The War in Ukraine Made This DC Writer Newsletter a Must-Have

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, journalist Julia Ioffe has become one of the most prominent, incisive and sought-after experts on this horrific conflict.

She is a regular guest on cable news, appearing frequently for hits on CNN and MSNBC. She provided an analysis on CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” and on “Frontline” from PBS. She speaks on the radio and on podcasts, and sometimes appears live on stage. Recently, a crowd of people gathered in the Comedy Cellar in New York to see her take part in a political debate on whether the United States and NATO were responsible for the war in Ukraine.

But above all, Ioffe is renowned for her incisive writing on the people, culture, and politics of Russia, a skill set that’s particularly crucial right now.

“She brings something unique to the table and that is her deep personal investment in Soviet and Russian life,” said New Yorker editor David Remnick, himself a longtime columnist of Russian politics. . “At the same time, thanks to her reporting there and her network of friends and sources, she is extremely knowledgeable. I always read what she writes with enormous interest.

War outbreaks inevitably result in breakout voices from the news industry, often drawn from whatever medium is embraced by news consumers at that particular moment in history. From the radio dispatches of World War II, emerged Edward R. Murrow. From heartbreaking newspaper dispatches on the Vietnam War, came such revered writers as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan. From the explosive 24-hour live coverage of the Persian Gulf War, grew a large crop of cable television correspondents like Bernard Shaw and Christiane Amanpour.

Ioffe, for one, is very much a new and specific archetype of the 2022 media landscape. Every few days, his latest story about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is delivered not to subscribers’ doorsteps but to their mailbox. She is a newsletter editor.

Since last year, Ioffe (pronounced YA-FEE) has been the Washington correspondent for Puck, a startup that Goals to provide the inside story of Washington, Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, primarily via newsletters for paid subscribers written by a handful of prominent social media savvy authors. The other founding partners of Ioffe and Puck own part of the business and receive a bonus based on the number of subscriptions they generate. Puck, she says, offered her more freedom than traditional publications.

“Whenever I’ve worked in great heritage places, I’ve always had my wings clipped,” Ioffe said in an interview. “I start tripping on my feet in places like this. I’m not very good at playing internal politics, dealing with bureaucracies, and knowing who to CC email to. I just want to do what I’m good at, which is reporting and writing.

Since early December, his list of newsletter subscribers has quadrupled.

According to co-founder Jon Kelly, subscriptions to Puck, which cost $100 a year, are growing 65% each month, thanks in part to sales to businesses such as law firms and media companies. He declined to disclose the total number of subscribers to Puck. But the renewed interest in Ioffe hasn’t hurt. After one of his recent television appearances, a university requested Puck subscriptions for all of its students, faculty and full-time employees, Kelly said.

“All of this attention to Julia broadened her intellectual footprint, but it also increased the notoriety of other Puck journalists,” Kelly said.

In its newsletter, Ioffe interviews people who offer a unique perspective on war. Recent iterations have featured a Russian pollster, Biden’s former Ukrainian adviser, and a young actor from Moscow who educates Russians via social media about what’s happening in Ukraine. From Washington, she conducts interviews in her native Russian and often stays up late or gets up early to speak with sources in Moscow, which is seven hours ahead of schedule.

“I’m not on the ground in Ukraine or Russia, and I’m very aware of the limitations of that,” she said. “I try to give the reader what I can offer, which is in-depth knowledge of the history of the place, the culture of the place.”

Ioffe, 39, was born in Moscow, before the breakup of the Soviet Union. Shortages of food and other goods were common when she was growing up. Her father is a computer programmer. Her mother is a doctor. When she was 7, she and her family, who are Jewish, fled to the United States after hearing rumors of violent anti-Semitic riots at a celebration of Russian Christianity. The Ioffes landed in suburban Baltimore. For years afterwards, during lean times, they marked the day of their arrival in the United States by splurging on dinner at Bennigan’s.

After earning a degree in history and a minor in Russian studies at Princeton, Ioffe began her journalism career as a fact checker for The New Yorker. From 2009 to 2012 she returned to Russia and started working freelance for magazines. Miriam Elder, who met Ioffe when they were both journalists in Russia, said her stories contradicted the mainstream narrative that Russia was “almighty”.

“She goes deeper and she questions everything,” said Elder, now editor at Vanity Fair. “She was very good at cutting bulls —.”

David Hoffman, a friend and former Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post, said Ioffe’s defining moment was a 2011 profile she wrote for the New Yorker about Alexey Navalny, then a Russian blogger and anti-corruption activist, relatively unknown to Western audiences.

“When this piece came up, I didn’t know any of that,” Hoffman said. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is someone who really sinks into a place where I thought I was’.”

Ioffe’s stories caught the attention of Susan Glasser, who was the editor of Foreign Policy magazine at the time. Glasser asked him to write regular dispatches for the magazine, which resulted in a memorable article in 2011 that revealed the identities behind a popular Twitter account ridiculing the Russian president.

“I just think she has a unique talent,” Glasser said. “It’s a wonderful benefit to all of us that she has dedicated her career to explaining and straddling these two worlds that she knows and connecting them to each other, especially in the midst of this crisis.”

Ioffe has ties to both sides of the war. Part of his family is from Ukraine. She still has friends in Russia, although many have recently fled.

“I can’t help but see the tragedy through this lens,” she said. “The country I was born in is doing this in a country where my people are from.”

All of this has left Ioffe feeling deeply conflicted with the circumstances of his current turn in the spotlight.

“I feel really weird about it,” Ioffe said. “It sucks to have a big moment in your career around something so awful.”

On Twitter, where she has more than 400,000 followers, Ioffe frequently posts about the war, sometimes in Russian, and recently helped raise money for an independent Russian TV channel that was forced to shut down. Sometimes she faced intense attacks. After her wrote a profile of Melania Trump for GQ magazine in 2016, she received death threats and anti-Semitic messages, and people tried to send coffins to her house. Things have calmed down in the Biden era, she said, and any social media criticism she receives these days, she tries to brush off.

“It doesn’t help to be a woman, it doesn’t help to be Jewish, it doesn’t help to have a big mouth and you say things that not everyone agrees with. “, said Ioffe. “Even if it’s stressful, it’s part of the job. It’s a small fraction of the interactions I have online.

Ioffe often expresses his pessimism about the war in Ukraine. After explaining a series of worst-case scenarios on Colbert’s show, he joked, “Thank you for all the encouragement.” His newsletter is called “Tomorrow will be worse”.

“To me, it’s just an analysis,” Ioffe said. “People say ‘Oh you’re so Russian, it’s so dark and cynical.’ But I think I’m just realistic about where things can go.