Blake Hounshell: Editor at Foreign Policy, Politico, and New York Times

From a New York Times obit by Sam Roberts headlined “Blake Hounshell, ‘On Politics’ Editor at the Times, Dies at 44”:

Blake Hounshell, an influential political journalist who was managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a top editor at Politico before joining The New York Times and overseeing its popular newsletter “On Politics,” died on Tuesday in Washington.

His family said that he had died “after a long and courageous battle with depression.” The police in Washington were investigating the death as a suicide.

Mr. Hounshell, who joined The Times in 2021, wrote “On Politics” out of Washington, incorporating contributions from other Times correspondents. The newsletter appears five days a week and is regularly read by an estimated half-million paying subscribers.

Mr. Hounshell “quickly distinguished himself as our lead politics newsletter writer and a gifted observer of our country’s political scene,” Joseph Kahn, the Times’s executive editor, said, adding, “He became an indispensable and always insightful voice in the report during a busy election cycle.”

Mr. Hounshell’s last “On Politics” newsletter, focusing on the conundrum facing Gov. Gavin Newsom of California over the state’s capital punishment policies, was published on Monday. On Friday he wrote about the Republican Party’s difficulties in attracting young voters.

“For months before the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats fretted that younger voters might fall into old habits and stay home,” Mr. Hounshell wrote. “The analysis is still a little hazy, but as more data comes in, it looks as if enough young people showed up in many key states to play a decisive role.

“And now,” he added, “some Republicans are warning that their party’s poor standing with millennial and Gen-Z voters could become an existential threat. But there’s no consensus about how much, if at all, Republicans’ message needs to change.”

Born in California, Bernard Blakeman Hounshell was raised in Delaware and Pittsburgh. He graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2002. He began his journalism career after studying Arabic in Cairo.

In 2011, he was a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, given by the Wallace House Center for Journalists at the University of Michigan, for his reporting on the Arab Spring uprisings of the early 2010s.

In his time as managing editor of Foreign Policy, from 2009 to 2013, the magazine won three National Magazine Awards as he transformed the publication for the internet era.

At Politico, where he worked for eight years before joining The Times, he was digital editorial director, managing editor for Washington and political news, managing editor, and editor in chief of the website’s magazine, which he had initiated.

He had been launching, writing and editing newsletters and blogs for 15 years since 2006, when he joined Foreign Policy.

David Halbfinger, The Times’s politics editor, said on Tuesday that Mr. Hounshell was endowed with “the kind of wide-ranging intellect that made it possible for him to explain anything to anyone.”

Sam Roberts, an obituaries reporter, was previously The Times’s urban affairs correspondent and is the host of “The New York Times Close Up,” a weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV.
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Also see the obit on politico.com by Garrett M. Graff headlined “In Remembrance of a Beloved and Very Online Journalist” The opening grafs:

Blake Hounshell, a witty and astute political observer who possessed a special knack for understanding the dynamics of internet journalism and became one of the driving forces behind POLITICO’s success over nearly a decade, died Tuesday.

According to a family statement, Blake died “after a long and courageous battle with depression.” The unexpected news spread rapidly through Washington and policy circles, as colleagues remembered him as a remarkable editor, generous colleague and critical mentor to younger journalists. Across his stints at Foreign Policy and POLITICO, he edited hundreds of bylines, from senior policymakers to interns, making every story sharper and every headline snappier.

A native of California who grew up in Delaware and Pittsburgh, PA, he graduated from Yale, where he studied political science and managed The Whiffenpoofs — the storied a cappella group. Hounshell was long fascinated with the world beyond, an interest that only deepened in his senior year in the wake of 9/11. He moved to the Middle East after graduating in 2002, to study Arabic in a quest to understand the dynamics of Islamic extremism and the dawning of the War on Terror….

Hounshell’s interest in international affairs and the Middle East led him online: He founded a foreign policy blog, called “American Footprints,” and wrote for the American Prospect’s blog in an era where Prospect hosted many of the nation’s hottest emerging voices, like Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias, and the site’s unique voice was helping to pioneer a new style of journalism in Washington, D.C.

With little journalism training and background, Hounshell wove and wrote his way into the field primarily by devouring news and hoovering up more information than anyone around him, eventually landing a role at Foreign Policy. In the wake of the magazine’s 2008 purchase by The Washington Post Company, incoming editor Susan Glasser remembers being immediately struck by Hounshell’s wide-ranging interests and unparalleled metabolism.

“He was faster and smarter and more immersed in the news cycle than anyone I’ve known,” Glasser recalled. “Although Blake wasn’t born with an iPhone in his hand, he was the first and most digital native person I knew.”

Working together, Glasser and Hounshell reinvented Foreign Policy, remaking the longtime print publication, which had been run by the Carnegie Endowment for 30 years, into a daily online magazine just as magazines were imagining a web-first future. David Kenner, whom Hounshell first hired as an intern and later into a staff role, recalls Hounshell’s voracious reading ability.

“He had his encyclopedic knowledge of the world that was unparalleled among our staff. At FP, his job was to oversee the whole world, really, and the joke was always that we’d have lunch with, like, a Swedish diplomat, and he’d be like, ‘I was reading this obscure Swedish document and had this very specific question’ — things that no one could fathom how someone who had such a broad remit could know,” Kenner recalls.

Despite his wide-ranging interests and his role overseeing global coverage, it was clear to colleagues that a part of him remained fascinated with the other path — the reporters who specialized, learned the local languages and dug deep into single subjects and regions — and while his Arabic skills never rose above what he self-deprecatingly called “mangled,” he always followed closely the careers of those he’d met early in Egypt, like Ben Hubbard, now the Istanbul bureau chief for the New York Times….

The reinvention of Foreign Policy was seen as a bright spot in an industry still struggling to come to terms with the impact of the internet, and won Glasser, Hounshell and the upstart magazine a digital National Magazine Award for its blogs. On the train ride back from New York to Washington, their Alexander Calder “Ellie” award awkwardly perched with them, Glasser recalled that Hounshell confided that his wife had been offered a professional opportunity in Qatar that would force him to leave the magazine. “In journalism people come and go, and I just couldn’t do it,” Glasser says, recalling that she told him he should keep his job in Qatar: “Somehow we’ll make it work.”

The timing proved fortuitous, as the Arab Spring broke out soon after his return to the Middle East, putting him at the center of one of the biggest stories in the world and in a region that had uniquely captured his heart. “He basically live-tweeted the whole thing,” Glasser recalled.

“It meant so much to him to throw himself back into a story — and specifically an Egyptian story. His Twitter feed was just nonstop, it was 20 hours a day — following the most minute details of the politics,” Kenner recalled. “It was one of the first times I’d ever seen it used like that.”

Hounshell’s Twitter following grew to hundreds of thousands, in an era when such followings were all-but-unheard of, but he was hardly only a keyboard journalist: He reported on-the-ground from Tahrir Square and experienced the uprising up-close; his reporting for Foreign Policy was a finalist for the Livingston Awards, the prestigious recognition for the best journalism by journalists under 35.

After Hounshell returned to Washington he and Glasser were recruited to POLITICO in 2013 to launch the brand’s first foray into longform journalism, a project that became POLITICO Magazine.

The magazine, which Glasser, as editor, and Hounshell, as deputy editor, launched in 2013 quickly established itself as a must-read, recognized as one of the industry’s hottest new magazines, scoring two National Magazine Award finalist nods in its first year, and both the Michael Kelly Award and the George Polk Award for its coverage of the rise of ISIS.

In their collaborative transformation of multiple agenda-setting publications, Glasser and Hounshell’s unique editorial partnership over a decade surely ranks as one of the capital’s deepest, one that helped forever remake the metabolism of Washington journalism and reshaped the industry’s understanding of digital magazines. As Glasser says, “He was not just a colleague, but my indispensable partner.”…

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