Free Fall Q & A With FP’s Kevin Baron

Foreign Policy magazine’s Kevin Baron, who typically writes The E-Ring blog, is filling in for Gordon Lubold this week to write the early morning Situation Report. So we caught up with him to see how that’s going. A bit of background on Baron: He came to Foreign Policy last July. Before that, he worked at National Journal for 10 months, and previously significant stints at Stars & Stripes and the Boston Globe. What lured Baron to FP was a newly created national security “channel” on their website to beef up defense reporting. It’s called a “channel” but doesn’t involve TV footage. He explains that the “The E-Ring” — his section — is named for a part of the Pentagon where you find all the big shots, such as former Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta. As a Pentagon reporter, Baron has traveled the world — Angola, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, Korea, Slovakia, Qatar, Djibuti, Egypt, Israel as well as Afghanistan (four trips) and Iraq (four trips). “I don’t get to go on the fun trips like Paris and Rome,” he says. Baron marks the Peruvian chicken as the best food at the Pentagon. He explains that the “Pentagon press cave” is a fire trap because there’s only one door going in and out and only a couple windows. He couldn’t take a picture for FishbowlDC because it’s not permitted and he’d have to get clearance. But he says it’s nothing much to see — a bunch of cubicles, a long common desk. And no wireless. “They took away our wireless,” he says. Reporters must plug in through ethernet cables. To use a cell phone, he has to walk to the “outer ring” or near a window.

What’s your usual beat? I do the Defense Blog. I’m a national security reporter. I cover the Pentagon. I’m at the Pentagon almost every day. I cover Capitol Hill when it’s related to national security stuff. 

What time do you wake up and get to work? For this week, the Situation Report is a morning news letter. We have a pretty global audience. A lot of it is pre-reported the day before. After dinner, before bed I’ll do some writing. I get up 5:30 in the morning, put on coffee, feed the dog and start to piece it all together. I check the overnight news, especially the overseas Afghanistan reports. So I’m at home in my pajamas. I’ve been handing it in between 8 and 8:30. There’s no hard rule. It depends. It’s meant to be something to read after you get to your desk.

I didn’t realize national security reporting could be fun and snappy. Is that what your trying to achieve as the substitute Situation Report writer this week while Lubold is on vacation? That’s kind of what I like to achieve in all my writing honestly. That’s just my style. The more uninhibited I am, the better the prose is. Finding the voice can be difficult, especially when you’re trained to not have a voice. Up and coming journalists, I would highly recommend them to [know how to] do it all.

Why won’t you tell us where Lubold is? It’s so awful of you to tell us only that it involves sun, tropical and freckles. I should’ve asked him if he minds. It’s his vacation. I’m not going to publish his vacation. He’s getting sun, he’s on vacation. Is he out of the country or in the United States? I can’t say. [Grumbles and other sounds of irritation.] Come on, you can tell me that. No, I can’t.