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How The Economist covers the world (economist.com)
125 points by sohkamyung 157 days ago | hide | past | web | 43 comments | favorite



I've been reading the Economist since I was a kid cutting charts out of it for school projects. I pay for their product happily, and they're a shining example of what I'd love to see more newspapers and magazines become. They have:

* A stated point of view

* A consistent, brief, often funny writing style

* An always interesting mix of big-picture stories and smaller trend pieces

* Almost all of their content in audio form

* Pretty good tech products/reading experiences

They're also one of the few periodicals that, when I read about something I'm pretty knowledgeable about, doesn't fall flat.

Of all the major periodicals out there, it seems to me that they're one of the better positioned ones.


I also find the economist to be one of the best. The articles it produces on Argentina are spot-on, which I always find amazing.


I used to read The Economist and it made me feel very informed of the world until one day I realized something. It came about because I happened to know a lot of prior detail about the article I was reading about South Africa and although I could not fault the facts listed and the depth of the article, the end result was that it was just plain wrong. The shocking thing for me was that if I didn't know more about the area then I would have been convinced that I knew enough about the subject to form an informed opinion. I believe the trick to their magazine is to create subjective (one sided) articles but to give the impression that they are objective by offering up extensive research. Kind of like a scientist who only publishes results that suit their agenda. Those results may be accurate, detailed and impressive but that's not the whole picture.

I want to know why the villains (people, corporations, governments) they attack justify their actions. Give me a soup of conflicting ideas to ponder instead of cherry picked truths.

If an author makes up my mind for me, I lose interest.

I would be a hypocrite if I didn't mention some good points about the magazine. The writing style is superb and this may sound strange but I find that my inner voice resonates with what I am reading. There are many writers yet the magazine as a whole is very coherent and humor is used expertly to liven up some dry topics.

So there you have it. Read it but don't forget that you're drinking their Kool-Aid.


What gave you the impression they want to be objective? The Economist is very upfront about their bias and positions, more so than any major newspaper I can think of. It's pretty common to see "this newspaper supports x" in an article about a controversial issue. It shouldn't be your only news source, but they've never pretended to be dedicated to objectivity like Reuters or something.


As the GP said, especially if you know the topic well, Economist fails to impress you with the sometimes "shaky" facts they embed to make a point. What I don't like at Economist the most is the divine-like inner voice they are using to report on a totally controversial area in a totally foreign topic and choose a side as if it's very easy to choose sides. For example, you're a banker reader in London, and they give you bundled, consumption-ready opinion about why Mr X in LaLaLand is a better match for governing the fiscal politics and not Ms Y.

It's as if they are ruling the world rather than doing journalism.


My point is that I am intentionally paying for bundled, consumption-ready opinions about the world. I have other news sources for more detailed "just the facts" coverage of places and subjects I care about, but nobody has enough time to keep up with the entire world at that level. The Economist gives me a nice overview of world events from a well-defined, consistent, relatively moderate viewpoint, and often covers topics that other "general interest" news sources don't.

I completely understand that not everyone agrees with their views or likes this style of journalism, I just disagree that there's any "trick" or false advertising going on.


When I was at University two individuals I knew, in different countries, WERE the Economist Intelligence Unit for those (small) countries. They were smart kids but they didn't really have a clue. They were just really good at digesting a lot of media and once they were EIU had the credibility to pick up the phone to some pundits, who liked to see themselves quoted.


Indeed they are notorious for the youth of their staff, and it is occasionally glaringly embarrassing. The writing is mostly of high quality. But they can get smart kids to work for them because it's a great name to have on your resume and they work can be demanding.

I can echo your comment: I was at a dinner party in London back in the mid 1980s and my host's gf worked for the EIU covering east Asia. She was an oxbridge graduate in her mid 20s. She said she couldn't understand why so many people in China, HK, SG etc seemed so anti-Japanese. That said a lot about the UK educational system!

But on the other hand the coverage is relatively broad and commentary relatively deep, and until recently, they assumed their readers were well read which saves a lot of time and gives a lot of depth. Plus I vastly prefer a weekly to daily (or even high frequency) "news" -- if it's still worth discussing a week later perhaps it's interesting. And it's typically unashamedly liberal, and hasn't lost the point of its founding 150 or so years ago, which was to argue for free trade.

I have read every issue since February of 1985 so yes, I am a loyal reader, despite my manifold criticism.


Was the content their information led to bad? Your comment seems to be based on your personal opinion of these persons rather than a critique of the finished product.


I have a very high opinion of those persons! My comment is only intended to give some idea of what the level is vis-a-vis their "intelligence" gathering operations. Their investment in on the ground data gathering is not exactly massive.


Most interesting that The Economist, which has it's own substantial CMS web presence, is using Medium to publish!


This is kind of a meta-story, or even advertisement (although very good advertisement). Publishing it in-between their usual content would raise a few ethical questions.

It'd also be a bit useless to tell readers of the Economist how great they are, and, as long as they can't get it printed in the NYT or similar, Medium probably is the best place to reach their potential market.


They've written articles about themselves on their regular website before, though under one of their blogs.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/09/ec...


"It’s a place for our engaged, smart Medium audience to interact with our journalists, get involved with news gathering and research, browse a carefully curated blend of original and archive pieces, and get a glimpse of the unsung work that goes into The Economist."


They've also been experimenting with Snapchat. So they're definitely open to pushing their content out through alternative channels.


When I subscribed to the Economist I liked that they have interesting reporting from all kinds of countries that are not currently topical.


I really enjoyed weekly updates on the Gambian election


I found the diaspora Gambian press much better, they were covering arrests of locals who "slandered the new president" and didn't promote the new guy as hard as the Economist was. The Economist also doesn't attach names to articles, so you have no idea who is writing them.


I'd like to subscribe to The Economist, but a 12-month digital-only subscription costs US$285 from Australia, nearly double the US figure, which I can't yet justify as a relatively casual reader.

The leaky paywall (and convenient scraped ePub versions for eReaders) makes it even easier to not contribute to funding quality journalism. If I could choose a dollar amount, I'd happily donate US$75/year recurring for what I'm currently paying $0/year for.


And if you do subscribe you have to call them to cancel. You can subscribe on their website, but they only unsubscribe through a phone line.

I managed to get unsubscribed by hurling abuse at their support staff, but I still think it should be considered fraud.


>> I managed to get unsubscribed by hurling abuse at their support staff, but I still think it should be considered fraud.

This paints you in a much worse light than them. I've cancelled with them twice. I called and said 'I would like to cancel' and they refunded me what was necessary. Took about 30 seconds - no abuse required.


I am not about to pay for an long-distance international call just over what should be done with an internet form.

I grant you the abuse might not have been necessary, but I wanted results and I wanted them yesterday.


NYTimes also requires you to make a phone call to cancel - though they were decidedly polite about it.


I didn't need to call. I canceled last year via chat. It took me 15 minutes, answering about 10 quite annoying questions.


15 minutes? That is insane. No wonder journalism is dying.


That's even longer than a phone call...


Your local library may have an electronic magazine subscription that you can use. I get mine for free via a Zinio client my local library district pays for.


You can get a digital subscription for 160 USD per year: http://www.student-subscription-service.co.uk/magazine-the-e...


Go halvsies with someone. I split with my Dad (He gets the paper copy and I get digital). Although I'm still on a student subscription and we go 2 years at a time


I've always found the answer to this to be - thinly, superficially, and with poor dead prose.

I've never understood how they managed to cultivate the image they seem to have created.


It's simple: their audience is not the most sophisticated in international affairs, just a step up from the average newspaper or TV coverage.

Now, THIS is real reporting: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14153346


I've been reading the Economist for more than a decade and other publications as well in that time. They do an excellent job in my opinion of covering a variety of topics. Obviously reading specialized publications of each industry would give you a better idea, but a broad overview is great too.

For example, here's an article from 2011, titled "Print me a Stradivarius" [1]. If you were already familiar with 3D printing, the article might have struck you as elementary. But the vast majority of people don't work in tech, especially not in hardware tech. Such people almost certainly would not have heard of 3D printing in 2011, and learning about this would have been very valuable.

What I appreciate about the Economist is their restraint in covering current topics. A lot of their coverage is in-depth and subjects which _aren't_ topical. They aren't without flaws, but I've learnt a lot over the last decade by reading the Economist.

[1] - http://www.economist.com/node/18114327

Side note, the last time I criticised a pithy, poorly researched put down by you, I was told off by a moderator. I wonder if someone could defend this comment as somehow adding value to this discussion.


Their coverage in the run-up to the financial crisis was excellent. When it hit the fan I knew exactly what a credit default swap was, what subprime mortgages were and why they were both possible sources of risk in the financial system and what a liquidity crisis was because TE had been covering them for years. By no means am I saying the predicted the crisis, but their coverage of the issues enabled me to have a pretty clear picture of what was happening and why.


>Side note, the last time I criticised a pithy, poorly researched put down by you, I was told off by a moderator. I wonder if someone could defend this comment as somehow adding value to this discussion.

It's my opinion about the Economist, and especially about their coverage of world affairs (which I explicitly mention in my comment). And I've been quite familiar with the domain, having worked with people covering world affairs for over a decade or so (for print and radio).

I don't like their neoliberal mantra of privatisation and deregulation, and I don't find their British foreign policy biases to allow for much integrity.

You might not like my comment. That said, I don't see how holding grudges, and carrying older "pithy, poorly researched put downs" on your shoulders, trying to finally "get back" at another commenter is any good. I don't even remember our discussion. Perhaps you could have just stated your opinion on the subject, instead of your opinion on fellow HNers?

The "pithy, poorly researched put down" could just as well have been just a true (or reasonable), but unpopular opinion. As a European, I don't have the most favorable views, nor share many viewpoints with the American HN audience. I don't particularly care for the "free market" either or other such things many are hot for -- which is one of the reasons I find the Economist shallow.


You didn't insult the Economist, but their audience. And your point is simply factually wrong.

It's probably easy to find statistics on their readership showing they're far more educated and international than average. But I'll use a slightly more fun way to show it: it's the only medium I know that regularly has classifieds in the back selling whole airports in Gambia, refineries in Vietnam, or inviting applications to be the UN's High Commissioner for Complicated Negotiations regarding Time Zones in littoral Antarctica.


>It's probably easy to find statistics on their readership showing they're far more educated and international than average.

That doesn't say much -- in fact the idea that these university degrees say anything of importance about the readership is totally contrary to how I view this, which would be much closer to the concept of the "intellectual yet idiot" (IYE) as proposed by Nassim Taleb (and similar ideas, put forward many more prominent thinkers through the last few centuries, e.g. the idea of the Philistine, or Flaubert's mockery of the educated middle class' "received ideas").

>But I'll use a slightly more fun way to show it: it's the only medium I know that regularly has classifieds in the back selling whole airports in Gambia, refineries in Vietnam, or inviting applications to be the UN's High Commissioner for Complicated Negotiations regarding Time Zones in littoral Antarctica.

Kind of makes my point. The ruling elites where never known for their intelligence -- but it's even less so in the 21st century (Trump anyone? Bush? Even Obama and Clinton are more mass media darlings than men of state the way someone like Churchill or De Gaulle was, with a knowledge of the world's intricacies and world history).

As I said, I'm not very much for received ideas and preconceived notions of what's worthy and what's intelligent. And degrees really don't tell me anything for this. Any idiot can have one (I should know, for I have one). Even more so, any idiot can have the money to buy a "refinery in Vietnam". It might take business savvy (if the money weren't inherited in the first place, or stolen from the public, e.g. by some corrupt public official), but that's not the same thing as someone understanding foreign affairs.


I fail to see how you have pulled Trump and Bush into this, are they both subscribers?


Conversations often expand from their narrow initial scope based upon the received responses.

So, while this was about the Economist in general, the parent response commented on how it "regularly has classifieds in the back selling whole airports in Gambia, refineries in Vietnam, or inviting applications to be the UN's High Commissioner for Complicated Negotiations regarding Time Zones in littoral Antarctica." -- as a way to show that the readership is especially refined and/or intelligent.

My response to this was that the elites who might be interested in buying "whole airports in Gambia" or be involved with the "UN's High Commissioner" are not necessarily refined or knowledgable about world affairs much more than the next person. Not even prominent politicians can be trusted to be nowadays -- to which I used Trump and Bush as examples.

(That said, it wouldn't surprise me at all if they were both subscribers too. Many otherwise inane public figures are subscribers - I've met my share).


In the age of Medium and myriad kinds of blogging platforms and bloggers and Twitter people to follow I see less need for that type of "opinion journalism".

For most events in the world within minutes I m able to follow local people tweeting or writing in their newspapers what's happening.

I rather feel Economist has an economic and political target remaining from the days of the faded British Empire to comment about everything from Commonwealth and ex-British Empire countries .

It's usually to promote a certain angle and push a position rather than objectively investigate.

This "ad" is trying to benefit from post-Trump rise in newspaper subscriptions with a "let's help independent media" wave. Which is a good attempt.


> For most events in the world within minutes I m able to follow local people tweeting or writing in their newspapers what's happening.

Like it says in the article they are not just writing about the stories that are happening "this minute". They are writing about a range of other stuff, ie:

But each week we try to give them a selection of things that they didn’t know that they didn’t know. An example of this would be the recent piece we ran on the spread of unfamiliar grains. You can also look at stories we’ve done on the evolution of arranged marriage, on how to train good teachers or on how best to integrate autistic people into the workplace. These are stories about big ideas and big trends that readers might not know about


This is a self propaganda piece from a magazine that has been a mixed bag, decent and dumb journalism:" The Economist magazine is getting dumber and dumber: it unearthed "evidence" of Russian intervention in Reagan's election "In November 1984 the Kremlin tried to stop Ronald Reagan from being re-elected. As part of its active-measures programme, Moscow promoted the slogan “Reagan Means War!” To discredit him, Russia propagated stories about Reagan’s militaristic adventurism, rising tensions among NATO allies, discrimination against ethnic minorities and corruption." What? That those who opposed Reagan around the world, and those who raised the plight of ethnic and racial minorities in the US were doing the Russian bidding? And what is your evidence of what "Moscow promoted". Let us put it this way, if this is the manner of Russian intervention in US elections, it really is insignificant compared to US heavy-handed intervention in elections in every country in the globe--except Israel (and even there, Clinton tried to help the Labor Party). https://angryarab.blogspot.ae/2016/12/the-economist-magazine...


No, they did not say that those doing what Russia wanted done were necessarily doing it 'at Russia's bidding'. Yes America does also sometimes try to influence political discourse in other countries too, did TE say otherwise? Finally, are you claiming that Russia does not try to influence politics in other countries? The point is, what methods are used and are they legitimate.


>Yes America does also sometimes try to influence political discourse in other countries too, did TE say otherwise?

No, just let theirs readers get to that impression by themselves, by not covering those attempts as much.

>Finally, are you claiming that Russia does not try to influence politics in other countries?

Not that much, mostly to their neighbors, and not very successfully even there (e.g. how most of their periphery is not suffocating them with NATO allies).




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