Sunday, April 26, 2009

Copycatting The Economist

According to Matt Pressman at Vanity Fair, Time and Newsweek wish to be like The Economist - and Pressmen explains convincingly why they won't. Never ever, not even after Hell freezes over, if you ask me.

I've been reading The Economist, off and on, since my father started bringing it home in, oh I suppose it was 1969. It's by far the most intelligent weekly magazine anywhere, and trumps the dailies and monthlies, too. It is broadminded, arrogant, well informed, snotty, cynical and irreverent of power, preachy, a joy to read and aggravating no end. It's a newspaper that spent its first century reporting on the world from its capital, London; since the sun never set on its beat, it never tired of watching it all. Reading The Economist is the best way I've ever found of keeping abreast of the human story - not all of it, of course, but more than anywhere else.

Yet I'd add some points Pressman misses. The paper's economic ideology: It's fiercely free-market, of course. The Economist really believes that free markets are the best for people; its editors are constantly on the lookout for what will be advantageous for as many people as possible. Whether you agree or not, reading them is a fine antidote to the silliness of capitalism being a conspiracy of the rich to exploit the poor, or the powerful to keep down the weak.

They're rationalist to a fault. They always try to uncover the facts and relate to them. They're as ideological as anyone, but do their best to keep their ideology tied to reality - a trick few others manage.

They have no bylines. We know the name of the editor in chief; if someone dies on the job they'll tell us about her, but of course she's off the staff by then. So there are no egos involved. Can you imagine?

Finally, their style is simply wonderful. Years ago when I was just beginning to write for consumption in English (my first written language as an adult was Hebrew), I purchased their style guide. Their basic admonition to their writers was to pitch their writing as if they were talking to an intelligent audience. Talking, mind you. Which means do without the hi-falutin words when there are simple ones, don't shy away from colloquialisms when they work best, but never forget your audience is intelligent. With one fell swoop they absolved me of the style used by, oh, 89% of academics.

Their positions on Israel can sometimes be outrageous; in 2002 I canceled my subscription they were so unacceptable.

But eventually I went back.


Anonymous said...

capitalism is no conspiracy for sure but in any group whatsoever, if the Alpha is not checked by something independent from the group dynamic the not so Alphas get (ruthlessly) exploited. Competition alone is no antidote to talented totalitarians because human nature being what it is...
This my wisdom comes from having served innumerable cups of coffee to males in conferences being so intent on competing that I enjoyed the privilege of being kind of invisible and so made it a habit of tinkering with the cups as long as possible -
if the dynamic would change to the better, if women were present? It might become different but I guess the outcome would be the same. Once they really get going they loose sight of anything other than the top game - the results of such behaviour may be brilliant as well as disastrous - so the question boils down to whether it is alright to forgo a bit of brilliance for the chance of less extreme ups and downs
and yes this week The Economist's "the Week ahead" podcast was refreshing but as times are changing, they tell you who is speaking ;-)
and here is the link for the free-of-charge subscription for all their podcast offers

Anonymous said...

somebody could have a go at the economist's style guide.