Palace of Nations

Something’s missing from the mix of existing international affairs publications. Foreign PolicyForeign AffairsInternational AffairsNew InternationalistWorld Politics ReviewIRIN — all very earnest and sometimes abstract. Latterly was meant to address the abstraction problem, but I admit we’re pretty unrelentingly sincere. My friends make fun of me for it.

What the aid sector needs is the journalistic equivalent of a kick in the ass by a PhD who’s laughing and wearing a Richard Nixon mask (just because).

Here’s how I’d handle it if I had a few million dollars. First, I’d hire an editor with some sense of both comedy and journalism. So, Jon Stewart. Then you fill the staff with writers who are both great journalists and misanthropes. Rent a prominent office on a busy street in Geneva and stick a news ticker above the door with latest headlines: Inside the glaringly dysfunctional U.N. mission in Myanmar [that’s actually a real headline]… Five goats that look like Vladimir Putin… Watch these refugees react to photos of humanitarian aid workers’ flats.

No one is safe from the Gawker of international affairs, and nothing is sacred. The best thing going now is The Guardian‘s Secret Aid Worker, in which NGO employees gripe anonymously about the problems they notice in their field. (Recent headlines: “We’ve lost our humanity to jargon and statistics” and “We don’t take data protection of vulnerable people seriously.”) But with all the proper nouns omitted, nobody’s shamed into reform. Obviously, I’m not saying there isn’t irreverent journalism about aid agencies and foreign affairs. But nobody’s owning it, either. Please correct me if I’m missing something.

I don’t have a few million dollars, but I am thinking about how I can add some touch of this idea to Latterly‘s mission. I’d read a Secret Aid Worker with a little more teeth, wouldn’t you?

Write to me if you’re into this idea, and help me puzzle out what it would look like. If you’re a subscriber, let’s talk about it in the members-only Facebook group.

Till next week, happy weekend, everybody.


Ben Wolford
Ben Wolford is editor of Latterly. His reporting has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere.