In Praise of The Economist

The Economist. Published Weekly by The Economist Group Limited since 1843. Approximately 90 pages per issue.

I’ve subscribed to a weekly news magazine since my first week at college (that would be August of 1980, by the way). My father subscribed to Time Magazine while I was growing up, so that’s what I got as well. In 1995, I finally got tired of Time’s increasing “Time Warner Corporation” parent bent, and cancelled my subscription. I switched to Newsweek, which I still get delivered to my mailbox once each week. Incidentally, my father still subscribes to Time.

Newsweek is better than Time, but neither of them can hold a candle to The Economist – which tellingly is not owned by any giant media conglomerate. I started reading The Economist a few years ago, and finally subscribed right after the 2004 elections. I was getting so tired of the shrieking news of the mass media, where every subject was So Important That You Must Read It Now, and yet no subject was worth more than a page of coverage. I also got tired of the merger of “non-news” into my news, such as celebrity babies, pop culture happenings, etc. Hey, if I want to read about movie stars, I’ll check out People or Entertainment Weekly, thank you very much.

By contrast, The Economist is the closest thing that exists today to unbiased, unfiltered, raw, just-the-facts-please news. There is very little opinion in The Economist, and what there is is measured and very centered in its approach. The print is tiny (looks to be about 10 point to my eyes), three columns of newsprint on glossy paper, with some pages being almost pure text. It is a news junkie’s dream magazine. When graphs or tables are used, they are clean, simple, and without decoration or exaggeration. They would make Edward Tufte proud

I was prompted to write this entry because of this week’s issue, whose cover article is “Five years on”, and includes a good five pages or so of detailed “where we’ve gone since 9/11” reporting. Unlike the rest of the media, however, there’s none of the shrill tone that accompanies the various “5 Years Since 9/11” celebrations that are going on all this week. Instead, just sober reporting and clear-headed analysis. The Economist neither worships George W. Bush nor does it pillory him. In this issue’s introduction, the editors state that they agreed with the Iraq decision at first, then felt that Bush had conducted the war poorly since. This seems like a pretty reasonable assessment to me (a lot more reasonable than my own analysis, but then again, I make no pretense of being impartial).

In the pages of The Economist, you find out about all the other news that’s going on. Yes, other things have happened apart from some nut making a false confession of murdering a child beauty queen, or the surprise death of a well-liked Australian animal enthusiast. This week alone, there are articles about:

  • The U.S. economy and its relation to the upcoming mid-term elections
  • Synthetic biology
  • Presidential elections in Mexico and Brazil
  • The state of the State of North Korea
  • Europe’s Carmakers
  • The economic prognosis for YouTube

There is very little advertising in The Economist, and you can actually read 10 pages in a row without hitting a single ad. There are no inserted AOL CD’s or thick glued-in booklets advertising the latest GM cars. It is a elegant magazine, from a more civilized age. And yet it’s sharper and more relevant today than it has ever been.

The Economist is best experienced in its print form. Pick up an issue – it’s well worth the cover price. This is a magazine where each issue is almost a book in and of itself. But most importantly, this is a magazine that gives you something that is very rare and precious today: an unencumbered window into the goings-on of the world.

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