Does the editor of Foreign Policy magazine need to be a U.S. citizen? That was my first question in mid-1996 upon learning that the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the think tank that then owned the magazine, was looking for a new editor. Maybe a written or, perhaps, unwritten rule reserved the position for Americans? In most other countries, after all, it would be hard, if not impossible, for a foreigner to run an elite publication like FP. But not here: It turned out that my Venezuelan nationality was not a problem. I could apply, and to my surprise, I got the job -- a job that I have decided to leave in June after 14 great years.
My appointment as editor was the first of many improbable events in the life of this magazine over that time. The most important improbability is that FP is not only alive but thriving (in 2009 alone, 428 magazines folded). Initially, there were many doubts about the wisdom of turning Foreign Policy from a respected, academically oriented journal to a glossy magazine catering to thought leaders around the world. But I was convinced that FP had the potential to tap a rapidly expanding global market of readers interested in international politics and economics. These new readers did not think of themselves as specialists and did not care about the minutiae, acronyms, and narrow debates that clog journals aimed at insiders. Rather, they wanted -- and needed -- to know about the world, how it was changing, and how these often forbiddingly abstract and seemingly remote global changes would touch them, their companies, and their countries.
To reach these well-informed, intellectually curious readers, we needed to change FP. And change we did -- much to the horror of some of our longtime readers. I still remember one contentious meeting at which a leading international affairs expert explained how our plans would wreck what was one of the field's most respected publications. "You will lose the magazine's traditional readers, and it will be too late to recover them once you realize that your new readers only exist in your imagination."
We pushed ahead anyway. We changed the format, edited more aggressively, made our content more reader-friendly, introduced powerful photography and art, and offered new entry points and features designed to win over time-starved, information-saturated readers. We increased the frequency of publication, launched editions in other languages, developed a conference business, and, of course, launched ForeignPolicy.com, a domain that, to our surprise, was still available in 1997.
It worked. FP gained readers, advertisers, and worldwide recognition. A decade later, FP has won all the industry's top awards, including three National Magazine Awards for General Excellence. Naturally, these achievements reflect the unstinting efforts of a team of creative, hard-working editors, designers, and publishing professionals who got things right almost every day -- for 14 years.
Nearly two years ago came another big surprise: The Washington Post Company bought FP from the Carnegie Endowment. Once again, this was a decision that ran counter to prevailing trends. While magazines everywhere were closing or shrinking, FP would be expanding. While faith in print publications was scant and dwindling, our new owner was betting on FP. While media analysts were arguing that, to survive, newspapers and magazines ought to become nonprofit entities subsidized by foundations or philanthropists, FP was moving from its think-tank owner to a publicly listed, for-profit corporation.
This move, too, has served FP and its readers well. We now have the support of one of the world's most respected media companies. Our integration with the Slate Group -- another Washington Post Co. property -- has allowed us to harness the Web experience of that pioneering online magazine. FP's executive editor, the talented Susan Glasser, who will be my successor, has led the formidable effort that has made ForeignPolicy.com the indispensable and daily Web destination for millions around the world. And, as in previous years, FP continues to win National Magazine Awards. I am sure that under Susan's leadership it will continue to thrive. Producing an excellent magazine is deeply ingrained in FP's organizational culture.