Alumni and students form independent news source

Alumni and students from Mercyhurst have developed an news and analysis source for affairs in Russia and the former USSR, allowing students and entry-level professionals to publish analysis for readers across the globe.

Graham Westbrook and Spencer Vuksic, both Mercyhurst Intelligence Studies alumni, developed the website Leksika in the summer of 2014. The website provides analysis of current affairs within the former USSR.

“The idea was to provide news writing with an intel flavor,” said Westbrook, “as well as to bring together some objective political dialogue about Russia.”

Leksika was developed from an idea of taking Mercyhurst students and using their knowledge to insert intelligence into the political spectrum, Westbrook said.

Vuksic said that the platform began for those who would be interested in analysis regarding security, economics and political affairs in Russia and Eurasia, as well as the regional affairs’ impact on other parts of the world.

“We’ve had articles on South Korean, or Israeli, or Argentinian relations with Russia, so it can cross the globe,” Vuksic said.

The platform provides students and new analysts with an opportunity to publicize and display their work and research, as well as provide them with something to show future employers.

“They’re not going to get published in the New York Times or the Washington Post on issues like this, but they have something to offer to an interested audience that’s looking at that region,” Vuksic said.

Leksika provides a way for analysts to publish their work and reach an audience which they otherwise couldn’t reach, Vuksic said.

The analysts involved with Leksika have covered a wide range of topics relating to the former Soviet Union, and even had an exclusive interview with Altay Goyushov, a noted Azerbaijani political dissident and expert on political Islam in the South Caucasus. The interview reached readers as far as Turkey, Steven Luber, a junior Intelligence and Russian Studies major said.

“We’ve covered the whole gambit, from Moldova, Ukraine, the Caucasus, the Baltics, pretty much anything to do with the geopolitics of the former Soviet Union,” Luber said.

Luber and Carl Best, a senior Intelligence Studies major, were the first two analysts from Mercyhurst who Westbrook recruited for Leksika.

Luber contributes a weekly update that covers multiple topics. Best covers more specific and focused issues.

“I started off doing the Negorno-Karabakh issue [attempted secession of ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan], then I moved over to Moldova, and we ended up having a series of in-depth articles, a sort of history of Moldova,” Best said.

The series of articles culminated in a group article covering the issues behind and the run-up to the Moldovan election in November. Best has also moved into covering the Baltics and the Caucasus, while Luber has begun to do more work analyzing the situation in Ukraine.

Vuksic and Westbrook said they are hoping to see the platform expand, but also keep its base in helping up-and-coming professionals gain a voice within the intelligence community.

Westbrook said that while Leksika is trying to expand, the goal is to avoid corporate sponsorship in order to avoid the possibility of losing independence of the analysis.

“When you accept corporate sponsors, you become tethered to someone else’s will,” said Westbrook. “We would prefer to keep it kind of grassroots in order to prevent that.”

The platform has succeeded so far without any type of revenue, according to Vuksic.

“Me and Graham kind of started up and paid for the fees in tandem, and there’s an article like the Goyushov article that I see as particularly valuable, I’ll spend five bucks for advertising on Facebook or Twitter, and that’s how we’ve expanded our audience outside the US,” Vuksic said.

While the audience expands outside of the United States and some of the analysts hail from overseas, the core and the future of the operation lies at Mercyhurst. Luber and Best, who have been designated as deputy editors, are leaving within the next two years and are looking for replacements to continue the operation.

“At this time, we’re both going to try to branch out elsewhere and at the same time, we’re both going to try to find people who are going to take up the role at Mercyhurst, so we can keep a firm base,” Best said.

Luber and Best have also reached out to professors in the School of Intelligence Studies to help find contributors for Leksika.

“We’ve reached out to Professor Mills and we’re kind of mentoring one of his writing classes,” Luber said. “Mercyhurst will definitely be a part of it for the foreseeable future.”