Searching for sense in politics

As this election breaks precedents, Dr. Julia Azari’s analysis has been in demand

By Wyatt Massey, Diederich College of Comm ’16

It’s been a busy week for Dr. Julia Azari as the presidential election heats up.

With a critical Wisconsin primary days away, she missed a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter — because she was on the phone with the New York Times.

The professor in Marquette University’s department of political science has rarely found a moment of silence lately. She has been quoted in the New York Times and spoken on Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie and the Milwaukee Magazine Podcast.

“The media calls have been constant,” she says.

Azari is not just answering questions. She is asking her own.

The professor is a known voice in politics because of her extensive blogging background. She writes for the Mischiefs of Faction section of Vox and FiveThirtyEight, covering the presidential race and American political parties. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and Politico.

Azari grew up with dreams of being a fiction writer, and then decided on journalism as she entered college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“Part of me really wanted to be a novelist,” Azari says. “I always thought in words.”

When she could not immediately enter the college’s journalism program, she took some different classes instead. “I decided to do political science as a warm-up, then I got sucked in.”

However, she was hesitant to follow the traditional path to Washington D.C. after graduating with a degree in political science. The year was 2002. She characterized the political landscape following 9/11 as a “bloodthirsty environment.”

“It was uncomfortable, it was very confusing,” she says. “I’m a Middle Eastern American and I didn’t want to be part of it.”

Azari chose to continue studying political science at Yale University, eventually earning her Ph.D. there. Despite the challenges of the time, it was formative for Azari.

“The Bush presidency shaped what I was interested in and why I got involved in political science.” She wrote her dissertation on political rhetoric.

Dr. Azari has written about rifts in political parties for FiveThirtyEight.

Blogging comes naturally, even if she came to the practice by accident. Following the release of her book “Delivering the People’s Message,” she pitched promotional columns to various political science websites. Mischiefs of Faction asked her to stay on as a contributor.

Blogging has helped her in the classroom as much as the classroom has helped her writing, she says.

“A number of my lectures end up as blog posts, and vice versa,” she says. “If something works in the classroom, it works as a blog post.”

Similar to her lectures, her blog posts are typically centered on a topic of general interest in politics and supported by a piece of insight that a scholar can provide.

The lack of diversity in blogging has led Azari to share her writing tips with the Marquette community. She recently gave a presentation on blogging, during which she outlined three important factors for a successful blog.

The first is to have a continual stream of content, which can be helped by working with a group of writers instead of going solo. Second writers should embrace free-form style of blogging. She likens it to the “the folk music that everyone can sing.” Finally, have an area of expertise that is authentic.

“You shouldn’t try to sound too much like other people,” she advises. “You have to find your own voice. And that can be scary.”

Azari found her voice by noticing the lack of diversity in political science blogging. “I’m one of the few female voices,” she says.

When Azari is not writing, reading or teaching about politics, she admits that she does need to step away from the topic at times.

“I have times when I turn stuff off completely.” In those moments, she enjoys reading novels, knitting and listening to podcasts, such as “Stuff Mom Never Told You” or “On Being.”

Given the nation’s insatiable interest in politics and the countless storylines of the current presidential race, Azari’s time to relax may not come for a while.

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