The Strategist marks 10 years of commentary and analysis
20 Jul 2022|

By late 2011, after a decade of effort, ASPI had made its mark with comprehensive long-form publications on defence and security issues. The institute’s senior analysts were assembled to plan an online presence, and The Strategist was born.

A key goal was to maintain quality in Strategist posts, and the targeted model was the New York Times. The Strategist was launched in July 2012 to give the institute a daily voice, and quickly evolved in its quality, volume and reach. It is intended to be a lively forum for diverse views and has become a vital part of the organisation and a valuable platform for readers to voice their opinions.

Andrew Davies became editor and Natalie Sambhi, who had run her own Security Scholar blog, joined to make an editorial team of two.

Davies recalls that it was not long before the ASPI team realised one of the real strengths of having an in-house, near-real-time publishing arm was that no longer were ASPI staff members at the mercy of the editorial choices of newspaper editors and TV producers when commenting on the topic of the day.

‘A TV news interview of 10 minutes will get distilled down to two sentences (if you’re lucky) for the evening news bulletin,’ Davies says, ‘and it will always be the most colourful quote. But now we could put down a more expansive 800 words and have it on the streets before the papers or TV news.

‘We got pretty slick at getting product out the door. A particular highlight for me was the coverage of the 2013 defence white paper, when we published 10 analysis pieces on the day of its release.’

That formula has served The Strategist well to the point that it has become a highly productive main window into all ASPI’s work and a quick-footed complement to the institute’s major publications. It has become a very effective platform from which ASPI informs the public by publishing information and analysis on a full range of strategic, defence and national security issues that bear on the choices Australia faces.

Since its launch in July 2012, The Strategist has run well over 9,000 posts. Readership has risen steadily from the days when the most popular pieces might get as many as 100 views, to now, when the most-read pieces receive nearly 100,000 views.

Because of the thought that went into its creation and its management by a skilled team of editors, The Strategist has matured into an excellent platform for debate, bringing strategic, defence, cybersecurity and national security issues to the attention of policymakers and the public. It makes important contributions to discussions and provides critical scrutiny of individual defence projects.

The Strategist is an important source for local and international journalists and commentators working on defence, cyber and security matters. Ministerial advisers regularly include posts in briefing notes, and The Strategist often features in departmental and university reading lists. Strategist staff write frequent reports for the media on key issues.

As Davies noted, The Strategist allows examination of contemporary security issues in a way that is consistent with ASPI’s reputation for considered analysis. A major benefit is the ability to publish the views of analysts and commentators on hot topics quickly and in their own words, rather than through a media filter. The site is also a useful vehicle for the media to easily identify ASPI analysts with particular subject-matter expertise, so pieces often lead to interviews for them.

Careful editing and fact checking has become a key to maintaining quality. The long-time editors are Larissa Joseph and Jack Norton.

Monitoring the progress of The Strategist provides insights into public interests and concerns. For example, the most-read posts in 2021–22 reflect a sharply increasing focus on analysis of relations with China and Australia’s readiness for a potential conflict. The Strategist continues to attract a broad overseas audience of writers and readers; on average, nearly half of its hits come from outside Australia. It is particularly popular in the US, the UK, India, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand.

The Strategist has certainly evolved well beyond being a ‘blog’, but it’s a high-quality commentary site, not a peer-reviewed academic journal. Readers say they enjoy its wide perspective and the range of material it carries.

We’ve broadened the mix to include both short, sharp analysis and longer, more complex pieces, along with detailed interviews and podcasts. We don’t expect that everyone will read everything, but most will find something they can learn from, enjoy or be enraged by—or perhaps all three.