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Jane's Defence WeeklyJDW

Circulation: 27,871
Date of Birth: 1984
Frequency: Weekly
Price: $7.95
Natural habitat: Next to your desktop AV-8B Harrier II jet display model


By Davide Berretta

In a news environment that seems to endlessly recycle and repackage the reporting of fewer and fewer news gatherers, Jane’s Defence Weekly shines like a dug-up chest of doubloons. Once you get past the seemingly dull nature of its subject, that is.

JDW tracks the development, production and sale of arms. It also covers the business of defense companies—both arms producers and military contractors—as well as military operations across the globe. “It’s definitely the most prestigious name out there,” says Joshua Kucera, who was a staff reporter in the Washington, D.C. bureau of the magazine for two years.

Sometimes, it seems as though JDW is reluctantly resisting the temptation to capture something more than the paltry details of the international arms trade. Yet the magazine is not a foreign policy publication, and the fact that it recently changed its subtitle from “The world’s news and analysis” to the more modest “Intelligence and insight you can trust” demonstrates that it does not want to be.

Precisely by sticking to its guns, JDW brims with reporting and information that you are unlikely to find anywhere else—unless you subscribe to Defense News or Armada International, two competing publications—and remains an excellent source of story ideas for the curious journalist interested in foreign affairs and looking for a second-hand scoop, a trend or valuable information about relations between countries.

This is considered to be shadowy business mostly because nobody takes the time to read about it,” says Stephen Biddle, a military strategist. “You would be amazed how much tech knowledge you could get by reading this kind of publication.” Here are a few things I learned by reading the magazine and its website in February: South Africa just obtained a $713-million submarine; France is planning to withdraw some troops from the Ivory Coast and Russia is considering granting India a license to produce Kalashnikov rifles.

These bits of information may seem minor, but they all hint at important and underreported trends in foreign affairs: South Africa’s role as the main regional power in Africa, France’s continuing military involvement in its former colonies and shifting alliances in Asia.

The magazine—with almost a hundred regular contributors, a good half of whom are based abroad—is the flagship title of Jane’s Information Group, a British intelligence and information company named after John Frederick Thomas Jane, a late 19th century author and illustrator. IHS, an energy and engineering consulting company, acquired the firm in 2007.

The magazine’s uncouth look does little to attract the casual reader. Pictures of guns and choppers dominate the pages, while the few advertisements—seemingly designed in the Eighties—promote new models of tanks, Swiss army knives and “the world’s best grenade.” It all looks like it was meant to be read by people who consistently have more important things to do. That is at least partly true—every member of Congress gets Jane’s Defence Weekly, according to Peter Felstead, the editor in chief.

Most copies, however, go to people in the military, in the defense industry and in the circles associated with foreign affairs and national security, such as think tanks and police. And these people, one would assume, really care about JDW’s descriptions of chin-mount installations and cockpit logistics, both of which—I think—have something to do with helicopters.

 



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Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
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