THE COSMOPOLITAN GLOBALISTS
We answer our readers questions about the theory and practice of CG.
🎁 Announcement: We have five free subscriptions to give away thanks to the generosity of one of our favorite readers, Michael Greenspan. If you’d like to subscribe to CG but you’re strapped for cash, send us an email. We know we have readers in parts of the world where the local economy is collapsing and the price of a subscription would be more than a typical student, say, could afford. If this describes you, Mr. Greenspan did you a solid.
🏫 Another one of our favorite readers, Paul Janos, sent us what we thought a cunning suggestion. He reminded us that lots of high schools have activities like the Junior World of Affairs Councils or the Model United Nations, and suggested we send free subscriptions to as many classrooms as we could find: “I predict that, over a few short years, a small subset of these budding Cosmopolites will be subscribers. It’s the Apple approach to putting computers in schools—only better!”
Such a good idea! If your kids are in high school, send us an email address to which to send complimentary subscriptions for their classrooms. Otherwise, we’ll just cold-call high schools throughout America. Nothing creepy about that.
In recent weeks we’ve acquired a good number of new readers. Welcome, new readers! We thought our new readers might appreciate an introduction to the CG scene. (We’ll be sending out Global Eyes later today, as usual.)
🙋The Cosmopolitan Globalist: A FAQ
Q. Who are the Cosmopolitan Globalists?
A. Claire’s friends, basically. From around the world. And Vivek’s, too. We’re a group of mostly writers and journalists, but also also academics, think tankers, Marine combat veterans, diplomats, mathematicians, geologists, and lots of other things. If you’re our friend, you’re a Cosmopolitan Globalist.
Q. Who are Claire and Vivek?
A. We’re journalists who met in 1995 in Bangkok, back when we both worked for the original print version of Asia Times. Claire’s now based in Paris, and Vivek is in Mumbai. They founded the Cosmopolitan Globalist because the way global news is covered by the legacy media drives them both insane.
Q. Where can I learn more about Claire and Vivek?
Q. What’s wrong with the way the foreign news is covered?
A. The first problem is that it isn’t covered at all. Coverage of foreign news has all but disappeared since the end of the Cold War. In the US print media, there’s been an 80 percent drop in the column space devoted to foreign events.
Q. What happened?
A. Newspapers, magazines, and networks have all reduced or eliminated their overseas correspondents. Between 1998 and 2012, eighteen American newspapers and two chains closed every last one of their foreign bureaus. Television networks slashed the time they devoted to foreign news. Foreign news made up about 40 percent of the broadcast news hole in 1980. Now, it’s less than four percent.
Q. But why would newspapers stop publishing foreign news?
A. Because the business model that sustained journalism for nearly two centuries was destroyed by the Internet.
Since the end of the Cold War, newspaper after newspaper has failed. The ones that survived have been scooped up by vultures like Alden Global Capital, or by billionaires who think owning a venerable old newspaper could be fun, or useful for lobbying. They buy up the empty husks and completely restructure them. That’s why you hate the media.
Thousands of news organizations—print and broadcast—have vanished. Since 2005, more than 2,000 local print newspapers in the US have folded. The numbers are similar elsewhere. There are only half as many newspaper journalists working now as there were fifteen years ago. And the surviving papers sharply cut foreign news coverage. Foreign news is one of the more expensive sections of the newspaper to produce, so it’s always the first to get the axe.
Q. But why did technological change destroy the business model?
A. Foreign journalism was cross-subsidized by the sports page, the gossip column, and the comics. Ads in the newspaper—especially classified ads—paid for written journalism, and written journalism supplied the bulk of original reporting to the English-language market.
But advertising migrated online, especially to Google Search. And the switch to online consumption completely changed the way people find and absorb the news. They no longer look at a newspaper—an inseparable bundle of politics, business, entertainment, and sports. They see individual stories, chosen by an algorithm. The shift of distribution and advertising revenues to Google and Facebook destroyed journalism. You’ve all seen what’s left. To boost online advertising revenue, publishers have been reduced to pushing endless culture war chum to generate clicks and hits. Opinion has replaced reporting.
Only a handful of professional journalists have survived, often by turning themselves into minor media celebrities who write endless variants on the same culture-war column. Pretty soon, though, even they’ll be gone, because within a few years we’ll be able to replace Glenn Greenwald and Mollie Hemingway with AI. The AI coming down the pike is so sophisticated that in a few years the Bari Weiss Algorithm will be genuinely indistinguishable from the OG. I just generated the samples below with Inferkit:
First of two parts
(This is part one of a two-part series; part two will appear Monday)
Pamela Thosidol had only met her friend only …
The political thing about this is that they find the identity politics and discussion of oppressive situations to be so abhorrent, so wrong, so ridiculous. The Right has long accused universities of embracing political correctness and/or having an agenda (and, ahem, it’s not hard to see how that could be true); now the Left claims they’re on the side of sexual assault victims ….
Once upon a time, during the Cold War, having a staff of foreign reporters was the mark of a local newspaper’s seriousness and prestige. But all of those jobs are gone. There are only about four newspapers left in all of the US who have any foreign correspondents on their staff at all. The rest run wire-service stories—and that’s why they all sound exactly alike.
Another development is that editors and publishers now know exactly which stories readers look at and for how long. To justify their existence to their shareholders, they have to focus on the sections that get the eyeballs. So the first thing you see if you look at any newspaper online now is “Cooking,” not “World News.”
This is true everywhere, not just the US. But the US used to fund reporting around the world and drive the global news agenda. When the US dropped out of the picture, there just wasn’t enough left to pick up the slack. You can read more about this here.
Q. But isn’t it good that the US is no longer writing the whole world’s news? Doesn’t that allow local journalists who know their countries much better to pick up the slack?
A. Sometimes. But local journalists everywhere are facing the same pressures, so mostly, the news just goes unreported. If you want proof of this, try finding news from Africa—by far the most significant continent, demographically.
The US used to firehose money into foreign news reporting. Even minor newspapers funded fully-staffed foreign bureaus. Now, even the major newspapers tend to hire stringers and be tight with their budgets. The depth of coverage just isn’t the same. It can’t be.
Q. So the foreign news that I sometimes see in my local paper comes from stringers?
A. Sometimes. Or from Yaroslav Trofimov. But mostly, the little bit of foreign news you still occasionally see comes from AP and Reuters. Those two services have a completely disproportionate ability to shape the way people around the world see each other. Relying on the wires has eliminated all the diversity in foreign reporting—it’s all bland wire service copy—and this creates a global echo-chamber effect. Also, did you know that Reuters is in an alliance with TASS—Russia’s largest news agency?
— John Sipher (@john_sipher) March 7, 2022
Q. So newspapers and television and radio just stopped reporting news from overseas? How come I didn’t notice that?
A. Because it happened gradually, so you became habituated to it. But go back and look at a 1980 edition of any newspaper you read now. Look how much of it was devoted to foreign news, and how much emphasis they used to give to those stories. I chose the front pages below at random; these weren’t unusual dates, except in so far as John Lennon was assassinated:
Here’s today, for comparison:
Q. But still, with the Internet, in principle we can find a lot of news from around the world, right? More than before?
A. Yes and no. It depends who you follow and how assiduously you seek it out. Yes, you’re able to follow the top ten Twitter accounts in, say, South Africa from your desk in Peoria. You obviously couldn’t do that in 1980. But you probably won’t, because you won’t know that there’s a story in South Africa that warrants your attention in the first place.
Q. What’s the effect of never seeing any foreign news?
A. Epistemological chaos. We have no shared sense of what’s happening in the world at large or how we fit into it. It completely changes the way a reader or a country sees itself and its place in the wider scheme of things.
There’s a clear correlation between the shuttering of local newspapers and the decay of democratic and civic virtue. The clickbait economy encourages social polarization, attenuates attention spans, and erodes literacy. It’s catastrophic for self-government.
The effect is sufficiently subtle that people don’t necessarily see the connection. But people have lost the robust sense that the rest of the world exists. A sense of that wider world has been replaced by morbid solipsism. This is particularly acute in the United States, but the process is at work everywhere—not least because of the outsize cultural power of the US.
Perhaps the major internal paradox facing America today, in this early new century, is the fact that such a famously open society (a melting pot of the world, as it were) has become so intellectually closed. What is the nature of this national intellectual non-porousness? Answer: It consists in an abiding American incuriosity about the world and America’s comparative circumstances within it—even as America’s now acute internal political and social recriminations run rampant. Bref, the regular political and social experimentation that was at the very heart of America’s revolutionary project over the last two and a half centuries, built on an essential, competitive reengineering and reimagining of foreign practices—in government, in commerce, in jurisprudence, in the universities, in literature, in the arts, in sport and in matters of national strategy—has today found itself displaced increasingly by rigid dogma underpinned by resolute, earnest belief in the dogma. And even as America’s political tribes argue—ferociously, sometimes violently—among themselves over the details of that dogma, the American argument is today strictly domestic in interest, vocabulary and membership. On politics, policy, strategy, religion and on all other questions of what is “right,” the larger carapace of American dogma remains oblivious to—and high underpenetrated by—the fast-changing outside.
That assessment comes from a perceptive essay by Irvin Studin, who like us locates the source of this transformation in the transformation of the media:
The revolutionary transformation of America’s media landscape, social and other media oblige, from the professional and institutional to the self-starting, increasingly amateur and self-promoting media class of the present day has only served to amplify the dogma and deepen the confusion about the fundamental systemic and intellectual weaknesses in American society, politics and policy …
It’s often said that the Islamic world’s decline began when the gates of Ijtihad closed, around the time of the sack of Baghdad by Mongol hordes. When societies are cut off from the rest of the world, they become stagnant. The decline of the media is closing the modern gates of Ijtihad.
Q. But in principle, I could learn all about the rest of the world just by Googling it, right? There are tons of reports from NGOs and academics who study all these places. It’s not like there’s just no information out there.
A. You could. But generally, you won’t. Algorithmic sorting ensures you don’t see clues that tell you you should be curious about something.
The social media revolution has given readers the power to customize their news feeds to an extraordinarily high level of precision. News producers are now wholly dependent upon Google and Facebook to bring them their audiences. The big aggregators’ algorithms work by observing which stories interest their users and offering them more of the same—stories as similar as possible to the ones they’ve just read. So readers are never exposed to stories in which they’ve expressed no antecedent interest.
Lack of foreign news coverage—like social polarization—becomes self-reinforcing. If you spend too much time wading through the mass amplification of idiocy and degeneracy on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll give yourself brain damage.
That’s why we thought you might like a publication with an editor who figures out which foreign news stories are important—and which sources are credible— and then presents them to you in an attractive format. The Cosmopolitan Globalist saves you time and reduces your risk of brain damage.
People are only now beginning to realize that local journalism has disappeared and that this is a big problem for democracy. They don’t yet realize that the disappearance of foreign news is every bit as big a problem.
Q. How so, exactly?
A. The media’s role is to mediate between readers and places they can’t see or visit. Without foreign journalism, people no longer have a shared, reasonable view of the world. Without the influx of new ideas, you get the intellectual pathologies that now characterize our societies: hardened partisan identity, exaggerated partisan loathing that makes compromise and communication impossible; epistemic closure; the pathological narcissism of small differences; stereotyped views; rote, fixated, ideological, dead-eyed and intellectually empty discourse. The unmistakable sign of a mind that has ceased to work independently is the cliché—streams of them eructing straight from the speakers’ larynx without pause for the cerebellum. Reading the Cosmopolitan Globalist is proof against this tendency. It’s like an amulet.
Also, if you’re not regularly exposed to global news, you’ll have a much harder time making sense of your local environment. You’ll also have trouble figuring out what in your local environment is particular, rather than universal.
Q. By which you mean?
A. Well, here’s one example. You may have noticed that recently we’ve been including articles about inflation in Peru and Sri Lanka. If you don’t live in Peru or Sri Lanka, you might think, why would you care? But you’ll also note that in every country afflicted—that’s almost all of them, at this point—citizens are blaming their elected governments for rising prices. Elected governments in turn are blaming the pandemic and Putin. The global nature of the phenomenon suggests that for once, the elected politicians aren’t lying. This applies to many phenomena that people think are unusual. Such as extreme political polarization and the rise of populism.
Conversely, if you read other countries’ newspapers, you’ll know that it isn’t true that every country in the world suffers from American levels of violent crime. (I’m using “American” in the larger sense here to mean North and South America.) And mass school shootings are almost exclusively the provenance of the United States.
Q. Do the Cosmopolitan Globalists have an ideology?
A. We do. We’re liberal democrats and centrists. But ours is a big tent. We have writers and readers who express the whole range of liberal, centrist, democratic spirit.
💸 Q. But if the big media conglomerates can’t crack the problem of providing foreign news coverage and breaking even, why do you think you can?
A. Good question. We’re not sure that we can, to be honest. But here’s our theory. First, as you point out, there’s actually no shortage of information about the world that can be found, if you know where to look. Even countries with no free media to speak of, like North Korea, still have a controlled media from which you can gain significant clues about what’s really happening there. And there’s a massive amount of newsworthy information on social media.
But it isn’t making its way into newspapers and news broadcasts. This is partly because of the way newsrooms are structured. They’re still organized on national lines; so the Washington Post is a US newspaper; the Kiev Independent is a Ukrainian one. But the editors who are still standing—they’ve mostly disappeared along with the journalists—tend not to understand foreign news very well.
We’re starting with the premise that our network of friends and contacts—which really does span the world—function as our first-pass editor. Someone in Turkey, for example, will let me know if there’s a big story developing there. And I lived there for a decade, so I have a pretty good feeling for it. Vivek has the same feeling for Asia.
Second, there’s been another massive technological revolution—one that newsrooms so far haven’t figured out how to exploit. Google can now give me an instantaneous, free, perfectly comprehensible, and remarkably accurate translation of all the newspapers of the world, be they in Mandarin, Farsi, or Russian. Theirs translation are often of better quality than a professional one.1 Any American, even one who doesn’t know a single Chinese character, can now read any Chinese newspaper on the internet, from front page to last. And vice-versa.
So to know what the rest of the world is thinking, all you need to know is where to look. That’s where we come in. Between us, Vivek and I have nearly a century’s worth of experience in newsrooms in every continent save Antarctica. What’s more, our friends are always sending us items they think we should see. Our readers do, too.
Finally, if you think Twitter is a sewer and you don’t want to waste your time looking at it, we do it for you. (And you should think Twitter’s a sewer and a waste of time, because mostly it is.)
For an ordinary news consumer, it’s far too much of a slog to read several hundred foreign-language news sources and follow thousands of Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram accounts every day. Finding the genuinely important stories amid all the cat videos is really time-consuming. So we do it for you.
We read about 200 newspapers in every major language, every day, then send you a selection of the most important and interesting items from Asia, Oceania, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. If we begin to suspect there’s an important story that hasn’t been written, we either write it ourselves, if we can, or we shake down our friends and get them to write it.
No one else is doing this, as far as we know. The major news aggregation algorithms still only serve English-language results to their English-language news feeds. For reasons of habit and market demand, they never bother showing you the non-English sources.
You can be sure that if you read Global Eyes regularly, you’re really reading all the news that’s fit to print.
Q. I’m sold! But I’m still confused: What’s the difference between Global Eyes and the Cosmopolitan Globalist?
A. The Cosmopolitan Globalist is the name of the magazine, which for now is free, and the wider venture. Global Eyes is our premium news survey, which arrives regularly in our subscribers’ mailboxes. If you’d like to read it, you should subscribe:
Q. What exactly do I get with Global Eyes?
🌍 🏰 🌎 🛖 🌏 A. You get (at least) the five most important stories of the day from every major geographic region, and sometimes more of them, depending on the news. These days we’re also including regular updates from Ukraine and Russia, for obvious reasons. But unlike most newspapers, we’re not allowing the war in Ukraine to push all the other foreign stories off the front page. There will always be news from Africa, Asia, and the Americas—
Q. Do I get anything else?
A. You do! You also learn what the Cosmopolitan Globalists have been writing and reading. And sometimes you get short essays and blasts of opinion from the editors, for example, a series introducing the basics of IR theory.
You also get a small, bracing dose of Russian and Chinese state propaganda at the end of every newsletter. Look for “A dose of batsh*t from Tsargrad” and “The CCP sneers at you,” our popular premium benefits. (Sometime we choose other notable Kremlin-aligned outlets or another relevant organ of the Chinese Communist Party.) We allow the Russian and Chinese nomenklatura to speak to you directly so that you can be sure you’re understanding them correctly.
Q. That sounds great! I can’t wait for the CCP to express its contempt for me. “Daily,” you say?
A. Well, almost daily. There’s a lot to do at CG—research, writing, editing, and trying to raise investment—so some days, you won’t get a newsletter. But we strive for “daily.” Strictly speaking, it’s “most days.”
Q. I guess that’s fair. What else do I get?
A. You get the daily animal! Or the daily architectural marvel, or the daily unknown literary masterwork, or another illustration of the world’s mystery, civility, and magnificence. From now on, we’re going to send you more of these. A few readers have pointed out that Global Eyes has been a downer of late, what with its seemingly unending catalogue of murder, mayhem, rape, starvation, and misery in every corner of the globe. But there’s a lot of good news that doesn’t get reported, too, and from now on we’re going to make more of an effort to be sure you see it.
Q. Thank God. Do I get anything else?
A. You do! You get Tecumseh Court’s Guide to Combat. Tecumseh Court regularly answers all the questions you’ve ever wanted to ask a US Marine Corps combat veteran about how to get ahead by making deadly war on your enemies.
Q. Well, that sounds like a solid deal. I’m sold. But I’m still not sure I understand the difference between the newsletter and the website.
A. It’s easy. The website is where we keep the magazine—our essays, our interviews, and our long-form journalism. We also archive our podcasts over there, and it’s where we keep our International Translation Superhighway. We use the newsletter for telling you what’s in the magazine, announcements, and our premium global news survey, Global Eyes—which is for subscribers only.
Q. But why do you have a magazine in addition to a newsletter? That’s confusing.
A. Because when people write for us, they like to be able to say that they published their article in a proper magazine—one where it’s easy to find the article you’re looking for and the back issues are archived. Also, advertising is part of our revenue model, and you can’t advertise on a Substack newsletter. Finally, we’re going to be adding lots of new features and functions to the website. It will get bigger and so much better with time.
Q. I think I’ve got it. But why is it that when I press “SUBSCRIBE” over at the magazine, it takes me to this newsletter?
A. Because it’s the simplest way to handle subscriptions. Substack does a good job with credit card processing and billing. Adding a separate payment gate to the magazine seemed like a recipe for annoying our readers.
If you subscribe on Substack, you get automatic access to everything. You get all of our newsletters, you get access to all the archives on Substack and in the magazine; you get the podcasts; you get the videocasts; you get invitations to all of our special events and Zoom calls; you get the Translation Superhighway, and you get to join our discussion forums and debates.
Q. Special events? Like what?
📕 A. Well, recently our Cosmopolitan Globalist Book Club has been reading Bloodlands, by Timothy Snyder. And we’ve had debates, like our Great Energy Debate. But we’ve got a lot more coming up in the months ahead: stay tuned.
Q. What’s the deal with the Translation Superhighway?
That’s one of our big ideas and our favorite things. Over in the magazine, we’re slowly adding a section where you can read all the major newspapers of the world, through Google Translate. If you’d like to read the same newspapers we read when we choose items for Global Eyes, go over to the Translation Superhighway and pick your language. We tell you a bit about the newspaper your reading—its history, its biases, whether it’s apt to have been heavily censored—and we select half a dozen of the most interesting stories, every day. We’ve started with Russian and Arabic. We’re going to put up Hindi and Punjabi next. You can read lots more about the concept here.
👩🎨 Q. Got it. Claire, what’s up with all the emojis you’ve been using lately?
A. We’re going to use them at some point to create a searchable index, so that you can instantly pull up all the stories related to, say, inflation, or Singapore. Also, they’re colorful and they amuse us, though I figure it’s only a matter of time before someone complains that our emojis are racist.
Q. I want to support the Cosmopolitan Globalist, but I don’t want to subscribe.
A. Why not? Well, you can donate here. But the most helpful thing you could do if you don’t want to subscribe is share it widely:
Also, if you know someone who might like to advertise with us, or sponsor our podcasts, or invest in us—please make the appropriate introductions.
Q. Can I give a subscription to a friend?
A. Of course! This is a very popular thing to do.
Q. Do you have CG swag?
A. Our readers said they weren’t interested in it, but if you are, let us know and we’ll revisit the idea.
Q. I’d like to write for the Cosmopolitan Globalist. What should I do?
A. Send us a pitch! We’re interested in the whole world. We’d especially like to hear from you if you’re in Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, or Latin America. The only thing we’re not interested in is “My Big Opus on Transexual Swimmers” or some other well-worn trope of the Culture War. If we need those, we’ll generate them with AI.
Q. I think what you’re doing is terrific and I’d like to invest in CG.
A. Drop us a note! We’ll show you our pitch deck and tell you what we’d do with your money.
Q. Why did you call it The Cosmopolitan Globalist?
A. You try finding a domain name suitable for an international journal of global affairs that isn’t taken already.
Q. But isn’t that a Stalinist antisemitic insult?
A. Yes. But we don’t care what Stalinist antisemites call us.
Q. Claire, I know you don’t want to write about the culture war, but I love it when you write about #MeToo and guns.
A. Yeah, okay. Every so often. But it’s like cheesecake. In small portions it can be part of a balanced diet. But not every day, come on.
Q. Why do you sometimes put people’s names in bold?
A. It means that person is one of us. He or she has written for us, subscribes to us, or is in some way part of the club.
Q. How many of you are there?
A. No idea! But about fifty of our friends have written for us so far, and we have nearly ten thousand regular readers.
Q. Say, who are your readers? Where are they from?
According to our stats, about half of them are in the US. Another quarter are from Europe—we get some from every country, but we’re especially big in Lithuania. (No, we don’t know why.) The remainder are from everywhere: India, Russia, Israel, Nigeria …
Our readers are so much better than other readers. They’re so well-informed, and curious, and literate, and just so much better than the readers of any other publication. I always tell our writers that they don’t have to write down: Our readers can handle complexity.
You can even read the comments on our articles without wanting to slink into a hole and die. We don’t have to edit or censor the comments because our readers are unfailingly polite. How many other publications can make that claim?
Q. Hey, maybe I should advertise my Bespoke Widgets to your discerning readership on the Cosmopolitan Globalist?
A. Of course you should! Send us an email. You could sponsor a podcast, too.
Q. I subscribed, but I’m not getting the newsletter.
A. Try this, first, and if that doesn’t help, send us a note and we’ll fix it, pronto.
Q. I have another technical question about my subscription or billing.
A. Here are the solutions to the most common problems. If they don’t work, send us a note and we’ll fix it, pronto.
Q. I’m sold! How do I subscribe?
A. Right this way!
Q. I’d like you to explain all of this in a video.
A. Try this:
Q. I have another question that you didn’t answer.
A. Send us an email: We’ll add the answer to this FAQ.
Claire Berlinski and Vivek Y. Kelkar are the founders and editors of the Cosmopolitan Globalist. Last Man Out and The Scholar served as advisors to former US presidents. Both prefer to remain anonymous.