PolicyMic, meet Lindsay Funk. She's an amateur vegan chef, Arabic speaker, and our incredible pundit of the week.
As part of the "pundit of the week" blog, we spotlight one exceptional PolicyMic-er to share personal experiences with our community, and pose one never-been-asked question to a staff member. This week's question is for co-founder Chris Altchek.
Check out last week's Q&A with Robby Barthelmess.
About Lindsay: Lindsay is a Stanford University student with an interest in religion and foreign policy. She is currently spending a year away from campus, alternating her time between interning in D.C. and studying Arabic in Jerusalem. She hails from the great state of Washington and holds out hope for the eventual return of the Seattle SuperSonics.
Caira Conner (CC): First things first, tell me about when and why you decided to join PolicyMic.
Lindsay Funk (LF): I first learned about PolicyMic when I spent my fall quarter last year at the Stanford in Washington program in D.C. PolicyMic co-founder Jake Horowitz is an alum of the program, and he reached out to the program director about having students do a live blog for PolicyMic on election night. I’d always been interested in writing about current events, but I’d only done so in an academic capacity. I jumped at the chance. Thankfully, PolicyMic didn't mind that I had never done this before and took me on.
On Election Night 2012, I live-blogged about election results in my home state, Washington. I had never used PolicyMic before so I was very fortunate enough to have PolicyMic pundit Mark Kogan helping me out and giving me excellent advice like having gifs at the ready. I had such a great time doing the live blog that I wrote to Jake Horowitz and Mark Kogan afterwards and bugged them until they let me join.
CC: You've written some incredible pieces for us on religion and international relations. What's behind your interest in that particular cross-section? Any disadvantages to covering those topics on our platform?
LF: I first became interested in religion and international affairs after studying U.S. counterterrorism policy. U.S. counterterrorism policy generally comes out of the political science discipline, but religion is something that's hard to quantify. I major in religious studies and I’m interested in attempts to bridge the two disciplines. My thesis will probably be about some aspect of U.S. counterterrorism policy. On PolicyMic, this usually means that I write about U.S. foreign policy towards organizations like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
I wouldn’t call it a disadvantage, but it’s harder than I expected to integrate broader theories about religion and terrorist organizations and foreign policy into coverage of current events. When I’m writing 500 words about the announcement of an alliance between Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria and Iraq, there isn’t necessarily room for a digression into what the trajectory of an Al Qaeda affiliate looks like, even though I think it’s relevant. So I have to be really concise and think very carefully about what information that I include. Often I’ll link longer reports or analyses and hopefully people check them out!
CC: You're a self-described news junkie. As a millennial, what's the most interesting thing PolicyMic can do for you? What's something we can do better?
LF: I love that PolicyMic has become a digital hub of informed millennial conversation about current events. It's so valuable for me to be able to participate in that conversation and I learn things every time I read a PolicyMic article. I also really appreciate that PolicyMic writers are open about their personal affiliations or biases. True objectivity is rare and sometimes problematic in its own way. I’d rather that writers be candid about their perspectives, even if I don’t agree with them.
As a millennial, I would love to see even more current events primers on PolicyMic because I find them to be really useful. Most of my friends don't want (or need) to know the day-to- day updates on the "kill the gays" bill in Uganda, but they'll check out a five-hundred word primer on the topic. By a similar token, I'm not necessarily tracking Apple's stock prices day to day, but it would be useful to get a roundup about what the recent price fluctuations mean and why there are so many headlines about it. Millennials consume so much media, infinitely more than previous generations, so it's really helpful to have cheat sheets that cut through the huge influx of coverage.
CC: What's been the most surprising aspect of your user experience with PolicyMic?
LF: I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise per se, but I’m constantly impressed at how much so many PolicyMic pundits have accomplished. There are so many interesting and accomplished people on PolicyMic; I’m hoping that I’m able to attend a meet-up of pundits some day! In the meantime, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to read their work and engage with them through the site.
Also, I learned from PolicyMic that there are a few hot-button topics that will inevitably spark dozens of comments. The ones that I usually run into the most with my focus are foreign aid and foreign interventions. I did not realize that people had such strong feelings about foreign aid! While I don’t always agree with the views that I encounter, reading them is valuable because they help shape my own opinions and arguments.
CC: Let's go offline. What do you like to do when you're not PolicyMic-in'?
LF: I'm in Jerusalem right now studying Arabic but also working to help facilitate trips for American and international students to learn more about the conflict. I’m learning so much and meeting so many interesting people that it will be hard to leave in a few weeks!
When I have free time, I have to resist the urge to just sit in my room watching trashy television and reading celebrity gossip. Lately I’ve been going to art exhibits and museums, which is less pretentious than it sounds because I literally know nothing about art, but I’m having a great time. I've been to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art four times in the last few months and have seen everything from Chagall and Picasso to video installations by Douglas Gordon.
I also mostly eat vegan food, so lately I’ve been spending a lot of time learning to cook vegan recipes. None of my roommates or close friends here in Jerusalem are vegan, so it’s been a good challenge to find dishes that appeal to them! I can tell that I’ve succeeded if I don’t have any leftovers.
CC: Your turn. What's one question you have for the someone from the PolicyMic staff?
LF: My question is for Chris Altchek. Can you talk about PolicyMic's business model, both short term and long term? How do you plan to avoid the challenges facing the rest of the media industry?"
Chris Altchek: Lindsay, thank you for asking such an awesome question. The media industry, and particularly journalism, has experienced drastic disruption over the past 10 years. As readers have moved over from print to digital, revenue per reader has plummeted, leaving many media outlets struggling to sustain the high costs of running strong, independent newsrooms. Subscription revenue decreased dramatically when news companies made all of their content available for free. Advertising revenue per reader plummeted as news sites began getting paid in line with rates across the internet. Finallly, the big business of classified ads disappeared completely as Craigslist took over.
These dynamics bankrupted hundreds of smaller newspapers and has put huge amounts of stress on industry giants like the New York Times. But, at the same time, digital media companies like The Huffington Post, VOX Media, Gawker, Buzzfeed, and hundreds of others have emerged. All have been built around becoming profitable in a digital advertising world where costs are low and reach is huge. These companies have all pioneered their own style of media for achieving this goal – whether its a focus on mass appeal celebrity gossip or very shareable headlines – these companies are experts at building audiences online.
When we launched PolicyMic, we saw a huge opportunity to do what many legacy brands failed to do – provide smart, thoughtful news & analysis through a digital platform that was engaging and fun. Many digital media companies were successful by being really entertaining. We learned from them – but with the goal of being really successful by being really smart and engaging.
Our focus on millennials and thoughtful content has put us in an exciting position to collaborate with brands that want to reach our smart millennial demographic. Our goal is to do this in a way that adds value to our users. We plan on growing our business by launching debates and competitions, where brands will provide a prize for the winning pundit. In exchange, the brand will be labeled as the sponsor. This could be everything from an op-ed competition on clean-energy sponsored by an electric car company to a debate on the future of education sponsored by a big non-profit. The prizes might be a cash reward, or the opportunity to attend a really awesome conference.
As we grow, our goal is to continue to be very transparent about how PolicyMic is run. Thanks for the question!
CC: Lindsay, you're awesome. Thank you for such a thoughtful interview, and for making PolicyMic great!
For more news on Lindsay, follow her on Twitter: @lindsayafunk