The Economist: You Gotta Love It . . .

April 3, 2010 at 7:14 pm (By Amba)

. . . when you read this:

Why is it anonymous? Many hands write The Economist, but it speaks with a collective voice. Leaders are discussed, often disputed, each week in meetings that are open to all members of the editorial staff. Journalists often co-operate on articles. And some articles are heavily edited. The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it. As Geoffrey Crowther, editor from 1938 to 1956, put it, anonymity keeps the editor “not the master but the servant of something far greater than himself. You can call that ancestor-worship if you wish, but it gives to the paper an astonishing momentum of thought and principle.” […]

What, besides free trade and free markets, does The Economist believe in? “It is to the Radicals that The Economist still likes to think of itself as belonging. The extreme centre is the paper’s historical position.” That is as true today as when Crowther said it in 1955. The Economist considers itself the enemy of privilege, pomposity and predictability. It has backed conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It has supported the Americans in Vietnam. But it has also endorsed Harold Wilson and Bill Clinton, and espoused a variety of liberal causes: opposing capital punishment from its earliest days, while favouring penal reform and decolonisation, as well as—more recently—gun control and gay marriage.

Lastly, The Economist believes in plain language. Walter Bagehot, our most famous 19th-century editor, tried “to be conversational, to put things in the most direct and picturesque manner, as people would talk to each other in common speech, to remember and use expressive colloquialisms”. That remains the style of the paper* today.

*Why does it call itself a newspaper? Even when The Economist incorporated the Bankers’ Gazette and Railway Monitor from 1845 to 1932, it also described itself as “a political, literary and general newspaper”.

It still does so because, in addition to offering analysis and opinion, it tries in each issue to cover the main events—business and political—of the week.


  1. El Pollo Real said,

    I began reading The Economist regularly after picking up a copy in the Zurich train station in 1990. There’s a funny story behind because my wife (then girlfriend) picked it up and that day and pushed it in my face saying “I suppose you’re going to start reading stuff like this now” (I think Saddam had just invaded Iraq or something, and I was looking for a solid English language newspaper). I bought it and continued reading it on a weekly basis. When we moved to a small town in Germany, I used to walk a mile or so everweek to the train station to buy it. When I returned to the states I become a regular subscriber for 15 years. Around 2008 I detected a real change in the US news reporting and editorial stance. The magazine became rather anti-Bush, seemingly buying into a mild form of BDS. Their opposition and even derision for Sarah Palin even led me to suspect that Andrew Sullivan had taken over Lexington. That’s plainly not true–I think that the editorial change in the US reporting had to do with the ascension of John Micklethwait to the editorship.

  2. amba12 said,

    I had heard that there was a change in it lately.

  3. El Pollo Real said,

    My sensitivity detector hasn’t noticed any changes just lately. But some of what I noticed was noticed even earlier by others here, here and here.

  4. Randy said,

    I was introduced to both The Economist and the Far Eastern Economic Review while studying in Hong Kong. Derek Davies built FEER into a real powerhouse. It was hard to watch Dow Jones gradually destroy the franchise once they had complete ownership, so I gave up my subscription in the early ’90’s. The Economist, OTOH, was a staple at my place until the late ’90’s. It seemed to me at the time they were becoming more America-centric (and more like the US newsweeklies in coverage and tone) in a search for bigger circulation, so I gave up the subscription. I still read it, but both it and I have changed, and not necessarily for the better.

  5. wj said,

    I stumbled across the Economist in a manner similar to Pollo: I was on a flight to Australia in the mid-1980s (back when airlines provided magazines for passengers on long flights), and there it was. The contrast to the news magazines I had seen before (Time, Newsweek, US News) was stunning. I was hooked, and have never lost the addiction. Of course, it helps that the overall philosophy resonates: fiscally conservative, otherwise mildly libertarian. But in neither case putting philosophy ahead of common sense in specific cases.

    One nice enhancement has been the blogs on their website.
    Not only do the authors of various columns get to comment on things that don’t make it into the magazine itself (due to space, editorial choice, etc.). But the commenters frequently have interesting things to say that make it almost like an intelligent, and civilized, discussion among people with diverse views. If you haven’t seen them, check them out.

  6. amba said,

    I hadn’t, and I will. Thanks.

  7. El Pollo Real said,

    “Saddam invaded Iraq” LOL!
    Err, Kuwait!

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