New Lines Broadens Its Horizons to Include the Whole World

The magazine at two expands its remit to include world coverage, with a local focus

New Lines Broadens Its Horizons to Include the Whole World

The idea of New Lines was inspired by a book project I’ve been working on about my village in eastern Syria. In an essay I published in the Atlantic magazine in 2019, I told the story of my childhood, my parents and how the war transformed life in my hometown. I drew a picture of the quiet and peaceful life I saw growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, herding sheep in a remote village on the Iraqi-Syrian border, and what became of that village and its people after the Islamic State group took control of it and ultimately destroyed it. I had grappled for months with whether I should write the essay; I had written about the country and the wider region for a decade and I was always advised to keep a personal distance from the subjects I was studying. When the short essay came out, the response was striking. As many readers pointed out publicly and privately, the personal was much more illuminating than the work I’d done before, about how wars dismantle societies and how their effects carry on long after the gunshots go silent and the headlines shift.

Last month, when I finally saw my parents for the first time in more than 11 years, I was reminded once again of the silent and enduring effects of wars. During the time I spent with my parents and relatives, I realized how oblivious I had been about much of the new reality for my people, even as someone who spent most of their life in Syria and has followed the conflict’s every twist and turn and interviewed representatives of all of its actors, including Islamic State members active in the field in 2014 and 2015. I hadn’t known, for example, that a close uncle of mine was almost beheaded by the Islamic State after they accused him of being a Sufi who practiced “witchcraft,” for producing a type of amulet for a woman (my relatives believe members of the Islamic State sent her to entrap him). Miraculously he was later released. Or that a cousin I grew up with would have been beheaded had the group’s reign of terror continued a little longer. He was jailed and transferred by the jihadists from one village to another as the group was losing its last stretch of caliphate, only to be rescued in Baghuz, the group’s last stand near my village on the Iraqi border. Dozens of my neighbors were rounded up in my elementary school because no one would reveal who brought down the flag of the Islamic State in the center of the village.

So much about the Syrian conflict remains untold. I knew many Syrians who had extraordinary stories to tell. If only they had the outlet to tell them, without having to persuade an editor focused on the “news cycle” of their value. Granted, it’s not always easy to get their messages across, with raw drafts that need heavy lifting by editors under pressure to process a large number of articles on a daily basis. It is not the editors’ fault; it is how the world of news media works. But what if there was a publication invested in seeking and publishing the personal, the granular and the historical?

What if this could be done on a wide scale, from villages and towns across the region and the world?

Too often, traditional media have treated the world not just as a foreign story but as something inherently foreign — complex and incomprehensible. And this was because of a fundamental lack of knowledge about the places on which they were reporting. Here in the U.S., even domestic coverage of places outside major American cities can fall into this trap. At New Lines, we understand that no story is truly foreign in today’s interconnected world and that each needs an approach that is both globally minded and grounded in local perspective. This premise guides the magazine’s vision and our latest expansion as New Lines turns 2 on Oct. 4.

For the first time since we launched the magazine, we have a full team to cover a wide range of areas worldwide, which will enable us to achieve a goal we’ve had since we began in 2020. Our expanded team, both old and new members, have years or decades of experience working in journalism and academia covering a range of themes in every corner of the globe, having worked in major publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and The Guardian. They’re both wordsmiths and subject matter experts, able to produce rigorous and readable journalism.

Allow me to introduce the team; their profiles illustrate what we are trying to achieve at the magazine.

Amie Ferris-Rotman joins us as Global News Editor and will work across regions to help us stay focused on the big story of the day, from the United States to Europe to India, and to expand our investigative work. She has reported from across Russia, Afghanistan and other countries for a decade. While she was Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, she conducted an award-winning investigation into the treatment of ethnically Kazakh women by the Chinese government in internment camps.

From Chicago, Danny Postel takes on the role of Politics Editor, also with a thematic focus across regions, especially in his areas of expertise in the United States, Latin America and the Middle East. In addition to his unique geographical reach, his extensive career straddles both journalism and academia. He authored and edited several books and served as an editor for various media and academic publications. He taught Spanish, and his book on sectarianism in the Middle East is one of the most authoritative works on the subject.

Already a focus of the magazine along with the Middle East, Africa has two new editors.

Kwangu Liwewe joins us as Africa Editor. She is a seasoned journalist with a demonstrated history of creative and high-quality work in reporting, presenting news and current affairs shows in Africa. With roots in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, she worked in South Africa covering its neighbors during a time of tremendous political, economic and societal change across the continent. Her reporting for New Lines about xenophobia in South Africa sparked extensive debate.

Erin Clare Brown will focus on a part of Africa she knows intimately well. From Tunisia, Erin joins us as North Africa Editor. Erin has been an editor at both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, developing strategic approaches to mobile journalism, and empowering some of the world’s best journalists to produce new and innovative work. As a correspondent and reporter, Erin shot one of the first Snapchat-native documentaries, covered the Russia-Ukraine conflict on Instagram, and seeded investigations on everything from visa fraud to vaccination disparity using open calls on social networks.

Surbhi Gupta, who joined us in July as an editorial fellow, takes on the role of South Asia Deputy Editor. Before her studies at Columbia University, Surbhi was a staff writer at The Indian Express, a leading national daily in India, writing on culture, politics and the internet. Surbhi was born and raised in New Delhi and is currently based in New York City. Judging from the impressive work she has already commissioned on India, our coverage of an increasingly important region will be unparalleled. She will be working alongside Chris Sands, our existing South Asia Editor, who helped us produce extraordinary reporting on Afghanistan before, during and after the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

Joanna Andreasson, the artist behind all the stunning art and illustrations that so many of our readers frequently singled out for praise, will join us as Art Director.

Peter Cooney, a former colleague from another publication a few of us in the team helped launch in 2008, is the latest addition to our copy-editing department. He has edited for newspapers in the U.K., Abu Dhabi and Canada and has taught journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. He joins Kent Allen, who comes with a decade of experience editing at The Washington Post, and Courtney Dobson, who joined the team just a few months after launch. Courtney, who has a doctorate degree in Russia studies from the University of Glasgow, is the formidable leader of the copy department.

Our expansion also includes multimedia coverage of stories and a stronger, more meaningful engagement strategy with our valued readers.

Maysa Mustafa joins us as Audience Editor, leading our efforts to manage a growing audience and a broader remit as a truly global magazine. After obtaining a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she became an editorial fellow in July and was a crucial part of the team’s day-to-day editorial and operational work.

Christin El Kholy, the third of our editorial fellows from July, will join us as a Multimedia Producer. Her impact is already felt through the stories she wrote or helped edit. Her new remit will include a range of other responsibilities to also raise the profile of the magazine and produce its multimedia content.

Christin has worked alongside Joshua Martin, who joined in our first year as a multimedia producer to lead our podcast production. He has since played a crucial role in other areas of our digital production efforts.

Sabrine Baiou takes on the role of Operations Manager. She will oversee the operational side of things as well as strengthening our multimedia coverage. She holds a Master of Arts in international affairs with a concentration in conflict and security and a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, both from George Mason University. Her research areas include intergenerational trauma in the context of national and historical conflicts, and she has done fieldwork in Cuba and Jordan.

Tam Hussein joined us as Associate Editor to produce more of his exceptional work more regularly than before. Tam has helped us produce unique essays on jihadism and other areas that tend to be covered superficially in the news media, for which he was a finalist for the Orwell Prize — one of several impressive nominations we received during the magazine’s first year of existence.

The new members join an already stellar editorial lineup that has created a magazine built on a worthy vision and has overseen its ongoing expansion beyond the Middle East, building a community and gaining loyalty from audiences from South Asia and Western Europe to Africa and North America.

Ahmed Alwani, the founder and patron of the whole enterprise of which New Lines is a part, is an ideal leader. He is driven by ideas and stories that can transform the world and believes in a universal human connection that moves beyond narrow loyalties and identities. When I proposed the idea as an initiative of the institute he established in 2019, he immediately saw the value in it. He has offered his ideas and vision, his unwavering support to its mission and the editorial freedom that is rare in today’s media world. A child of Iraqi immigrants who instilled in him a belief in the transformative power of education, Alwani’s success over three decades as an entrepreneur made him determined to give back to the country that welcomed his parents. He spent his early childhood in Baghdad and Cairo.

Ola Salem, the magazine’s Managing Editor, was the earliest member of the team, who midway through her master’s studies at New York University in 2019 had to change her courses with an eye for building the magazine, enrolling in courses to study style and rhetoric, information architecture, website design and user experience, and writing her thesis on the Middle East media landscape. After graduation she worked to build New Lines, from the website, which was nominated for The Webby Award in 2022 for its design, to managing the day-to-day operation and its creative direction.

Faisal Al Yafai, who takes over the crucial role of expanding our international coverage as International Editor, worked pro bono at the conceptual phase, long before the launch was even in motion. He was an integral part of the process of moving the idea from conception to reality.

I have long admired the journalism of our Middle East Editor Kareem Shaheen, not least for once rivaling me in whose story was placed on the front page when we previously worked together. He led our Middle East coverage, then the main focus of the magazine, and built its newsletter offerings from the ground up. He and Faisal also run an internal two-member comedy club, with jokes typically centered on hummus and cultural heresies.

Rasha Elass was also a former colleague, and her reporting from Syria was long a source of admiration for me. A war correspondent, she was the only member of the international media reporting from the ground inside both the rebel-controlled areas of Syria and Damascus, undercover, from 2012 to 2014. She worked for Reuters, LA Times, NPR and Forbes, among others. As Editorial Director at New Lines, she helped extend our reach beyond the Middle East early on, with firsthand accounts from places like China’s Xinjiang region, and shaped our coverage across the board.

Idrees Ahmed is another member of the launch team who straddles both journalism and academia, a master at finding unique stories worth telling and ensuring they are told well. He divides his time between teaching journalism in the U.K., writing his next book and commissioning essays from overlooked areas around the world.

Associate Editor Michael Weiss served a few key functions in the past two years, first as a style editor who created our editorial guidelines, spearheaded several collaborative investigations with other outlets, and then became News Editor where he was responsible for coordinating our coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He is currently focused on finishing his next book, a history of Russian military intelligence.

Lydia Wilson has the rigor of an academic and the spirit of a journalist. Her work was part of the launch edition, and her responsibilities increased since then until she took on the role of Culture Editor in April. She has written journalism as well as academic articles on conflict, terrorism and culture, in Time, the New York Review of Books, The Nation, the Times Literary Supplement and many other outlets. She also worked in broadcast journalism, presenting the 3-part BBC television series “A Secret History of Writing.”

Riada Asimovic Akyol was one of the most fortunate additions to the team, working on multiple portfolios from shaping our coverage of the wider Balkans area to creating new multimedia endeavors for New Lines. These include “Good Talk,” our first Instagram Live Series and soon to launch “Wider Angle,” which will go alongside our “The Lede” podcast. She’s also leading a number of other exciting projects to be released soon. Many point to the Balkans as one of the areas we cover well, thanks to Riada.

Rasha Al Aqeedi joined us earlier this year as Middle East Deputy Editor, helping shape our Middle East coverage as well as stories from the U.S. Even before she joined the team, she wrote or edited a series of powerful stories, including from her native city of Mosul, Iraq, and has since expanded our network of talents throughout the region. She is the only one capable of drawing parallels between the acclaimed HBO hit show “The Wire” and Muqtada al-Sadr and militias in Iraq.

Many media stakeholders have approached us in the last two years, all with the same fundamental question: “How’d you do it?”

We began as a global affairs magazine focused primarily on the Middle East, because we felt that this region, for so long the center of U.S. foreign policy, needed far more coverage from those who have lived and worked there. Many of our staff cut their teeth covering revolutions, wars and terrorism across different countries in the Middle East — often from the perspective of someone born and raised in places on which they were reporting.

With our new team in place, we aspire to do worldwide what we have already accomplished in Afghanistan. When the Taliban took over Kabul in the summer of last year, our magazine was 10 months old. Yet our young magazine had already filled a void in the public conversation about the country. Our essays foretold the Taliban resurgence months before the fall of Kabul. We published dispatches from the heart of Taliban-controlled areas told by a hard-nosed local reporter who grew up there, not a “parachuted-in” foreign correspondent with limited experience living in the region. In one, Fazelminallah Qazizai wrote an extraordinary account of not just life under a Taliban emirate but the unyielding history and society of Sangin in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. It was followed by a prescient dispatch about how various parties were arming militias because the U.S.-trained army could not hold ground against the Taliban, with extensive interviews with all those involved. We followed that scoop with another, going inside the Taliban’s previously unknown drone unit.

We aim to replicate the experience by growing organically in more regions in the coming period, to tell the stories from all corners of the world, by those who have lived there and know the culture, including in the U.S., where New Lines was born.

Our aim is to bring the needed local focus to international stories, and also a uniquely global perspective to the stories we’ll be covering domestically.​​

To be a local magazine for the world.

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