Celebrating 78 years of The World Today

As Chatham House’s membership magazine pauses publication to consider its future, Roxanne Escobales considers her editorship and salutes those who came before her.

The World Today Published 2 February 2024 Updated 21 March 2024 3 minute READ

Roxanne Escobales

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

A green, 1963 Murano glass ashtray, a bottle of cheap Prosecco with the store’s security tags still attached and a copy of Sievers and Daws’ The Procedure of the UN 
Security Council, 4th edition, shoved under a bookshelf.

Cover of July 1945 The World Today

I found these items – a Diplomat’s Survival Kit of sorts sans the Ferrero Rocher – on my first day in The World Today office on the fourth floor of Chatham House, which reopened in spring 2021. Piccadilly Circus was still a Londoner’s paradise then with no traffic or tourists as the Covid vaccine rollout began and lockdown restrictions still applied.

A lot has changed over three years. Most dramatically, conflict erupted in the Horn of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, testing traditional alliances around the globe.

Covid showed that it takes more than an existential threat to unify the world as less powerful countries were left without the vaccine.The spectre of Chinese ambitions continues to top the list of geopolitical concerns while the United States prepares to elect a leader with an outsized influence over world events.

Today, technology billionaires play with artificial intelligence, stirring up fears that AI may be left to decide our future for us. And looming in the background yet all around us is the threat of global warming and climate crisis.

Through it all, Chatham House has continued to provide the expertise and analysis for foreign policy decision-makers, as it has been for more than 100 years. For 78 years, The World Today has formed an essential part of this offering, providing global perspectives, expert analysis and insightful features.

Billed as its membership magazine, it reaches a far wider audience through its digital presence. When hired, I was given the task of reaching new audiences in our digital age. To do this, my team focused on what Chatham House is uniquely placed to offer.

For 78 years, The World Today has provided global perspectives, expert analysis and insightful features.

Our model has been to use the expertise of Chatham House and its sector to inform our readers by convening a range of voices and perspectives from around the world, much like you find on stage in the Joseph Gaggero Hall from week to week in our 18th century home in St James’s Square.

Through this we have been able to influence policy debates, Whitehall offices have asked to connect with our contributors, and our content has informed written questions in the House of Lords and been quoted in news outlets around the globe.

A crucial factor in all this has been ensuring contributors represent communities from all corners of the world. We have seen the consequences of echo chambers: if we converse only with people who look and sound like us, then it limits our understanding of the world and effective decision-making. 

An achievement to note has been reversing the gender imbalance of our contributors. This was a house-wide target that I pursued with zeal. We went beyond levelling up the ratio and swung a majority male contributor base to a majority female one. In 2000, the contributors were 73:27 male to female. By the end of my first year, it was 57:43 female to male.

When you realize that men’s voices in political coverage are seven times louder than women’s, that only three in 10 international relations scholars are women and that only a quarter or so of the world’s parliamentarians are women, you understand why it is important for women’s voices to reach policy-makers.

It also turns out that there is a demand for this. When we explored Feminist Foreign Policy in the February/March issue of 2022, it was met with some raised eyebrows. Apparently, the term ‘feminist’ would put some people off, we were told. I paid no heed, and that issue became the most read – even in the year and the month that Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

Female Editors

What perhaps readers may not be aware of is the long line of female editors that stretches back to the origins of The World Today. In the 1940s, Margaret Cornell was instrumental in turning Chatham House’s Bulletin of International News into The World Today. She would return to become its editor in 1962, succeeding the scholar of Italian, Muriel Grindrod. Liliana Brisby, the great-granddaughter of the first prime minister of Bulgaria, then edited The World Today from 1975 until she retired in 1983.

August September 2022 cover of The World Today

As this magazine is called The World Today, and as a former BBC World Service journalist, an editorial directive I issued to my Senior Content Editor and righthand man, Mike Higgins, has been to find stories and contributors from every global region for each issue.

In our commitment to publishing international perspectives and articles from marginalized communities, we nurtured talent such as Rinu Oduala, the Nigerian political activist who in her early 20s helped organize the #EndSARS protests in Lagos. She would go on to be named one of the top political influencers in the country and travel to Washington to become a Hurford Youth Fellow.

Our Africa issue of August/September 2022, which explored African democracy, space programmes, culture and much more, featured mostly African contributors.

The LGBTQ issue In June/July 2023 coincided with Chatham House’s first ever Pride event, and inside its covers the most privileged in Los Angeles appeared side by side with some of the most persecuted – a displaced Ugandan lesbian languishing in a refugee camp in Kenya.

When revisiting the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan two years on, we made sure Afghan voices formed the core of our articles.

Closer to home, our UK issue at the end of 2022 allowed the newest research initiative in Chatham House, the UK in the World programme, an opportunity to spark conversations about Britain’s evolving role on the global stage post-Brexit. Bill Rolston’s article on understanding the current political stalemate in Northern Ireland through a colonial lens went stratospheric.

Our AI issue in October/November 2023 raised the curtain for the UK’s AI Safety Summit and featured original thinking from within and beyond the House.

October-November 2023 cover of The World Today

Behind our contributors is a small yet mighty team. The look and feel of the current format of the magazine is the work of my predecessor, Alan Philps, who turned the magazine into a quality, journalistic product.

The breathtaking covers and interior picture editing and design are the work of Alexander Ecob. Central has been Mike Higgins, who has met my challenges of finding more women, more non-western contributors with the grace of a saint and the skill of a seasoned journalist. Richard Parrack added a little polish to the copy and our former social media and email guru Rhea Soppelsa was key to growing our audiences.

We never had to break open the Diplomat’s Survival Kit. No one dared uncork the bottle of cheap Prosecco. The mid-century Murano glass ashtray, a relic of the Cold War era that nurtured the roots of the multilateralism we continue to defend, was eventually delivered to its rightful owner. The UN Security Council procedures rulebook became the magazine office’s doorstop, a symbol brought to life as demands to expand membership of  the UN Security Council  become more fervent and critical.

As the ebb and flow of world events intensify, the work of Chatham House is needed more than ever. Now in its 79th year, The World Today will take a pause to reflect what that means for its future.

While my time as Editor has been brief, it has allowed Chatham House to reach beyond St James’s Square and engage new audiences. Long may it continue.

Thank you for reading.

For information about the return of The World Today, please email: [email protected]