Final Project: Development Plan

June 10, 2009

While I liked keeping track of news and putting it in context, my plan is to completely overhaul my blog and have a different format. Ultimately, having posts that just goes over the news (and not all the news that I would have like to cover) doesn’t give people anything they can’t get by just going and reading the news straight from the source. After all, the audience I’m going for is the kind that eagerly spends a lot of time looking at news sites. So I have to give them content that gives them something above and beyond just a news recap.

Step one of my site is the front page. The centerpiece, above the scroll, will be an interactive map done in flash. This consists of a map centered on Central Asia – users can click on the key countries to get a general overview of why it’s important and what’s going on right now (so this may involve periodically updating the blurb). For each country, there is a link button to recent stories relating to that country. Right now it links to story on my current blog, but I may have it just link to a google news feed.

See what the map looks like now.

Next to the map will be a simple link aggregation (my own headline serving as a short explanation) of the most important foreign policy stories of the day. These will be organized into different categories that may rise and fall in significance (right now, North Korea might be at the top). This aggregation will require me to curate the content – looking at multiple stories about the same subject and choosing the best one. My approach will be to find what I consider to be a few key stories – so there will only be a few sparse links – not an overload like you see on RealClearPolitics.

Then the blog itself (located on the /blog subpage) will involve opinionated commentaries from users. During my presentation, Ian gave the great idea of having a point-counterpoint format. Here’s what I do – I propose an online debate about a specific topic – and there are a million in foreign policy (let’s say, did Obama alienate Israel with his speech in Egypt last week?). I think of a question that could spur debate, then I go and seek out two people that have opposite viewpoints and get them to answer my question.

I will have less regular postings (maybe once a week), but ones that are still timely and have the potential of drawing a lot of interest. The plan is to have my question with a little background to introduce a post, combined with some juicy links, then present both of my commentators and their responses next to each other, and link back to their sites. My goal for a successful site is audience participation, so my intent is to have the question and point-counterpoint spur a debate in the comment thread.

The latest debate post from the blog will go on the front page below the interactive map the aggregation.

Social networking ties in for two different purposes. I will use twitter and Facebook groups to find people passionate about international news and U.S. foreign policy. And I will use the contacts I find to both to ask people to write a response to a question and get people to come to my site to join in the debate. I can also use social bookmarking to find people who are bookmarking articles that indicate an interest in foreign policy, though groups in bookmarking aren’t as well developed as on Facebook.

People would come to my site because they want to participate in the debate. I see debate going on all the time in comment threads in response to articles. My audience loves to express their opinion and I will provide a structured space for them to do so.

Final Project: Community Profile

June 10, 2009

WHO

The audience for my site consists of people who will both stay knowledgeable on world news and spend spare time reading partisan commentary. The audience is people who feel strongly about politics, have an opinion and have strong reactions when they read opinions they both agree with and disagree with. The focus of the site is U.S. foreign policy, so I am looking to bring people in that are passionate about politics in general, but narrow the discussion.

The rise of the blogosphere has coincided with the post-9/11 era – while people are spending more time communicating in online communities, Americans have also taken more of an interest in foreign policy.

A 2004 Pew Research Center study, “News Audiences Increasingly Politicized,” found that as of 2004, as many Americans followed international news as national and local. 52 percent said they followed international news in 2004, compared with 37 percent in 2002. This increase had a lot to do with the Iraq war. 24 percent said in 2004 that they followed international news “very closely.”

The study says that while interest in international news has increased, there is an education gap in interest:

But this core audience for news on international affairs continues to be dominated by well-educated males. In 2000, about twice as many college graduates as people with a high school education said they paid very close attention to news on international affairs; that remains the case in the current survey.

While the surge in general interest in foreign policy has dropped off since the period following the Iraq war, a dedicated audience remains. According to the 2008 Pew Research Center study, “Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources,” 16 percent of Americans said in 2008 that they follow international affairs “very closely.”

If we extrapolate this percentage across the U.S., about 48 million Americans could be in my potential audience.

The 2008 Pew study breaks news consumers down into four categories: Integrators, Net-Newsers, Traditionalists and the Disengaged. This audience segmentation is a good way to get some demographic data on the type of news consumer I’m targeting. I see Integrators and Net-Newsers as the groups I am targeting.

Integrators (23 percent of the public), spend the most time looking at news per day, they use several types of media, primarily TV. Though they aren’t online-only consumers like the younger Net-Newsers, they are educated, affluent and highly connected. 45 percent go online at work and 24 percent have smartphones. They are the most interested in politics. Most are in the 35-64 age group.

Net-Newsers (13 percent of the public), frequently get news online and consider the internet their main news source. They are also highly educated and affluent. They tend to be younger, most are in the 25-49 age group, and 46 percent are connected to social networking sites. This group is also mostly male (58 percent). Net-Newsers more frequently read political blogs than watch network news.

Most importantly, more Net-Newsers and Integrators follow international news “very closely” (24 and 23 percent, respectively) than Traditionalists (16 percent), an older group who doesn’t get much news online, and is more concerned with weather and local news. What this survey data tells us? Most of the people most interested in foreign policy are online news consumers and political blog readers.

WHAT

Primary topics of the moment – the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iran and its nuclear program, North Korea and its nuclear program, U.S. relations with Cuba.

The Washington Post is looked at as the main source of media for federal government policy. Daily news for the foreign policy junkie originating from major newspapers comes from the Washington Post and The New York Times – though many access newspaper content on the Internet.

But other online sources have increased their viewership in the last few years. Politico is a successful model. According to the New Republic, Politico had 4.6 million unique readers in September, one third the size of the Post’s online readership. In October, Nielsen ranked it the ninth-most-viewed newspaper site in the country.

I mention CNN because television news consumers interested in foreign policy will watch either CNN, MSNBC or Fox News – this is where most people go for international level on TV.

Some government policy news sources designed for the niche consumer have robust group followings on Facebook. Foreignpolicydigest.org is one of these (594 followers) – it features original content created by experts around the world who give overviews of varied issues. In its mission statement, it says that major news outlets are cutting back on international coverage and only focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan.

This indicates that there are people concerned with international news that covers nations that often get overlooked. I found this in interviews of two audience members. Both were very interested in the situation in Sri Lanka, which got very little coverage from American media, and spent a lot of time on sites like BBC News, France 24 and Al-jazeera. So I have an audience segment that wants to get a perspective on U.S. foreign policy outside of American media.

The seriously political and opinionated audience I’m trying to reach is looking not just for news that tells them what’s going on with U.S. relations and international news, but also for criticism and commentary of U.S. policy.

HOW

This community is based on intense feelings stirred up by political opinions on international events and the U.S.’s actions with the rest of the world. Therefore, the main forms of communication are self-affirmation and agreement, where people on the same page repeat each others views, and debate, where they disagree but rarely hear each other out.

Message boards are a place for this to take place. Yet Another Politics Board is one of the most active political boards on yuku – 1321 members and 974 posts in the last 24 hours. Most of the links I found in the threads that dealt with foreign policy were to articles in the Washington Post.

There are plenty of Facebook groups where people can join to express their opinion (Students Against the War, etc.) – though many on here may just be joining a group because they agree with the position and may not be interested in an in-depth level. So, while they may be there, I should be a little wary about finding audience members in groups like this.

Maybe the biggest way for my audience to talk to each other online is in the comment threads of sites like Politico. They can get to know each other (or at least on the level of recognizing a user name) and a have an ongoing dialogue over several articles.

Offline, a big place for these people to get together is protest groups and rallies. These are cathartic experiences when all are unified in opinion. I spoke with several groups around Chicago campaigning against the Iraq war (I had a hard time finding pro-war groups) – they have regular meetings where they share ideas and try to think about how they can influence U.S. policymakers.

Beyond organized groups, there are also protests that will be started by members of groups but could be joined in by all kinds of passionate people. A few months ago there was a large pro-Israel rally at Federal Plaza – the plaza was packed all the way to the sidewalks despite the cold.

Final Project: Overview

June 2, 2009

Tagline: “Your picture of America’s changing place in the world.”

Goal:

Here is my original mission statement that I created at the beginning of the class: “This site is here to follow the developments of the new president’s diplomacy with the Middle East, the European Union, Russia, and China. It will take note in changes from years past and gauge public reaction to new policy.”

I have focused on the areas that I originally laid out, except for relations with Europe. Really, most of my attention has been on Iran (and its relations with Israel) and Pakistan/Afghanistan because that’s where most of the news is coming out. I have read some interesting things about U.S. relations with Russia and China, but these consist more of big picture ideas and less of breaking news.

I have noted at points how policy is changing, but I need a better way for people to easily see the big picture of where America was under Bush and where it is now under Obama.

So I have come up with an exciting 2.0 version of what my site will be. I’m not satisfied with just a blog in which each post is a summary of a news item. My goal is to have a site that people can come to access relevant foreign policy news, and then read and react to less frequent, better thought out, essay style arguments that would be my blog posts. It would also be easy to click on an overview page for each country and get background info. Another goal is to write provocative ideas in my essays and get long, opinionated comment threads going.

Community:

My audience falls under the news junkie demographic – the people that seek out specific news they want to read, on a daily basis. Beyond prominent stories like North Korea launching a nuke, world news isn’t top of mind for the casual news consumer.

Another big element is the politically partisan. These people aren’t necessarily the best informed, but they really care about foreign policy. They want to see their opinions reinforced and they want to react against something they passionately disagree with. My challenge is to get the “unpatriotic” peaceniks and the “fascist” war hawks together in the same discussion. This will require stirring up some controversy.

More on the Community

Plan:

• A main page that has a drudge-style headline aggregation of relevant stories (that I would carefully pick and choose). I suppose this could be updated throughout the day.
• Then I would have pages for each of the most important countries – Israel, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China.
• Blog posts that aren’t necessarily daily, but periodical recaps of what’s going on, some of them with essay style arguments.
• On the editorial side, some controversial commentary that spurs debate.
• Use social networking tools and get involved in pre-existing message boards to connect with people passionate about foreign policy and politics.

Detailed Development Plan

How-To Video

May 27, 2009

ScreenCast by Jeff

This video shows you how to use the Related Posts Plugin, an easy way to get more links onto your blog.

Russian relations improving?

April 15, 2009

Next to talk of Iran, Cuba, and Somalian pirates, Russia seems far away. But the U.S.’s former sworn enemy is a key player in international relations, and the new administration has to decide how closely it wants to work with Moscow. A foreign policy report by Stefan Wagstyl of the Financial Times examines the state of Russo-American relations.

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on reducing stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and Obama is no longer pushing the Bush administration’s plan for a missile defense shield that would have surrounded Russia. This plan typified the icy relations between Russia and the U.S. under Bush.

But both sides have fundamental disagreements about Russia’s place in the world. Read the rest of this entry »

U.S. to drop precondition for Iran nuclear talks

April 14, 2009

The U.S. and E.U. will no longer require Iran to stop uranium enrichment before diplomatic talks can begin, the Guardian reports. This marks a dramatic departure from the Bush administration, which wouldn’t meet with Iran unless it agreed to stop uranium enrichment.
Read the rest of this entry »

Obama urges global cooperation

April 14, 2009

In the wake of his diplomatic tour in Europe, President Obama called for nations around the world to work together, the Associated Press reports. Obama spoke with the same rhetoric he has used to build political bridges domestically. He quietly referred to a diplomatic atmosphere of “mistrust” that came about during the Bush years.
Read the rest of this entry »

Iran not a threat to U.S., says analyst

April 10, 2009

A political scientist concluded that Iran poses no threat to the U.S. mainland, United Press International reports. The analysis said the U.S. can solve its problems with Iran through the soft power of diplomacy. It recommends patient thought in favor of a show of military power.

Thursday marked Iran’s Nuclear Day, the two-year anniversary of the nation’s first enrichment of uranium, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showcased Iran’s expansion of nuclear technology. Ahmadinejad announced that the number of centrifuges for enrichment was up to 7,000 from 6,000 in February.
Read the rest of this entry »

U.S., Iran to meet over nuclear weapons

April 9, 2009

The U.S. State Department announced Wednesday night that it will attend U.N. Security Council discussions with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, according to the Associated Press. No specific date for these talks has been set.

This marks a change in protocol from the Bush administration, which attended only one such U.N. meeting with Iran. During his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush declared Iran to be an enemy, part of an “Axis of Evil” along with Iraq and North Korea. In early 2007 Bush defended a Pentagon program to take out Iranian operatives in Iraq.

During the last few years of his administration, there was speculation that the U.S. would invade Iran. Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was willing to meet with the Obama administration if its intentions to end hostility were honest, according to Iranian government television.

Iran became a key U.S. ally following a 1953 coup engineered by Britain and the U.S. that ousted Iran’s democratic government. The present Islamic government came to power in the revolution of 1979. Americans at the U.S. embassy in Tehran were taken hostage, marking the beginning of bad relations.

Follow the BBC’s timeline of U.S.-Iranian relations through November 2008.

Obama makes surprise visit to Iraq

April 7, 2009

Following his visits to Europe and Turkey, President Obama made an unannounced stop in Iraq.

During the last few years of the Bush administration, officials said that the U.S. could not withdraw from Iraq until the Iraqi government was strong enough to run the country on its own.

Obama, continuing the same dialogue, said that now is the time for Iraq to take responsibility for itself. He thanked a crowd of troops for giving Iraq the opportunity to be a democratic nation.

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