6: American Diplomacy

Interview with Dr. Henry E. Mattox, Editor, November 2006

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The subject of our program is American Diplomacy, an online Open Access journal. Open Access journals have no charges to readers or libraries; they are free to all internet users. American Diplomacy is one of over 2000 journals provided for free and linked from the Directory of Open Access Journals at http://doaj.org.

American Diplomacy is published by American Diplomacy Publishers, a not-for-profit organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Their goal, and I quote,is to publish thoughtful articles on international issues, to support efforts to strengthen the American Foreign Service, and to promote understanding of the challenges of diplomatic life abroad through the memoirs of U.S. Foreign Service personnel and their families. Among our contributors are American diplomats, both active and retired, as well as distinguished academicians.”

The editors accept a broad range of content of interest to active and retired foreign affairs professionals, scholars, and the general public. Some articles are scholarly, some very personal. The research-based scholarly articles are submitted for evaluation by two or more outside readers known to be knowledgeable in the field. Evaluation by outside readers is known as "peer review," and is a defining characteristic of a scholarly journal.

The articles in American Diplomacy are clearly written and easy to understand by a non-specialist like myself. I found it quite interesting to read perspectives of people with first-hand knowledge of events I've read about in the news or seen on TV. While the journal is targeted toward the foreign service community, it should be of interest to anyone who cares about foreign affairs.

American Diplomacy presents an interesting case study in the organization of an online journal. Traditionally, journals are published in distinct volumes and issues, and articles have page numbers. In its first few years of publication, American Diplomacy organized content into volumes and issues in the traditional manner. Since 2005, the traditional organization was abandoned in favor of organizing in several ways--by year, geographic region, author, and department. Using multiple organization schemes is effective, and provides a clear advantage over traditional print-on-paper journals.

I found the journal's web site to be slightly cluttered, but still easy to navigate. The site is professional but not slick. Graphics are kept simple and informative, and the black or blue text on white background is easy to read.  Bold red borders and limited use of pink backgrounds give the site a consistent look. A Google "search this site" block is included on many pages. Links back to the home page and departments are consistently provided throughout the site. All content from 1996 to the present is readily accessible.

My guest is retired foreign service officer Dr. Henry E. Mattox, Editor of American Diplomacy. Dr. Mattox co-founded the journal with Ambassador T. Frank Crigler in 1996.

Steve: Dr. Mattox, welcome to Periodical Radio. Can you tell me the story of how American Diplomacy began?

Dr. Mattox: You mentioned Ambassador Crigler’s name [before we began the interview]. He and I and several other people were looking around at a time when we thought that perhaps the retired foreign service community in our area of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham could perhaps make a contribution in the understanding of foreign relations and the understanding of diplomacy and that sort of thing. Our part of North Carolina, called the triangle, which includes University of North Carolina and Duke University and North Carolina State University, plus several other colleges, has been some time well blessed retired people who have backgrounds in international affairs. Heavily represented among them are retired foreign service officers such as myself and such as Ambassador Crigler. We looked around, and thought about this and thought about that, how we might perhaps latch on to the burgeoning net system. One idea that was thrown out was perhaps we could respond to questions over the net. We had sort of a stable of retired people nearby we could call upon for information, for interpretation, and for elaboration of foreign policy problems or questions that came up. That didn’t seem really to work out for one reason because when you’re retired, you very soon get to be no longer au courant. You get to be sort of last year’s expert and that sort of thing. Therefore I think perhaps it was I who suggested that we use what internet or electronic computer expertise we had (this was ten and a half years ago) and put out a journal. I was of course familiar to print journals, and as a matter of fact way back, many years ago, I’d helped put out a college journal. But journals of the normal sort have problems of production, printing and stock and costs of that sort of thing, and the cost of assembling it and stapling everything together, then distributing it all. All kinds of problems. But we investigated, and looked into it and discussed it. Ambassador Crigler was a good bit more knowledgeable about computers than I was, so therefore we thought perhaps we could put out a monthly journal, only it would be completely no print, no printing press, no pieces of paper, no covers, no nothing of that sort. We designed it, we put the whole thing together. The first issue was fairly slim, but nevertheless it included some reasonably interesting stuff. Then through the intercession and support of a colleague of mine at the University of North Carolina we were able to get access to the University of North Carolina computer system. This is for a running account, keeping an archive and getting access to the system out there in the world. So we put it all together with the cooperation of Professor Dick Kohn who was head of the Triangle University Security Seminar, and also history professor at UNC. Through his intercession, and through his support, we got out our first issue. It was just about getting out the first issue of a college humor magazine, except it was all completely electronic. My colleague at the time, Ambassador Crigler, did the web master work. He was fairly knowledgeable about that. We got the first issue out, and then immediately started putting together material to put out another issue the following quarter. That’s how we got started. The impetus came from the fact that this area of North Carolina where I live and work, and where I have lived and worked for 25, 26 years now, has a great number of retired foreign affairs people, including military and other agencies and so forth. The core all along has been retired foreign service officers, such as Crigler and myself.

Steve: Very well. You mentioned that the word “issues” in quotation marks as well as someone can use quotation marks around a word as they’re speaking. I noticed that for the first five years of American Diplomacy, you did use volume and issue numbering, but then dropped that, and now organize the content differently, in multiple ways.

Dr. Mattox: Yes. I thought it was the first four years, but it may have been five years. We came to the point of realizing that we were just straight jacketing ourselves with my mental of print issues, print journals. There was simply no reason to do that, no reason whatever to hold everything up for three months, and then all at once change over to a new web page, and call it some new volume. We thought it would simply be obvious, and more flexible to put material up as it became available, and take material down as we decided perhaps it had been up long enough. It would be a continuing, ongoing process, and that’s been the case since five or six years ago when we decided to do that. By that time we had put together a board of advisors, a board of governors. American Diplomacy Publishers, a North Carolina incorporated non-profit organization with a board of directors, originally about 15 or 16 people, now it’s up to about 22 people. Many of the people on the board are retired foreign service, others are retired military, and still others remain in academia, and perhaps one or two people in the business world. They set policy guidelines, but not political policies, because we are apolitical in our approach to foreign affairs. Although I must say, people from time to time contribute articles that are pro intervention, anti intervention, or one thing or another. We entertain that sort of thing. I must say also that occasionally I write editorials that merge toward splenetic about one thing or another. But basically we are apolitical. Basically we are kept that way by the board of directors that came along and was organized. By the time we’d made this change over, the board of directors formally endorsed our change from a quarterly publication to an ongoing internet operation, where articles go up and down.

Steve: The librarian term for a web site that continually updates it content is what we call an integrating resource.

Dr. Mattox: Well I’m glad to know that, now we have a name for what we’ve been doing for the last five or six years.

Steve: There you go. I have a question about it being a free online journal, Dr. Mattox. Do you think American Diplomacy gets as much respect and recognition as it would if it were published as a regular print on paper journal?

Dr. Mattox: I think if not now already, I think it would within the near future, because things are changing so fast, that I do believe that most people of generations younger than mine think nothing of our not being printed on paper. In fact, I think the academic generations younger than mine, say 20 years younger than I, look upon web journals as being not particularly unusual. I don’t think the fact they are free really has anything to do with it. I don’t know, I’m just guessing now. We don’t charge. It’s up there if you want to look at. There’s no way I know of, anyway, that we could plug into anybody’s pocketbook anywhere along the line. We support ourselves through contributions by the board members, and by relatively modest support of two private foundations. So we have sufficient funds to cover basic out of pocket expenses of two or three or four members who are involved in turning out the journal, including myself. We pay on an hourly basis a contract webmaster, someone who we happened to have known for many years, and who has been in this region associated with North Carolina State University for many years. She takes care of the web mastering business, and I take care of the thrust of the articles and which articles we will present at what time and so forth. I have working with me a publisher who is retired foreign service. He and I served together fifty years ago, believe it or not. Anyway, I’ve known him for a very long time. He retired here without knowing anything about me being here, because it’s an attractive place to retire. Here being the triangle area of North Carolina. We have two, three, or four associate editors who primarily are involved in deciding whether an over the transom submission is useful to us, or not. If so, if they recommend it and I okay it, then often I will ask them to go back through it and put it into whatever format or form that we find most useful that we rather insist upon here at American Diplomacy. We have another source, I’m getting off on another subject now . . .

Steve: That’s all right.

Dr. Mattox: We have another source of articles, and that is reprints. the Foreign Policy Research Institute, for example, in Chicago I think it is, puts out really good material every once in a while. This is just one of the several such research outfits that are themselves free, that publish articles on this subject or that subject having to do with foreign affairs that we borrow from from time to time, with of course advance permission, and explicit permission from the organization. Of course we attribute the article to that organization. I wandered off somewhere.

Steve: That’s fine, absolutely fine. Many of the things you mentioned addressed questions I was going to ask, so that’s perfectly all right. Most of your writers are foreign service officers, or retired foreign service?

Dr. Mattox: Many of them. I don’t know that we’ve ever sat down to decide just exactly how many are foreign service officers. We have people who are in the foreign affairs field. One that comes to mind right away is Admiral Stansfield Turner, you remember, who was CIA Director at one time. I ran into him at a conference, and I had a talk with him one time before about something else. I asked him to write something for us, and he did, very nicely. That sort of thing happens from time to time. We have academic people in this area and around and about who write for us from time to time, just over the transom. Except it’s not exactly a surprise any more, we know people who write and send things in. Often we will use what they send in with only minimal editorializing. There’s a U.S. Attorney in Pennsylvania who’s been writing for us for five years, very interesting, in depth studies of one sort or another about historical U.S. foreign policy. I think he should have been a history professor rather than a U.S. Attorney. He should have gone to graduate school in history rather than law school. That seems to be the thing that interests him most. On the other hand, we have a lot of foreign service people who often take only a little bit of jogging from me to turn in something that’s quite interesting. One of the members of the board is a Middle East specialist who goes back years and years and years, and he can be counted upon to grind out something thoughtful and interesting every quarter, an in depth article of some sort. We are one of his principle outlets for his expressions of opinion. We have people who write about the foreign service itself. This is an area, incidentally, we have found is one of the two areas of most interest our readers—foreign service--how you get in, how it operates, what it does, how you get out, with a great deal of emphasis on how to get into the foreign service. We have a whole section, as you may have noted, called “Foreign Service Life.” People write about experiences they’ve had, the first post they had, how they took the exam, how they got shot at somewhere or another and that sort of thing. The other area that is of most interest is anything about the Middle East. This is not too surprising, I suppose.

Steve: So . . .

Dr. Mattox: Once again I got all wound up.

Steve: That’s quite all right. One of the downsides I might think of not having a subscribed journal is you don’t actually don’t know who your readers are.

Dr. Mattox: Yes, we do.

Steve: You do?

Dr. Mattox: We don’t know in detail, but we have tracking devices, tracking programs of some sort. We know how many people hit us, that is open the pages to read something or another. We know how many, and we have about twelve or fourteen hundred subscribers, who don’t have to pay anything, they just subscribe and therefore they get a heads up from some kind of. . .

Steve: …an e-mail alert.

Dr. Mattox: Yes, a long list of e-mail alerts, however it’s done. Our publisher does that. He knows where these people come from, and where they’re located by their e-mail addresses. Other than that, yes you’re quite right, though, we don’t know in detail who comes floating in over the transom and opens up an article and reads it and then goes away. We have no way of knowing that.

Steve: Do you have a sense of whether folks from other nations, not the United States, read your publication for insight into our foreign service?

Dr. Mattox: We do know that, we don’t know in precise detail, but we have about 50 or 60 subscribers from overseas. They come from everywhere you can think of, from Russia on down, the Middle East, East Africa. I think he wrote down for me some, let me see if I can find it. Afghanistan, China, Russia, those are the only three he gave me, but there are about 50 different countries. We found out one time that, I don’t know how it was done, exactly, that one of our subscribers was at the Russian embassy in Pakistan or somewhere. I don’t know why the Russian embassy, but I guess it’s rather obvious why they’d be interested in even informal statements of American foreign policy.

Steve: Do you have to be concerned about any classified information being revealed?

Dr. Mattox: No. We don’t have access to, nor any inclination to write anything that’s classified. Most of us are retired. Rarely do we publish anything from a foreign service officer on active duty, or a military officer on active duty. In those cases it might be that someone could slip up and reveal something or another, but I find it very unlikely. People who have access to classified information are rather careful with it, they certainly wouldn’t just blather it out to American Diplomacy, an unclassified and perfectly open electronic journal available to everybody in the world.

Steve: I understand. Dr. Mattox, what have you enjoyed most about being the editor of American Diplomacy?

Dr. Mattox: It permits me to stay in touch with those who are most concerned and most thinking and most active in the foreign service community. I say “foreign service community” in sort of a broad aspect, because several members of the board are former military officers, and former academics. Some are retired academics, and some are active. It gives me a chance to stay in touch with waves of intellectual thoughts that go beyond reading the editorial pages of the local newspapers every day, or even reading the Economist or whatever. I get to involve myself in discussions with people who have submitted articles and if they’re good I get in touch with them in that regard. If it’s not so good, or if it’s skimpy, I get in touch with them or I ask one of our assistant editors to get in touch with them. We discuss back and forth, and see whether we can improve it, or see whether we can go to press with it, in a sense, right away if it’s a good article. These editorial assistants, associate editors that I mentioned, all invariably are members of the board. If anyone can be charged with that kind of responsibility, to pass judgment on an article, they have the right to have the prestige of being on the board. The board doesn’t get paid anything…

Steve: They not only are not paid, they actually contribute [money]?

Dr. Mattox: Yes, they contribute. We have board meetings once a quarter and everybody buys his own lunch.

Steve: Hm. so it’s not a high budget operation.

Dr. Mattox: No.

Steve: I’m curious about this. Have you ever sat down and thought how much it would cost if everyone involved with your journal was paid the market rate for their labor?

Dr. Mattox: I have never even thought about approaching that question, no. We have publisher who I mentioned earlier. He’s also the treasurer, which is an elected position. I was once the treasurer, a long time ago, as well as being vice president of the board and acting president of the board. I finally got rid of the treasurer business. But when I was the treasurer, it wasn’t a very onerous job, because we didn’t have any money. But now we have reasonably substantial income, so therefore we can cover most of our literally out of pocket expenses, plus the web site, the web master expenses. But I never thought about all these various sundry other people. It would be really something. I’ll raise that with the treasurer next time I see him, but he will probably throw up his hands.

Steve: I bring it up simply because within the librarian community, there’s a great deal of discussion nowadays about what we call Open Access journals, like American Diplomacy, that are freely available on the web to anyone with an internet connection. The debate is whether, in the long term, whether these types of journals are really sustainable. In other words, if you look 10, 20, 30 years out, for a journal whether relying on volunteer labor is sufficient or not. That’s the debate within the librarian community. Obviously your journal is an example of running on dedicated individuals who volunteer their time and energy.

Dr. Mattox: Yes, and I don’t know how long that would be sustainable, but I don’t see any change in the near future. I don’t see any switch over to people dropping out because they weren’t being paid or anything of that sort. Most of the people…it’s a specialized kind of community where I live in north central North Carolina, around all these big universities, in that there’s an unusual number of retired foreign service, virtually all of them senior officers, all of them, I guess. Quite a few of them are retired ambassadors. They are interested in the process of foreign relations and they’re interested in the practice of foreign relations, and they retain that interest even though they’re retired. Retirement doesn’t make all that much difference. Therefore, I am lucky. I am favored. I’ve been the editor of this thing for a little over ten years now. I don’t know how much longer I will wish to stay, but if I decide to step down, or if I’m asked to step down for whatever reason, there will be somebody here in this community who will be willing and able to take over.

Steve: That’s excellent.

Dr. Mattox: I don’t want to cast aspersions on any particular area, but if I had retired in south Mississippi where I grew up, and was the first one off to school, I would be in trouble trying to run this kind of operation. People don’t retire in south Mississippi.

Steve: Well Dr. Mattox, I’m afraid our time is up. We do limit this show to about 30 minutes to fit into our program rotation. I thank you very much for being my guest. It’s been fascinating.

Dr. Mattox: My pleasure.

Steve: If you would like to read American Diplomacy, it is available for free to anyone with a web connection. The URL is http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/ . Thank you for listening to this installment of Periodical Radio. I'm your host, Steve Black.