ended up getting in the low hundreds of thousands of views per day.

On why in this digital age they decided on a print edition too: I can’t really explain why this is the case, but it seems like having a print edition does add a certain level of prestige, cachet, and seriousness to it. It also imposes a little bit of editorial discipline as well. With online, there’s really no limit to the content, but with print you have to lay it out; you have to decide which articles are going to go into the print edition.

On any stumbling blocks they’ve had to face since starting the magazine: Actually, in some ways the biggest stumbling block maybe, was the surprise of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, which we didn’t expect. That ended up being a bit of a challenge for us because some of the people that were involved in the blog ended up going into the administration, and therefore obviously wouldn’t be participating in the journal. It also created a weird situation where, you know, on the one hand it’s harder for people to see this project as independent from some of the day-to-day political events or the administration itself, even though it is independent. But at the same time, it’s created an opportunity in that I think it’s gotten a lot more attention than it would have otherwise.

On his being an investment analyst and whether that brings a different perspective to the role of magazine editor: A lot of people might be surprised, but much of investment analysis is very similar to journalism and sort of analysis anyway. It typically commands higher salaries, but fundamentally, all you’re doing is either trying to uncover facts or sort of develop a unique view on the world that is different from what everyone else has, but at the same time, hopefully, a more accurate description of reality and prediction of future events.

On whether he feels the mass audience is lost today between two extreme political points of view: That seems to be increasingly the case. I think it’s a very troubling phenomenon. In many ways, I would like to see this project as an attempt to counteract that. And as I said, we bring in interesting voices from both the right and the left, to actually try and have a dialogue and a substantive discussion, rather than the sort of increasingly vicious—and not particularly serious—Twitter wars or television sound bites. Increasingly, as you mentioned, there’s this sort of complete separation of the country, where people are just reading completely different things and have sort of two sets of “facts” and two viewpoints that never interact or overlap.

On what he hopes to have accomplished a year from now with American Affairs: I’d like to think that it will shed some light on the major issues in our economic and political life that we don’t’ really think about much, and that have been obscured by the conventional, ideological molds of “Big Government” or “Small Government” or “Internationalism” or whatever the opposite of that is. And show what’s happening in the finance industry, and in tech. And answer the questions, “How does our economy actually work?” and “How does that influence our politics in ways that the typical slogan doesn’t really capture?”

On anything he’d like to add: One thing I want to be able to do, and we’ve done a little bit of it so far, but one thing I’d like to be able to do is actually get people from the investment world, from the tech world—you know, professionals working in this industry—to write a little bit more. And, given my relationships from finance, I think I can.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I generally do enjoy reading these articles and editing them, so there’s a very fine line between work and leisure for me. Reading this stuff is what I would be doing anyway, so typically you’ll find me trying to read more articles, especially things that I haven’t read—maybe I didn’t have the time or incentive to read—before starting the magazine. I’m just trying to, again, find a larger group of writers, new people, new audience to include in the magazine.

On what keeps him up at night: Not to be too dramatic or sanctimonious or anything, but I am genuinely worried about the state of the country and what, to me, seems like the deeper fraying of the social and intellectual fabric that I’ve seen in my comparatively brief lifetime.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Julius Krein, editor, American Affairs magazine.

Samir Husni: In the midst of all the journals that are out there, why did you decide to publish American Affairs today, in this marketplace?

Julius Krein: The magazine basically arose as a response to the 2016 campaigns, the issues that came about during them, and the surprising results revealed to everyone. There had been a lot of issues that hadn’t really been addressed in conventional, elite political discourse. We wanted to do that.

Photo by N.Y. Times

The other opportunity of doing a new publication is that we didn’t bring any ideological—or other—baggage that inevitably arises from existing publications, and therefore we can bring together interesting voices, hopefully from the right and the left, to address these issues that perhaps both sides have ignored.

Samir Husni: What was the reaction to the launch of the first issue of American Affairs?

Julius Krein: So far, the reaction has been very positive. There has been a lot of media attention, both from conservative media as well as from liberal media, including places like The New York Times, The Nation, etcetera. Most of it has been pretty positive and pretty open minded. Inevitably, you get some very critical and hostile pieces as well, but that’s all part of the game. So far, it’s been okay. David Brooks wrote a column about it recently, other fairly prominent people have been reading it and talking about it. I’ve been very happy with the reaction so far and the reception and so forth.

Samir Husni: Can you go back with me to that moment of conception, when the idea hit you or hit the team, and you said, “You know, this is a completely different election year. We’ve never seen anything like this. Maybe we need a journal.” How did it actually happen?

Julius Krein: This journal really arose out of a blog that we did. It started in 2015 and then went on in early 2016 through the primary campaign, and this was just a little anonymous blog on a blogspot.com address, absolutely nothing fancy. We didn’t really think anyone would read it, but it ended up getting in the low hundreds of thousands of views per day. Everybody was talking about it; it became surprisingly popular. I think it was evidence of the fact that we had hit upon some things that other people weren’t talking about or maybe just approaching things from a new perspective, in a new way.

Anyway, the surprising popularity is what lead us to conclude that we should do something more and move from an anonymous blog to a signed, fully out-there larger publication—with a print edition as well as an online presence—and try to build on the success of the online blog. Make the content a little more formal, a little more far reaching, and hopefully offer something unique intellectually.

Samir Husni: Why did you decide to have the print edition? People say we live in a digital age, so why do we need print?

Julius Krein: I can’t really explain why this is the case, but it seems like having a print edition does add a certain level of prestige, cachet, and seriousness to it. It also imposes a little bit of editorial discipline as well. With online, there’s really no limit to the content, but with print you have to lay it out; you have to decide which articles are going to go into the print edition.

Those constraints, I think, add some level of rigor and discipline and, for some reason, still command a little more prestige in the wider public. That was basically why we decided to do it, and really in my experience adding the print edition really didn’t add any more work. It’s not particularly expensive, so it really wasn’t all that difficult. I think it was a good decision, and it probably gained us a little more attention than we probably would receive. And I’m glad to see that the print edition is now out there in stores across the country.

Samir Husni: After the blog and since the first issue came out, has it been a walk in a rose garden, or has there been some stumbling blocks that impacted the launch? And if so, how did you overcome them?

Julius Krein: Actually, in some ways the biggest stumbling block maybe, was the surprise of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, which we didn’t expect. That ended up being a bit of a challenge for us because some of the people that were involved in the blog ended up going into the administration, and therefore obviously wouldn’t be participating in the journal. It also created a weird situation where, you know, on the one hand it’s harder for people to see this project as independent from some of the day-to-day political events or the administration itself, even though it is independent. But at the same time, it’s created an opportunity in that I think it’s gotten a lot more attention than it would have otherwise.

I honestly have to say, since the actual launch in February… nothing’s ever quite the walk in a rose garden, but it’s been as close to that as I could really imagine. I think we’ve been very fortunate. So far, things have fallen into place really well, with a lot of new authors coming out of the woodwork. I think the media attention has taken care of itself, so we don’t have to worry about that too much. Really, it’s just trying to find good articles and make the magazine as good as possible, which of course is a problem we want to have.

Samir Husni: I see you wear two hats. You are the editor of the magazine, but you are also an investment analyst. Which one of the two do you enjoy more? Or, does the investment analyst bring a different view to editing a magazine than just a journalist editing a magazine might?

Julius Krein: A lot of people might be surprised, but much of investment analysis is very similar to journalism and sort of analysis anyway. It typically commands higher salaries, but fundamentally, all you’re doing is either trying to uncover facts or sort of develop a unique view on the world that is different from what everyone else has, but at the same time, hopefully, a more accurate description of reality and prediction of future events.

So, it’s not actually as different as you might think. I would say the one bigger difference is just the kind of people you end up meeting and talking to. Having moved over to work on the magazine, it has been a lot more travel than I’m used to, and—in a good way—a lot of meeting new people, scholars, academics, other people in the industry, and journalists. That’s been very interesting, but like I said, it’s actually not as different as you might think.

Samir Husni: As both an analyst and a journalist, what advice would you give the masses today that are bombarded by two extreme points of views. Whether you watch CNN or whether you watch Fox, whether you read this paper or that… Do you feel the mass audience is lost in the middle? That there’s no intersection between the two?

Julius Krein: That seems to be increasingly the case. I think it’s a very troubling phenomenon. In many ways, I would like to see this project as an attempt to counteract that. And as I said, we bring in interesting voices from both the right and the left, to actually try and have a dialogue and a substantive discussion, rather than the sort of increasingly vicious—and not particularly serious—Twitter wars or television sound bites. Increasingly, as you mentioned, there’s this sort of complete separation of the country, where people are just reading completely different things and have sort of two sets of “facts” and two viewpoints that never interact or overlap.

I don’t know that I have any advice; it seems to be that if you don’t have time to read everything, then you should almost not bother reading anything, because most of it, in my opinion, is pretty terrible, not true, and a waste of time. If you don’t have time to read and sift through everything, then it’s probably not good to sort of selectively just pick the things that you agree with. I’ve always felt that if I read something and agree with it one hundred percent, then I probably didn’t learn anything. I wish more people would take that view. But, this is just the climate we live in.

I don’t think there’s any real solutions to it. In a way, I think it’s one thing that makes us unique. It’s an advantage for us at American Affairs, and I hope that we can actually succeed in bringing more people from different sides and with different perspectives in dialogue around, maybe, some surprisingly common issues that have been overlooked and that certain people have an incentive to overlook.

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation a year from now, what would you hope to tell me that you have accomplished in this first year of the print version of American Affairs journal?

Julius Krein: It won’t be for me to judge what it actually accomplished, but what I hope it will accomplish is to have brought together, like I said, interesting voices—new voices—from both the right and left to really address the questions of, “What actually holds us together as a nation?” “What are the common themes of our politics that might actually move us forward toward more positive politics all around?”

And also, I’d like to think that it will shed some light on the major issues in our economic and political life that we don’t’ really think about much, and that have been obscured by the conventional, ideological molds of “Big Government” or “Small Government” or “Internationalism” or whatever the opposite of that is. And show what’s happening in the finance industry, and in tech. And answer the questions, “How does our economy actually work?” and “How does that influence our politics in ways that the typical slogan doesn’t really capture?”

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Julius Krein: One thing I want to be able to do, and we’ve done a little bit of it so far, but one thing I’d like to be able to do is actually get people from the investment world, from the tech world—you know, professionals working in this industry—to write a little bit more. And, given my relationships from finance, I think I can.

It seems to me that a lot of what’s written out there, and not that it’s bad, but it’s always written a lot by scholars, think tank people, who typically have not really done anything in the real world. I think that inevitably misses some things, and I’d like to think that maybe we could bring in some more voices from the actual business community to comment on their industries. I hope that will provide some unique perspectives as well.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a book; on your iPad; watching TV; or something else?

Julius Krein: I generally do enjoy reading these articles and editing them, so there’s a very fine line between work and leisure for me. Reading this stuff is what I would be doing anyway, so typically you’ll find me trying to read more articles, especially things that I haven’t read—maybe I didn’t have the time or incentive to read—before starting the magazine. I’m just trying to, again, find a larger group of writers, new people, new audience to include in the magazine.

In a good way, it’s taken up a lot more of my time editing this than I ever anticipated, but, as I said, it’s been a very positive experience so far and I have really enjoyed spending more time on these issues.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Julius Krein: Not to be too dramatic or sanctimonious or anything, but I am genuinely worried about the state of the country and what, to me, seems like the deeper fraying of the social and intellectual fabric that I’ve seen in my comparatively brief lifetime.

But, it just really worries me. These items every day, such as the recent shooting (GOP Baseball practice); I think we’re going through a potentially very frightening and troubling stage in our politics, and I really do worry about that. I hope we at American Affairs can offer something useful towards fixing it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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