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Writing tools I learned from The Economist (builtbywords.substack.com)
631 points by ahsoli 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 246 comments





The reason why the Economist articles all read the same is that they go through a process called "subbing" or sub-editing by the same small group of editors who own the Economist's "voice".

I interned at the Economist one summer in college and wrote two articles for it - the published articles bore a small relationship to what I had submitted. The sub-editors seemed to be mostly George Smiley-type Oxford and Cambridge PhD's of a certain age with an eclectic range of expertises, as far as I recall.


Letters to the editor probably go through the same meat grinder.

I sent a comment once, that was published. It had been entirely rewritten, with almost no loss of meaning but complete overhaul of style, and no indication that it had been the case.

I didn't mind that it was rewritten, but thought they should disclose that fact.

Edit: I mean I think they should make it clearer to readers that published letters have been rewritten, and in some cases, heavily.


Before my internet addiction distracted me from it, I made a sport of writing letters to newspapers, and my success rate for over a decade was about 8/10 published to submitted. I had one or two in the Economist, with many more in the Financial Times, and others in lesser known papers. They're all in a drawer somewhere now as some very humble personal trophies.

However, my final one was edited so horrendously and offensively in print that the only charitable interpretation was that English was not the letters editor's first language. After a few emails back and forth, and the terse revelation from a very piqued editor that English was in fact her first language, she graciously corrected the online version. My advice to anyone who wants emulate the house style of The Economist is that they should read P.G. Wodehouse first.

I stopped writing letters after that because it signalled a shift in culture at the papers, where the people working for them didn't seem to have the same relationship to truth they once appeared to. The feeling of opening that salmon coloured paper to find your letter in it (with only modest surprise) and giving your morning coffee a smug celebratory sip is one of the things upvotes on the internet have not yet been able to replace.


Sir, I'm dismayed to learn that you have developed an addiction to the InterWebs. I would have expected the business model of said Webs (arrant nonsense + commcercial surveillance) to repel you as it repels any civilised mind.

That said, I personally have learned nothing from the Economist either. Wodehousian style or not.

I recommend Stephen Leacock. Yours etc...


Heh, heh. As a physicist, I wrote the entire technical section on polarization for my small company’s optics catalog. It got “edited” by the personnel manager, a UT Austin English major who was not dumb. Almost had a coronary at age 36.

I had to run a job ad for a programmer so I took the template provided by HR, added my list of buzzwords and acronyms, and corrected the many factual, grammatical, and spelling errors in the original document.

They ran my ad but the only part that varied from the template was my list if "tech skills". Unfortunately, this meant the job ad was "pre-covid" so it stated we do not work remotely, you must be local, etc. Sigh.


I wonder how many companies have optics catalogs. I needed a mirror with a reflective front surface (instead of inside or on the back where the light has to go through the glass on a normal mirror) to do what they did in Tim’s Vermeer (the simple mirror version, not the full lens version, although that would be cool if I can figure out the parts I need). Anyway, they (Edmunds) later sent me a full catalog with all kinds of laser stuff I don’t understand with detailed educational information about them and how to set up proper measurement systems and so on.

Even in this short sample comment I enjoyed your writing. And I agree, that sounds much more satisfying than updoots

I'm mightily confused by the downvotes for the compliment i wrote

My guess: it's the word "updoot" that people are downvoting.

Discussion about the voting on comments is generally discouraged[0]:

"Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Now THIS person writes.

we do. all letters sent in by emailed in get the following autoreply:

"The Economist thanks you for your letter, which has been passed to the author of the article. All letters are edited if selected for publication either in print or online.

We will need to know where you are writing from, so please ensure you have supplied the name of the city, town or village and the country if that is not obvious.

If you do not wish your letter to be published send an e-mail promptly to letters@economist.com."


I'm surprised GP didn't expect that the letter would be edited.

One of my letters was published. I fully expected that it would be edited and was pleased with the result. You can see both versions here - https://gist.github.com/nindalf/12a533f6ff64d7f146845f289acd.... I thought the edited version conveys the intent well.


Thanks for sharing the comparison!

I think I agree, the edited version conveys the meaning and intent well. I assume the links were removed as a matter of form factor/medium.


That's really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Seconded!

I agree that this is smart editing that preserves the original meaning well. The one decision I question is simplifying your nicely-phrased “Most programmers spend most of their time attaching these disparate blocks together” to just “most programmers spend their time [...]”


If I was King: Default assumption that statements are generalizations, unless explicitly stated otherwise. To preempt pedantry.

eg

Programmers => Programmers in general, with many obvious exceptions, too numerous to list in a brief reply.

All Programmers => All Programmers

PS- Hmmm. Now I wonder if any style guides cover this? Surely some do.


I suppose insisting on both “most”s is a bit pedantic, but I also think it’s nice rhetoric -- reminds me of “you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time.”

Disclosed to the reader, not to the letter writer.

Yes, that was my point and I should have made it better.

(Also, there's a difference between editing and rewriting.)


[flagged]


Every newspaper that I've ever read does this. There will be a blurb on the letters page saying something like "We reserve the right to edit letters". It's clear to both readers and correspondents.

If you don't like the terms, don't engage.

Edited to add: newspapers in the UK take libel law seriously so you have some confidence they won't grossly misrepresent your views.


It still doesn't make sense to attribute to a reader some words they didn't write.

Also there's a difference between the expectation that the letter can be truncated or just the gist of it extracted for reasons of space, and entire sentences or paragraphs rewritten in full. I would have never expected the latter even with a "right to edit letters reserved" disclaimer.


The problem is that a letter that makes an excellent point might not make it with the required berevity and clarity.

A letter to the editor might read:

> I saw on your article about the size of foodstuffs that food items are not getting smaller - actually people are just getting bigger. Very interesting article, quite funny and relevant as I've been collecting food items since I was a child and can confirm that this isn't always true. I've got a few exapmles where it holds, but I also have a kit kat from when I was 18 (born 1979) that used to be 500g and now they are 250g as standard. I'm a big fan and this is the first time I have spotted a huge glaring error! Please explain that one!

Clearly that would need to be reframed. I'm not particularly good, but I can see why a newspaper might want to shorten it:

> In last week's article The Economist argued that foodstuffs were not getting smaller, however I own a standard kit-kat from the 1997 that is double the size of ones available in shops today. Thoughts?

The above is probably an improvement from a readers perspective, conveys the points of the original message, and they aren't usually attributed to a specific, identifiable person anyway (usually something like John from London) so I don't think there is any huge scandal here.


That's what editors do. Everything you have read in a published book, magazine, or newspaper has been edited and often substantially rewritten by someone whose name is not on the cover or byline. Letters pages aren't comment threads; they're part of the publication and that means they're edited for style and content, just like everything else.

(As someone who writes for a living, I can tell you that it takes a little getting used to, especially when an editor butchers a sentence you're pleased with. But it's part of the process you learn to accept eventually — and they were probably right.)


How I miss the days of reading text that has been edited. Today's websites seem to have completely eliminated the editing stage before release. One of my big pet peeves is when multiple authors are contributing where you're reading the article, and then the next author's section comes in recapping what you've just read like it was meant to be another stand alone article. There is so much redundant information that an editor would have caught easily. It also implies to me that nobody is actually reading the article about to be released from start to end, nor do they read it aloud. That was a proofreading tip from long ago as it makes the mind slow down instead of auto-correcting when reading quietly.

Katha Pollitt in a 1997 panel discussion discussing the difference in writing relatively unedited for (comparatively) small-circ publications such as The Nation and the heavily-edited, mass-market, advertising-friendly world of Glamour.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=fkLX58ZWbWw&t=14m20s

(From 14m20s -- 16m30s)


Yes, and while I generally get given final review on things these days, if I were working on a publication with tight deadlines, I wouldn't expect that. And I mostly don't do a great job with headlines anyway so I'm mostly happy to have editors throw away whatever I put in as a placeholder :-)

I do occasionally revert changes when I'm reviewing--usually because I wrote something poorly and an editor misinterpreted--but I reject relatively few suggestions. I figure that if I wrote something that confused my editor or they just didn't like it, a lot of readers will feel similarly.


Is "everyone does it" a good argument?. Clear to all? Not according to @bambax. Also, libel law? Why are you bringing up libel law. Manipulation of comments and fake reviews isn't libel.

> Manipulation of comments and fake reviews isn't libel.

To the extent the comment is atrributed to the author whose words were altered it can be.

An published, attributed comment is a published fact claim about what the author has expressed, and if it is false and damaging can be libel.


IIRC misattribution of quotes can be libelous in some jurisdictions if it causes harm to reputation.

The London Review of Books doesn't, and it has the best letters I've read.

LRB and other publications of that caliber receive enough submissions in their preferred style so as to only require light use of [sic] for errors. LRB letter writers are highly motivated to have their words be selected for publication.

The Economist wishes to publish from a wider set of contributors and its house style is harder for that group to imitate.


The town I grew up in had a local weekly newspaper that published unedited letters. It was fun — basically an analog message board.

One problem is that normal humans don’t write concisely. The other is that the Economist is a global publication... you probably would not be happy with long-form musings of Johnny Random from Papua New Guinea. You’re opting in for highbrow British style.


This is common. Most publication houses, including magazines and newspapers, have a 'house style' that is enforced by an editorial staff.

This is very similar to how code bases are 'edited' to fit the coding style of the team/project/company.

I guess the main difference is that code editing is done in collaboration with the author (code review) as opposed to an editor.

If refactoring code did not have the potential side-effect of changing its run-time behaviour (or performance) I'd argue that software engineering would also benefit from a 'code editor' role :)


Most companies institute code reviews and invest in tooling that stops nonstandard code (formatting and convention-wise) getting into the codebase, once they grow large enough. I think these two processes serve the same purpose, albeit with numerous exceptions depending on the seniority of the committer and reviewer(s) :)

They can probably be replaced by a neural network in time, leaving humans to just doing content reviews.

I’d bet against this. Neural networks still don’t actually understand the text at all. I would imagine true understanding is required for this task. You can’t get to the moon climbing progressively higher trees.

Doesn't 'the voice' evolve overtime though? How can a neural network evolve on its own.

Train it every year on the senior editors' publication.

So we can't get rid of the senior editors after all?

Why get rid of them? Automatisation should not mean getting rid of people, it should mean letting them do other things. In this scenario the editors could spend more time on their own writing instead of having to look at junior writer's texts

Editors are not necessarily investigators.

(metaphor/similar example follows)

In the same sense that someone who reviews a (IT) technical procedure is not necessarily a systems administrator, but someone who sees things from an angle to ensure RACI model is followed throughout without any generalizations such as "backup is taken" (by who? using which tools? which systems/data are backed up? how often? how long do we keep the tapes? how often do we trash the tapes? where do we store the tapes?). I haven't taken a backup for more than a decade, but I would shred a backup procedure to pieces. If you remove me from the review cycle, I won't go back to writing procedures.


The publications that were replaced by a neural network?

You could do small random variations (evolving the network) and assign some score to them (either number of sales, or scores by the staff)

Hopefully their editors are operating on principles other than increasing sales.

>How can a neural network evolve on its own.

Same way as humans? Via training on new inputs?


It's not even vaguely similar to a person, so how would that work? ln this example, if you had a hypothetical AI that understood the UK class system + the political system + the press system + the way these interlocking relationships work from a particular elite PoV then sure, but that's magical thinking. The actual written style is a small part of that; the other things are the inputs.

>ln this example, if you had a hypothetical AI that understood the UK class system + the political system + the press system + the way these interlocking relationships work from a particular elite PoV then sure, but that's magical thinking.

It doesn't have to understand any of those in any "human" sense, where it would be able to articulate what it understood on a meta level, etc.

It would just have to reinforce the right patterns and fuzzy connections that lead to success in writing credible looking articles....


> It would just have to reinforce the right patterns and fuzzy connections that lead to success in writing _credible looking articles_

We're probably at a point where we can manufacture shallow fakes of the current writing style, and I'm sure techniques like this will become prevalent (because convenience), but I feel you're missing the point of what I'm saying. It does need to understand these things. If it doesn't, then what it is is a mechanical reproduction of a current style of writing: that's a completely different category of thing, it's not even close to similar.


> Via training on new inputs?

There are no new inputs in this case because we got replaced editors with NN.


Nothing stops us from feeding them the work of human editors in 2000000 other publications...

Or their own work, as ranked by readers (e.g. their past posts that had the more views and better engagement).


No. This is drastically missing the point of what The Economist (or almost any media org) is. It isn't trying to be an average from 20000000 other publications, or what an average of readers think, or what had good engagement stats (though obviously the latter is a good target for the application of analytical software). It's not a neutral voice, or some down-the-middle average of what readers liked. It's an entity with its own political goals.

Reinforcement learning.

Isn't that more or less what Grammarly Premium can do? I'm not a subscriber, but their site says it offers suggestions on tone and clarity.

> The sub-editors seemed to be mostly George Smiley-type Oxford and Cambridge PhD's

As an Economist reader for 15 years now and as a big Le Carre fan that’s exactly how I imagined them to be. Even though after the latest editor change there seems to have been a notable change in tone/style, most visible (for me) in the US-related section (calling a sitting US president names isn’t what I expected from The Economist).


It's probably also why their articles never seem to start with On a gloomy morning of June 22, 2015... - the much hated opening of so many other magazines who probably think it's a good way of engaging the reader. I hate this style so much. The editors who encourage it have no idea how disengaging their style is. Kudos to the Economist for not doing this.

Seriously. When I see that, I do a mini-eyeroll and scroll to find the point of the article. The Economist does a good job of putting content first.

True. But given the examples in the article this is done in a masterful way.

One place that does this, it's obvious and uncreatively done: Deutsche Welle for their English articles.


I am guessing this could come as a side effect of proof-reading articles written by authors who don't write in English with a native fluency?

Could be (though they have the capability to hire native speakers), or maybe they have a very cookie-cutter manual. (Not sure their German headlines have the same patterns but I think not, or at least it doesn't sound so unnatural)

Can’t stand the final sentence witticisms. Reduces the credibility of the entire article. You can almost hear those Oxford and Cambridge PhD’s chortling about their own cleverness. And no byline is a form of slavery.

> No byline is a form of slavery

Don’t be ridiculous. This is a feature not a bug. It helps discourage sensationalism and encourage a sober viewpoint that’s not designed to generate Twitter or Instagram followers. I wish more news sources would do this.

With you on the witticisms though


If Wikipedia is right

> Smiley was born to middle-class parents

Doesn't sound like the Economist


In the UK, "Middle Class" is more of a mindset than an economic class (although economic class is definitely a part of it).

You can think of it more as the US middle-upper-class.

This musical number from the UK comedy "Mongrels" more-or-less nails the mindset:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yr4yEguWrw


Yeah I know the difference between economic and social class. I'm saying that's the wrong social class for the Economist.

I'm British, have read the Economist in the past and a friend of mine interned there. I think "middle class" is bang on to describe their audience, which ranges from aspirational students to working professionals who want a quick news summary with some wit. Not many builders (working), dukes (upper) or Oxford faculty (upper middle) would be caught reading it. It's definitely seen as middlebrow fodder for undergraduates.

One of the catchy Economist adverts claims "99% of the 1% are subscribers". I get to interact now and then with this demographic and conversations often use a recent article in The Economist as a starting point. It may be middle class in the country it is published, but it has found elite clientele around the world.

What is the more high brow alternative?

Depends what topic you're going for but the guardian or ft, tatler, London or new York review of books, times literary supplement etc would be found in eg a London club library. Economist too, it's a light but fun read.

Are you really saying The Guardian is higher-brow than The Economist? As a regular reader of both I would never have guessed it. (I'm not British, if it matters.)

It's probably the highest brow of the mainstream (ie, non FT) newspapers. It's seen as less try hard and pseudointellectual than the Economist i think.

The Guardian is probably the most often quoted publication in Private Eye's "Pseuds Corner", a regular selection of unintentionally amusing psuedo-intellectual writing.

Oh no doubt, I'm just talking about general perception. The Economist hides its pseudiness better, behind the simple writing style (which I enjoy).

My perhaps incorrect impression has been that middle class means something a bit different in a country with royalty.

Back when they were still moderately important publications, Time and Newsweek were probably similar although more US-centric and mainstream. But similar in that they tended to draw from the Ivies and other establishment schools. Likely significant overlap with the Times and the Post.

Ah, so all the crazy stuff Ive seen from them I should blame on the editors and not the individual writers? Good to know, of course just by reading it you know its the Oxbridge types in charge, and I dont consider that a good thing...

In high school, there were two magazines I’d read regularly: The Atlantic had an absurdly inexpensive subscription price (I think it was $14 for 2 years at the time) and The Economist was...not inexpensive, so I’d just pick up a copy when I was fortunate enough to visit a bookstore that carried it.

The Economist was the only magazine in my life I would regularly read cover to cover. Every article revealed something I didn’t know about the world, or about my own country, and the information was dense. Most articles were just a few paragraphs, so I didn’t have time to get bored before I’d move on to the next one.


Among other things, in the US, the Economist was the only news magazine which covered Africa and Latin America consistently.

If you were literate and interested, after being exposed to the Economist it was impossible to read Time, Newsweek or US News & World Report. It was eye-opening just how bad they were.


I have been reading the economist for 4+ years now, my primary reason for reading it are having an outside view on the US which delivers a perspective alot of US based newspapers don't have. (I'm based in the US).

In addition they have alot of military/technology coverage and extensive China coverage. US news really did not cover the fact that Xi Jinping is now China's leader for life(2018, which is huge news) the economist wrote several articles about this. They also tend to do pretty well with macro trend analysis and predictions.

Lastly there are no long form/in the weeds articles which I just really don't have time for, think vanity Fair, Atlantic, and the New Yorker.


In the nineties I was targeted by a direct mail campaign they ran on Canadians with the eye-catching title "Un-American", in which then made the pitch that it was a reliable source of world news that wasn't overly dominated by a US perspective. It worked, and I subscribed for a decade.

US News & World Report in particular was embarrassingly bad, but I felt the worst when traveling abroad and the only US newspaper I saw in some locations was USA Today. What they must think of us.

USA Today was deliberately created as a colorful low-brow but not really tabloid-y paper that, among other places, tended to be the paper of choice to leave outside your hotel room in the morning. My favorite quote about it was something to the effect of: "It's the newspaper for people who find the nightly news too challenging to understand."

I remember USA Today being controversial when it was introduced. Its stories were so short that they often weren't generally continued past the front page, which seemed absurd at the time.

Today many people don't read past the headlines, and the pacing of USA Today seems positively languid and scholarly.


Back in the day when the International Herald Tribune was publishing, I'd read it. It was 8 pages and available at most train stations. It was bits of the NY Times and Washington Post. I don't think it had any original content but the ads were interesting. The USA Today was available but it really wasn't any good.

I was surprised how accurate they were in describing the high-net-worth families in Central America in a recent article:

https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2021/04/03/the-influe...

Not even local media would have been able to describe it like The Economist did.


I suspect that local media might have enough information, but are uncomfortable to write about certain topics. Being seriously disliked by powerful men is sometimes unaffordable to a media outlet.

From the countries mentioned in the article, Honduras might have the least free media.

Right,and the anonymous articles help.

And anonymizing the source too.

I did the same thing when I was roughly 15 or so. What was funny about The Economist subscription at the time was that it asked you your honorific (Mr., Mrs., etc.) and I checked off "Sir." thinking of it as harmless high school mischief.

Little did I know that I inadvertently set off a tracking campaign into whom they resold subscriber data to. I would get all sorts of promotional magazines and other unsolicited mail for "Sir. Zach Aysan" or similar. Still makes me chuckle to this day.


I've attended a few The Economist events. To an American, especially given the current sensitivities around titles and gender roles, The Economist is hilarious in the vast number it gives you to choose from and perhaps "Other" isn't even a choice. Yep Mr. or Viscount it is is.

I did exactly the same. It’s still funny.

Such a shame that the paper quality became totally thrash [1].

The transparent/semi-translucent paper they switched to made it absolutely unreadable for me. Such a shame, I really enjoyed reading it. I read some articles online, but it's not the same as having a magazine in my hands.

https://www.quora.com/Why-is-The-Economist-printed-on-such-t...


I'm not too sure about the paper quality/weight/foldability tradeoff, but I appreciate the fact that it's really light and I can just fold it in half and stuff it into my inside jacket pocket and go out and read it over coffee.

I read the Economist back when I used to travel a lot as a backpacker. Its content acquainted me with the issues of other countries in a way no other publication could have done.

Some travelers I met were surprised when they talked with the younger me about their country's healthcare reform, the valuation of their currency or their mroe vocal political leaders.


I really appreciate how The Economist packs articles full of facts and information, allowing you to form your own opinion, while still arguing an opinion of their own.

I'm not sure if it's universal; where I live, the US embassy offers free magazines for anyone (and, yes, they have The Economist). The downside is that they are a couple months old.

Yeah, they usually have a library. I read the papers at the library at the American Embassy in Prague. Apparently Kafka used to work there.

https://d2v9ipibika81v.cloudfront.net/uploads/sites/22/2015/...


Fortunately The Atlantic is essentially free online if you erase cookies when it says you run out of articles. I am glad that Mrs Steve Lynn Powell Jobs used her billions to support this great magazine.

Perhaps auto correct did a trick on you. Her name is Laurene Powell Jobs.

I respect the writing in the Economist. It's kept to a high standard and they put their cases well with evidence as the article here highlights. Even the times I don't agree with their position, I still respect it.

I wonder how much it helps that their writers are anonymous and therefore less likely to go on personal flights of fancy or building an argumentative approach. It is perhaps puts the individual writer on the backfoot but makes the quality of the publication higher. Personally I think other sources would do well to consider this - frankly I would rather be a fan of an idea than a writer: the former seems reasonable the latter likely to vere into pointless worship. Plus it's much easier to switch to new ideas if they're superceded by better ones in due course.


It's probably THE most worthwhile subscription. I also pay for the WSJ, but the Economist blows it away.

It's fact and evidence based and strongly avoids emotionally charged language and bias. That's not to say it's perfect. It's just closer to perfect than any other media source out there.


I'd add one thing to this post: The Economist reliably lists counterpoints to its articles. It has a nuanced feel, rare for a news source. The weekly cycle also helps as sensationalized nonsense doesn't make the cut.

A trick someone told me was to read the sections in reverse (Obit, Books / Arts, Science etc); the writing quality is best towards the end!

PS this post reads a lot like the Johnson column on language, writing etc.


Years ago I was making a pitch to USV... the startup I was pitching was publishing related, and out of the blue one of the partners (Brad) asked me what order I read my Economist in? I paused to think and answered that I read front to back and skipped sections if they didn’t look interesting. Then I asked him what order he read it in. He said back to front. The conversation moved on without the chance for me to ask why. Maybe the reason was writing quality.

The front part (the 'leaders') are opinion pieces. The international sections are usually more straight reporting on events.

The leaders are the only part of the magazine I skip these days.

Yeah, the obituaries are so well written. The recent one they wrote about Chick Corea made a great point about his influence while being extremely personal and delicate. Really made me want to explore more of his music.

I think the obits are all written by one person, Ann Wroe. I heard a really good interview with her a few years ago but I can't find it now. https://medium.economist.com/the-art-of-writing-an-obituary-... is reasonably interesting.

almost all are written by Ann, who is brilliant. the odd one is written by a subject matter expert, or by someone for whom the subject was a source

this one is a particularly good example, that HN may enjoy https://www.economist.com/obituary/2019/02/21/obituary-the-m...


Dennis Ritchie got 1.5 articles and John McCarthy 0.5, although it's a bit painful to read the Economist house style discussing programming languages.

https://www.economist.com/babbage/2011/10/20/printfgoodbye-d...

https://www.economist.com/obituary/2011/11/05/dennis-ritchie...


She was interviewed on February 4th 2021 as part of their digital events series ("An audience with Ann Wroe, obituaries editor"). Worth a listen: https://economist-subsevents.zoom.us/rec/play/5b6CntzRCPHSJz...

She is the one can’t-miss part of the magazine.

One thing I especially like about The Economist is that they consistantly explain who or what something is. It seems stupid to write: HSBC, a bank... I know it’s a bank, but some might not, and in the many cases where I don’t know a person, a company, technology or idea it’s extremely useful.

NPR's Code Switch podcast had an episode a few years ago on this, which they call the explanatory comma: https://www.npr.org/2016/12/14/504482252/-hold-up-time-for-a...

It gets at what you assume about your audience when you include vs. don't include these.

I'm sometimes amused by what gets the explanatory comma in The New Yorker. I recall one issue where they included one for what an MLA citation was. But in the same issue assumed familiarity with someone like Jacques Derrida and their ideas. (This probably wasn't the exact example, but it was close to this.)


but, like, do two words "a bank" really do anything compared to what the reader could google conditional on not knowing what HSBC is? i feel like its just very performative

What drove me off was the double standards applied by the economist, e.g.:

"Yanis Varoufakis, a self-proclaimed erratic Marxist, [...]" vs "Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the President of the Eurogroup, [...]"

What about "Varoufakis, a PhD economist who taught economics in three continents, [...]" vs "Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the President of the Eurogroup who accidentally claimed he obtained an MA from University College Cork, [...]"

See what I did there? :-)

Truth of the matter is that Varoufakis dwarfs the Eurogroup in terms of knowledge much like Keynes dwarfed everyone else at the Bretton Woods. Both of them, came from a position of weakness and for <reasons> failed to deliver.

The Economist doesn't like Varoufakis, so Varoufakis must always be always shown in a derogatory light, while complete clowns like JD, and many others (see Krugman's assessment of Schäuble's speech and analysis, laughable at best - comparing a state's economy to a household) as "high ranking, noteworthy authorities".

Varoufakis is an example ofc. There are others (e.g. Beppe Grillo, Berlusconi, etc.).

The other thing the Economist has (not) going on is that you can tell beforehand what you're going to read... I mean from MILES away, you already know the magazine's stance of everything that matters. China, Russia, Iran (bad)... US (good), UK (okay-ish), EU (almost-good).

Consistently pro-war: Supported and pushed (Syria) for all kinds of invasions (Libya, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.).

If you take away all that (and it's a lot), the rest is fine :-)


> Consistently pro-war

Whenever the Economist speaks about the Iraq War, they add in parentheses “(which this newspaper supported)”. They don’t need to do that after so many years, but they do it anyway. That level of candour impressed me.

This from 2018, 15 years after the war started - “Iraq, in other words, is doing well (see article). Some will argue that this justifies America’s invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein (which we supported). It does not. Too much blood was shed along the way in Iraq and elsewhere.” (https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/03/28/fifteen-years-a...)

This level of self-reflection is rare.


I'm not sure they wouldn't just support the next one and then do a mea culpa after the fact again. Did they change the way they treat US intelligence info? Or address geopolitics differently? I'm not sure. I haven't read the Economist since 2018, but I genuinely don't see how they wouldn't end up cheering for the same exact type of intervention due to the exact same rhetoric.

I don't think the Varoufakis example is fair because, as the quote literally says, it's a title that Varoufakis has given himself, and he is often flippant and unorthodox himself. It's not derogatory.

The Economist as a paper overall is very open-minded when it comes to different ideological points of view. I remember the analysis of Harry's and Meghan's move to the US through a Marxist lens[1], or their surprisingly positive take on China's developmentalist state[2]. For a magazine with a self-declared pro free-trade and market-based bias they tend to reflect a lot. I'm way to the left politically of the target-audience of the paper but I really don't think they deserve the reputation they get as some sort of unabashedly capitalist magazine.

[1]https://www.economist.com/britain/2020/01/16/harry-meghan-an...

[2]https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/08/13/xi-jinping-is-r...


I think the fact that they cover Africa and Latin America at all counts for a lot. Aside from effective altruism, almost everyone in the first world is happy to ignore them entirely, except for some leftists who think Elon Musk personally did a coup in Bolivia.

"The OECD, a rich country club"

More often "...the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries...".

What a strawman. Yanis calls that himself, eq. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/feb/18/yanis-varoufaki...

Doesn't matter what Yanis calls himself. The Economist used that quote out of context and is a cheap shot for a magazine that wants to keep "high standards". You either give accurate descriptions of both parties you're referring to or you don't.

On a deeper level, there's no apolitical journal. Consciously or unconsciously authors, magazines, etc. are pushing specific agendas. If the magazine wants to play fair, needs to avoid cheap shots.

Beppe Grillo did not govern but for a long time was a kind of opposition leader in Italy. The econ referred to him as a "comedian-turned-politician" at all times. I find this deeply unethical. I never read the "mediocre-actor-turn-politician" about Ronal Reagan. The "actor" or "comedian" capacity doesn't matter when you talk public policy.

Since you seem to like dictionary definitions, here:

    context | ˈkɒntɛkst |
    noun
    the circumstances that form the setting for an event, 
    statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully 
    understood.

They do the same in their podcasts: https://www.economist.com/podcasts/

Well worth a listen, even it does end up with me muttering curses at the 'radio' sometimes.


Same here :-)

Quite useful for Americans. Residents of the infamous North American superpower might be otherwise OTL, lunch being a sometimes-metaphorical meal.

Yes. And with acronyms as well. They are always spelled out the first time, before the abbreviation is used.

Not to criticize but that is, or should be, bog standard in any writing. (Assuming the acronym isn't widely used and the words that it embodies essentially a trivia contest answer).

> Assuming the acronym isn't widely used

I don't care how widely used the acronym for a noun is, first use should always be the full form.

Only time I don't think it should be applied is in the case of a standard/protocol, or policy (such as gif or VAT). Then the first use should be the concept explained, not what it stands for.

I do like their style-guide definition:

acronym: A pronounceable word, formed from the initials of other words, like radar, nimby or NATO. It is not a set of initials, like the BBC or the IMF.


I don't know. Spelling out the words that make up RADAR or SONAR would seem very pedantic to me. As would, in tech, something like SCSI when that was a common interface. In a general purpose magazine, I'd probably be inclined to given a context for NIMBY, NATO, and the IMF--but maybe not BBC (to a British audience).

Upon thinking about it further I agree. So I think, using their style-guide definition I would go with: acronym: not spelled out, function explained. initials: spelled out, function explained.

Agreed. And to the specific examples, it's arguably more important in an article to briefly explain what the function of NATO is and why it's important/relevant than to simply state it's the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which tells me zero if I don't know what NATO is.

We agree. To elaborate. I agree it should be. Unfortunately it is not. This is why I compliment the economist. They do it as I believe it should be.

One example is the amount on comments here on hn about some acronyms thrown without explanation. There are, for instance, 1200 matches for 'What is IC' (Individual Contributor)

https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...


I think most people still see Hackernews as a website for people in the software industry, where IC is common knowledge. Plus comments aren't written to educate or sell a subscription, rather they're to ask a question, continue a discussion, or contest some point, so it's natural for the writing style to lean towards the informal and be less patronizing. And of course the search you show is a great example of why this isn't too big a problem - since HN is a discussion board, if someone is confused and they can't find the answer on Google, they can just ask for clarification in the comments, often getting a reply from the person who made the original comment that confused them. With a newspaper you can't really do that - even in comment sections authors rarely answer questions, and other readers don't tend to engage with the comments unless they have reasons of their own.

I've been an IC for 10 years and never would have guessed that's what IC stands for.

Very fair points. I see now It was not an equivalent example.

I really respect this guy's effort to learn to write well in English. It's one thing to get by in a foreign language, or to be conversant enough to work in tech, but he's thought about writing in this language in a way that I, as a native speaker, never have. My thoughts on writing are basically just (1) be brief (2) use easy words.

I agree! Kudos to this gentleman for his hard work and love of the language.

The Economist is a great magazine ("newspaper", as they like to call themselves). The emphasis is on presenting facts and educate the reader without any of the proselytizing and moralizing of the major American newspapers. I also love the Wall Street Journal, which is the American newspaper that comes closest to The Economist, save its increasingly shrill editorials and opinion columns.

Can anyone who grew up here explain why Americans prefer partisan media? It boggles my mind and is something I have failed to understand. Elsewhere in the world, being biased is taken as an insult, whereas here, news organizations seem to take pride in it!


It's incorrect to state that the Economist doesn't have a bias: it leans consistently toward free trade, free markets, open borders, and international institutions.

Some of the limits are due to the way that media is regulated in others countries (vs. not regulated at all in the US). In the UK for instance, the major broadcasters have a public service remit, and can be challenged easily via libel laws, regulation etc if they print something which is overtly incorrect. In the US, that is less the case which means that news has evolved into a kind of entertainment rather than a source of information.


Their position is the globalist hyper-elite (like Martin Wolf in the FT...they all go to Bildeberg). This overlaps heavily with the free market viewpoint but over the past five years or so, it has become heavily diluted in some areas (for example, regulations and fiscal policy...their view tends to match with whatever the IMF thinks, and tends to be fairly reactionary because these ideas have a history of not working...tbh, these views aren't coherent anymore, they make no sense).

It is fair to say that once you descend below the editorials, you will find more interesting viewpoints. But all of the leaders and editorial pieces are totally anodyne. Imo, this is an editorial decision that changed in 2015, and it has got significantly worse.


I love the Economist, but they're not "non-partisan". They're simply upfront about their bias.

“Non-partisan” is not the same thing as non-ideological.

This is a good point. Where the Economist is aligned with, say, the Tories, it's because they both support the same ideas, not because my-party-is-right. (Nowadays the Tories have shifted pretty damn far from those ideas, so it's more apparent that it's ideology that the Economist has, not a partisan affiliation.)

I think that’s the point, though. They have a biased worldview - they own that and highlight it regularly - but that bias doesn’t align with any American political party, and I don’t get the sense that it is particularly well aligned with existing parties in the UK either.

They're Lib-Dems.

But only by exclusion. The Economist speaks from a classical/neo liberal viewpoint. Civil liberties, free markets, laissez faire, technocracy. Labour is too statist for them, and the Conservatives are currently too populist (and incompetent). The Economist's position lines up pretty well with the Orange Book wing of the Lib-Dems [1], but much less well with the SDP / social liberal wing.

They have backed all three major parties in general elections in the last twenty years [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Orange_Book:_Reclaiming_Li...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Economist_editorial_stance...


Indeed. I think from the American point of view they seem to be so centered that it can fall both ways.

For the UK i see them clearly as hardcore liberal democrats.

I think that in the south Europe political landscape they would be orphaned as there even the center parties are not very economically liberal.


It's more than just being upfront about their bias. It's also the way they avoid descending into demonizing and name-calling. Even when discussing leaders of whom they clearly disapprove such as Recep Erdogan, Jair Bolsonaro, and Donald Trump, they don't come right out and declare them as "lunatics". Instead, they try to write dispassionate analysis which often drives readers to the conclusion that they are lunatics. This might seem a subtle distinction, but it is a marked departure from the shrill tone of many other media outfits.

I think you can be biased but also non-partisan. Partisan is usually referred to in terms of being an the side of a particular party. The Economist definitely has its bias, but that doesn't align clearly with either the right or the left in American politics.

democrat, republican and green are parties, not right and left, which represent an arbitrary dichotomization of a complex landscape otherwise irreducible without losing critical information. that kind of reductionism, i daresay, never leads to meaningful understanding, just loggerheads.

the economist takes a conventional stance of promoting policies that favor the already wealthy. that facet of it is rather banal and certainly not where the exciting ideas for the next millennia are going to emerge from.


It’s good point: right and left aren’t parties. Unfortunately it’s increasingly feeling that way in America; Independents (among which I count myself) don’t play a meaningful role and polarization as measured by congressional voting patterns seems to be the highest it’s been in decades.

I think it’s unfair to say they support policies that favor the already wealthy. Certainly they do sometimes, but they’ve opposed tax cuts, supported minimum wage increases, etc. I’m ready to be proven wrong but I haven’t got that impression when I read it.


> "I think it’s unfair to say they support policies that favor the already wealthy."

it's not unfair to call a spade a spade. opposing tax cuts can be done for a myriad of supportive or unsupportive reasons, so that doesn't provide a useful counter-argument.

and "minimum wage increases" sounds great on the surface. but the underlying purpose of a minimum wage is to paper over gross systemic equities that have only grown over time and keep us from even discussing policies for creating more fair and dynamic markets that would naturally distribute wealth more widely and efficiently, and neatly obviate such a distortion-producing bandaid of a policy.

but the central point is that no significant party and nearly no politician is addressing systemic issues that has promoted winner-take-all dynamics in our politicoeconomy for at least the last 50 years. even obamacare was so browbeaten and laden with special interest provisions, our healthcare costs have only soared, all to append zeroes onto bank accounts that abosolutely don't need, and more pointedly don't deserve, them.


> and "minimum wage increases" sounds great on the surface. but the underlying purpose of a minimum wage is to paper over gross systemic equities that have only grown over time and keep us from even discussing policies for creating more fair and dynamic markets that would naturally distribute wealth more widely and efficiently, and neatly obviate such a distortion-producing bandaid of a policy.

This is a made up problem that came from economists high on their own models. Empirical evidence shows that minimum wage increases in the US have almost none of the distorting effects they would supposedly have. The response from economists has been to make up new models that show it's okay actually, up to ~60% of median wage.

Some countries like the Nordics have high incomes despite no minimum wage (they have sectoral bargaining unions instead) but they should probably get one since it increases productivity a little. And Australia's federal minimum wage is still higher than any locality in the US and yet causes no problems.


the amount of distortion is debatable and context-sensitive, but that's beside the point, and illustrative of the exact diversion i'm denominating.

the problem is one of wealth and income distribution, particularly what happens as the shape of the distibution skews unnaturally toward the top and the powerful incentives to skew it that way. trying to shore up the tiny low end of that distribution (i.e., via minimum wage) is like throwing pebbles on the beach and hoping to fortify against the ocean. it's useless if the stated purpose of stemming the tide actually coincides with the underlying intent.

(also note that modeling is an assertion of perspective and values, not an empirically objective experimental apparatus in itself. you cannot find truth simply by modeling, as plato's allegory of the cave alludes.)


> Empirical evidence shows

I imagine there is 'evidence' out there but the empirical claim is quite intriguing. Do you have any sources for this?


Some literature review here:

https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/why-15-minimum-wage-is-pre...

https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/the-minimum-wage-pushback

One thing that might disappoint people is that increasing minimum wage isn't the best way to reduce poverty in the US, for the simple reason that most poor people aren't wage laborers. And not unemployed either - they're children and the elderly. Child allowances seem like they'll be very effective here, unless you don't trust their parents to use it well.


Around these parts, you have to be yelling and calling people names to be considered "partisan." Subtlety is lost on us.

(Not /s, but also not not /s?)


The UK has outrageously partisan newspapers and always has, the Economist is one of the few publications that looks vaguely non-partisan (and as pointed out by others, it's more about being up-front in its classical liberal position). TV news is far more even, by law (but I think that's about to change, sadly).

The Economist certainly has an ideological bias.

However, unlike many publications, they are fairly forthcoming about it, and are clear about their position.

I don't agree with all of their positions (though I agree with most), but I most of all appreciate that they don't really try to bury opinion into "objective" reporting.


To add to this, I find that they are quite ready to examine the challenges to their position and are willing to give other viewpoints credit, especially in their observations. Empathizing with another side's point of view even if you don't agree with their approach is the first step to finding common ground, and I enjoy that they consistently exhibit this in their editorials.

Generally, is my view too. They're unambiguous about their views and will plainly mention their ideological angles -- free market, woo!

But they're also willing to explore other sides, and even lean or agree with them. They occasionally create a false dichotomy, but they're usually (ironically) fair and balanced, or at least attempt to be.


Are you American? US news is actually pretty good; the NYTimes is full of bad articles but it's still a world-class newspaper.

Meanwhile, UK and Australian media are awful, full of Murdoch sockpuppet papers that constantly lie about everything in order to get you to hate immigrants and vote Tory/Liberal. WSJ is a Murdoch paper but they have to sell to bankers, who at least professionally need to know the truth, which is why only the opinion section is nuts. UK papers are like the New York Post if it had less than no ethics.


The economist is ‘biased’. It was actually founded to campaign against the UK’s Corn Laws in 1843.

However although it has kept the same free trade agenda it is refreshingly open minded and is not tied to dogma, or political parties.


I believe media de-regulation exacerbated the effect.

On a more philosophical level one might say that all media is biased - and that those who nakedly display their subjectivity are easier to parse using critical analysis than those who mask it through centrist positioning in an ideological spectrum.


The economist is very heavily biased towards global capitalism, and they present many strong cases in favour of particular political paths. I’m not sure why so many of their readers see them as neutral, I suspect it’s due to the high brow nature of the writing.

At the end of the day there is no way to produce a non-biased publication, you’re buying into the stories the publishers choose to publish (fact based or not), your opinion is likely formed before you read the magazine.


There's an excellent book about The Economist called "Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist." Here's a good review:

https://newrepublic.com/article/155962/liberalism-at-large-b...


I've heard it described as "Fleet Street cocktail party", for anticipating where topics will land across insightful-to-clueless.

You can also read The Economist as a report for middle class and above capitalists with disposal income to track where world events and trends are going in order to make good investments and business decisions. At the end of the newspaper is the stocks and stats, but the whole thing is a report.

The Economist is extremely moralizing. It represents the point of view of a city dweller with a high paying job who buys into liberal sensibilities but smugly thinks himself wiser and more prudent than the radicals on the streets. He is a modern day Girondist, at times alarmed to find his kind under the guillotine (we are on the same side! he might protest) but finding comfort in a magazine that reminds him he is part of the moral and economic elite who really know how to run things.

The political viewpoint of The Economist has shifted. Twelve years ago it was right-liberal, today it is left-liberal, but that is only because the above character has shifted in his views.


Yeah my college MBA bro roommate for some reason got a subscription he never read (circa 2006). I'd occasionally read it and almost completely rejected its politics at the time.

I got my own subscription a few years ago and now regularly read it. Most of its politics now line up with my own. I'm sure I've changed some, but the paper definitely has changed as well.


> The political viewpoint of The Economist has shifted. Twelve years ago it was right-liberal, today it is left-liberal, but that is only because the above character has shifted in his views.

True. I dare say that during the pandemic, policy articles have shifted towards Keynesian economics which is a huge U-turn from 00's and early 00's. On the other hand, the CEO changed in 2019, maybe that has something to do with it.


Lately reasoned debate has become very difficult on account of identity politics and social justice. It's as if the concept of debate is biased against them so they refuse to play the game. And they believe all disagreement with them to be illegitimate.

It still has a slant to its reporting, though. It's very neoliberal and almost always calls for deregulation, free markets, free trade, and globalization.

It's pretty factual if you ignore that slant though.


I can only speculate they must've concluded that their bottom line is better served by cheerleading 45% of the population than constantly disappointing 90% of the population. TL;DR; it's more profitable.

Also, lack of regulation. In the US you are a news organization if you say that you are news organization. Just like, at least colloquially, you are a professor if you teach a class at collage level. There is no body, or authority to set standards, expectations, and to confer those titles after a vigorous process.


Well, The Atlantic used to be pretty balanced, but since Mrs Jobs took over they've veered to the left too.

Their style guide is available on the Wayback Machine [1]. The first few pages of the introduction are well worth a read.

[1]: https://web.archive.org/web/20021031104254/http://www.econom...


>Avoid, above all, the kind of jargon that tries either to dignify nonsense with seriousness (Working in an empowering environment, a topic discussed at a recent Economist conference)

I can see why I need to reach for the Wayback Machine to read this great style guide. In the modern world, giving this example is far more trouble than it's worth. People do get touchy about challenges to their carefully promoted jargon, and now they are on the twitter.


Frankly I think it's more likely that they took it down because they want to sell more books: https://shop.economist.com/products/the-economist-style-guid...

The book has almost identical content from what I recall. I think they may have admitted defeat on the use of "he" for a hypothetical person of arbitrary gender.


A lot of style guides are behind firewalls these days. I'm not sure all the reasons but it's probably some combination of concerns about revealing somewhat sensitive info and saying things in ways that some might find controversial.

More difficult to link to as well. Obviously not impossible if you can find it on the Internet Archive, but not everybody thinks to look there and sometimes you just have to get lucky.

These are the rules written by George Owell apparently, if you search, many links come up with the same wording.

https://gosolomon.com/content-marketing-and-george-orwells-6...


Yeah - perhaps you missed it, but it says "Keep in mind George Orwell's six elementary rules ("Politics and the English Language", 1946)" just before it enumerates them.

I think lots of good style guides quote them. My favourite is probably Kingsley Amis's "The King's English".

It has the distinct "old man shouts at clouds" energy that one gets best from posthumous volumes.


What I like most about the Economist - the obituaries. Each one is about a person who I hadn't heard of before, but after reading it I wish I had.

Sometimes it's the story of an unsung hero, whose life story shines a new perspective on an event we're aware of. For example, the recent obituary of Nikolai Antoshkin, the general who led the response to the Chernobyl reactor.

Other times, it's an ordinary person who lived their life in an ordinary way. But in the wider context, their lives have extraordinary meaning. I'm reminded of the obituary of the last speaker of the Eyak language, which was as much an obituary for the language as it was for them.

OP talks a lot about the style and how they keep it simple, but there is so much beauty in that simplicity.


My favourite is still Jack Scott and Reg Varney (a British weather forecaster and the star of the sitcom "On the Buses") in one week in 2008 .

Just so unexpected as subjects for the Economist and beautifully done in capturing the spirit of a certain period in British life.

[1] https://www.economist.com/obituary/2008/12/04/jack-scott-and...


The NYTimes has wonderful obituaries too. In conventional newspapers junior reporters write these and it is pretty boiler plate. In superior news sources these are works of art by senior journalists.

They made a book of them in 2008 if you (or anyone else) is interested.

I highly recommend subscribing to the Economist. Every week I flip through the edition on the app, saving interesting-looking articles. Then I listen to the saved articles in order when I’m cooking or whatever. It’s like having a personalised, world-class podcast on topics of your choosing. I only recently realised that all of the articles are made available in audio form to subscribers. The subscription is a steal for this service.

This is the latest version of the Economist Style Guide - http://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/sty...

That's a teaser version (a "look inside" as Amazon would say). It's the first 20 pages of a guide that's at least 261 pages long.

well the previous version is available in all its entirety at archive.org

https://archive.org/details/EconomistBooksTheEconomistStyleG...


Only 20 pages, that's confidence.

Don’t forget the cliches, puns, and references to music and film titles in the headlines:

https://www.economist.com/johnson/2010/10/26/style-guide-ent...


They definitely have decent journalism but I just can't stand the website and cancelled my subscription (although very liked content and hope they fix website to make it usable).

The issue I have is that they display ads on a page. I don't mind ads in general but they actually embed animated banners which are very distracting and it worsens reading experience a lot, and you have to pay for such a privilege to stare at flashy animated ads of some clothing.


I also find it extremely annoying in the Economist. The New Yorker has the same problem.

I used AdblockPlus which works well. I resent having to use an ad blocker to read the journalism I'm a paid subscriber for, but at least it works.


I'm also incredibly confused as to how so many publications are clinging onto advertising revenue even for members paying hundreds of dollars annually.

A customer rep for The Economist confirmed they also do not remove ads and actually suggested I just install an ad blocker!

As far as I can tell, even the WSJ (which costs over $450 a year!!!) does not remove ads for subscribers.

The only publications I'm aware of that remove ads are The New York Times and The Guardian.


I'm not fan of their online ads.

But I wish I could have their print ads in the Android version.

Like, where else can I get ads for watches that cost the same as my flat, airline seats that I would never afford, expensive MBA, or job vacancies for multilateral organizations.

My targeted online ads are more boring.


You could steal airline magazines. It's a bit less globalist and more elderly (there's a lot of ads for golf course retirement communities) but still pretty upwardly mobile.

The phone app is very good. I almost never use the Economist web site.

The iPhone app is lovely

“I learned writing from The Economist. Back home, it wasn’t easy to learn English. No one in my social circle was fluent in the language and I couldn’t afford a private tutor. The best I could do was to create my own syllabus. The kiosk near my house had, to my surprise, the newspaper1. I’d save my allowance to buy whatever issue was on the stand. I’d divide each issue into two units: New Vocabulary and Writing Tools. I’d then memorize the novel words and apply the newly-discovered sentence structures to my essays. I kept doing this for three years.”

“Learned writing from The Economist. Wasn’t easy to learn English at home. No one I knew was fluent and I couldn’t afford a private tutor. Best I could do was to create my own syllabus. The kiosk near my house had the Economist. I’d save my allowance to buy whatever issue was on the stand. Divided each issue into 2 units: Vocabulary and Writing Tools. I’d memorize the novel words and apply the newly-discovered sentence structures. Kept doing this for three years.”

[“Good university-level” writing is verbose, filled with flourishes and redundant verbosities, and things that can be accurately context-guessed.]


> [“Good university-level” writing is verbose, filled with flourishes and redundant verbosities, and things that can be accurately context-guessed.]

Also how you get ahead in Nigeria.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38827888


This effect originates from our native languages. Or perhaps institutional memory of how the British wrote in the colonial era. Source: Grew up in Nigeria

I don't follow - what is the second paragraph meant to demonstrate?

I think it demonstrates that if you follow style advice to the point of folly, you can successfully embarrass yourself by sounding like third-rate Hemingway and make your writing hard to read.

"Scuppered" means to prevent from succeeding—also to sink a ship deliberately.

I was quite interested to learn this, because I would always have used the word "scuttled" for the deliberate sinking of a ship.


The AP has some useful writing manuals beyond the styleguide they are famous for. The Guide To News Writing is a great place to start and somewhere I've got a book of just examples of ledes (first sentences).

Being able to write in this style is useful for all kinds writing besides reporting the news.


Related question for anyone passing by: Can you recommend similarly well written publications in Spanish?

I've been told the long-form El Pais articles are well written.

If you'd like to learn journalism style writing in English especially if English is not your mother tongue, I would recommend American English for World Media: The CUNY Journalism School Guide to Writing and Speaking for Professionals by Diane Nottle

The book gives insights into everything a foreigner might face while writing for journalism in English.


Also recommend their daily news snack at https://www.economist.com/espresso

Can I subscribe to the Economist without having to call them to cancel the subscription?

Yes, I have done so (I have since resubscribed). I believe it required an email, or at least some weird looking portal. Not as easy as it could be, but certaintly not a call to customer service.

Nice, last time I unsubscribed it was a long call of “are you sureeeeee???”

I’ll probably still use privacy.com to be safe. But good to hear they addressed that. I’ve been thinking of subscribing again for a few months.


I sent them an email saying I wanted to cancel and they confirmed it a few days later. There was no nonsense involved.

I've since resubscribed.


No, at least that was the case when I tried a couple of years ago.

While I like, and am influenced by the economist, I find their formula frustrating. After stating the opposing side they often jump to their conclusions with barely enough arguments or stats. The articles don’t leave much in the way of follow up and hardly ever cite references to interesting facts or figures mentioned.

The first lesson in the article gave me a junior high flashback. We were supposed to organize our paragraphs into the form:

Introductory Sentence

Concrete detail

Commentary

Commentary

Concrete detail

Commentary

Commentary

Concrete detail

Commentary

Commentary

Concluding sentence

—- next paragraph

It works, but writing that way was such a toil. Sometimes there is no value in 2 sentences of commentary and sometimes more explanation is needed. Sometimes it’s best to present three details all at once, instead of one by one. My teacher lifted the requirement on me after I ignored the rule but still wrote a quality essay.


You gotta learn the rules before you learn which ones to break

can anyone recommend any meta-book on writing techniques and style? I recently picked up "the elements of eloquence" by Forsyth and it's pretty good, but it focuses a lot on rhetorical figures and not more higher-level structures like described in this article

Joseph Williams' "Style" is a great one

I read that news uses a pyramid structure where they say the main point first, then increasingly elaborate for anyone who cares enough to continue reading. However, news is also famous for people only reading the headlines, and skipping the body of an article. It seems good for conveying information but bad for engagement (although some papers and magazines ramble for pages and you never find out what the article is even about because it’s 70% tangent and human interest)

Strict inverted pyramid style was so that newspapers could basically randomly cut an article when they ran out of space in the hole the article was filling. A bit of an oversimplification but almost literally true in the case of wire service copy. Also you lost people at jumps.

Magazines are on longer deadlines and can adopt varying styles. That's not to say you hide the lede in the last paragraph, but you do have more flexibility in getting to the point.

The Economist, which actually calls itself a newspaper, probably is roughly inverted pyramid but not as much as AP copy would be.


The NYTimes has these endless articles where you scroll 20-30 pages before reaching the end. Fortunately they have added "takeaway" articles where they summarize the five most important points of a long story.

>He scuppered Barack Obama’s environmental agenda and voted to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

How is this better than simply using the word "thwarted"?


The thwarter can be an opponent or an ally but more likely an opponent. The scupperer is the opposite - more likely to be on the same boat as the person who's boat is being scuppered.

This is great! I just rewrote all my chapters' first paragraph[^1] using the first advice of this article.

I'll give back by sharing an advice I learned from ptatcek: the inverted pyramid.[^2]

Here's some example of what I just re-wrote.

Chapter 2:

  - I have talked about cryptographic primitives in the previous chapter, they are constructions that achieve specific security properties and form the building blocks of cryptography. 
  - In the first part of this book you will learn about several important ones. 
  + Attributing global unique identifiers to anything, that's the promise of the first cryptographic construction 
chapter 3:

  - In chapter 2, you've learned about an interesting construction --hash functions--that on its own doesn't provide much, but if used in combination with a secure channel allows you to verify the authenticity and integrity of some data. 
  + Mix a hash function with a secret key, and you obtain something called a *message authentication code (MAC)*.
chapter 4:

  - You've learned about authenticated encryption in chapter 4, which is a form of symmetric encryption.
  - This is an extremely useful cryptographic primitive, yet in the real-world, there exist many situations where different peers do not have a shared secret.
  + In chapter 4 you learned about authenticated encryption, a cryptographic primitive used to encrypt data but limited by its symmetry: both sides of a connection had to share the same key.
  + In this chapter, I'll lift this restriction by introducing *asymmetric encryption*: a primitive to encrypt to someone else's key without knowing the key.

chapter 12:

  - For as far as I can remember, the term "crypto" has been used in reference to the field of cryptography.
  - Recently, I have seen its meaning quickly changing and being used by more and more people to refer to *cryptocurrencies*.
  + Can cryptography be the basis for a new financial system?
  + This is what cryptocurrencies have been trying to answer since at least 2008, when Bitcoin was proposed by Satoshi Nakamoto (who to this day has yet to reveal their identity).


[^1]: https://www.manning.com/books/real-world-cryptography?a_aid=...

[^2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_pyramid_(journalism)


Have a look at “The art of writing science” by Kevin W. Plaxco [1]. He goes over this and similar techniques in length, applying them at the same time.

[1] https://doi.org/10.1002/pro.514


I am looking for another magazine/newspaper but which covers more culture and have more cultural opinion.

The New Yorker is one alternative but i find their pieces very long-winded and high-brow.

Any suggestions?


While The Economist has some redeeming factors and is often worth reading, it should be noted that it is not the objective dispassionate newspaper it claims to be. The Financial Times is far more honest about its commitments.

It is one of the main journals of the liberal business elite and has a fairly awful (and fascinating) anti labour history. It cloaks itself in a casual Oxbridge patina of disinterested expertise, but at its core, it radically advocates for liberal international capital, deregulation and privatisation. Neoliberalism to use a modern polysyllabic word.

Its stance towards the Irish famine should give one a taste of its beliefs, and they haven't changed much in 170 years or so... There have been some wonderful articles written on this publication, and I'd urge anyone to take a look at the publication from another angle.

[1] What the Economist doesn’t tell you - https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/what-the-economi...

[2] "The Economics of the Colonial Cringe," about The Economist magazine; Washington Post, 1991 - https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/1991/10/-quot...

[3] How The Economist Thinks - https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/05/how-the-economist-thi...


I've been a long-time reader of the Economist - probably started reading it around age 13 before they went full color (an event that made me think they would lose a bit of their sober reporting). Over the years I've picked up on their neoliberal stance on world affairs - they are not a neutral party by any means. They push some strong opinions and often venture into predictions on future political events that, more often than not in recent years, have turned out flat wrong.

This is from a recent edition-is it ‘radically advocating’ for deregulation?

‘Today big tech is in disrepute, not unlike banks after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the situation in 2008. In both cases, regulators marched in. [...] Lawmakers and regulators should apply that ethos by imposing similar obligations on the tech titans‘


I too enjoy the economist. Their level-headed style and combination of numeracy and humanism are welcome in an often dogmatic and sensationalist media climate.

The tools that you describe are how all news should be written! The inverted pyramid of information -- broad but important bits at the top, details at the bottom -- is a structure I remember from my high school newspaper class.

I do want to point out that there's a fine line between using precise words and being intelligible to the public. "Traduced," as you introduce in example, isn't a common word where I'm from, and could be expressed in other ways (slandered, defamed, maligned) that are in more common circulation. A case of 'know thine audience' I suppose.


> where I'm from Where is that? And is maligned that much more common than traduced? Is either one intelligible to the average person in the street (wherever they are from)?

Anyway, I quite like to read a word that I have never used, it enriches my vocabulary.


I'm from the West Coast, USA. I'm familiar with The Economist and find that their vocabulary selection trends toward words used in the Commonwealth. "Traduced" is far more commonly used in the UK than in the US, if use in search terms is to be believed [1]

I also enjoy learning new words, but the point of the article was how to communicate clearly, not how to enrich your readers' vocabularies.

[1]: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore/GEO_MAP/1617643200?...

[edit: and here's a comparison map showing that maligned is searched for over traduced at a ratio of 7:3 in the UK, 9:1 in the US. https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=traduced,maligned... ]


Also, "traduce" is euphemistic, so you can't be sure what it means even if you know the Latin. In romance languages it just means "translate."

But in English it does not mean translated. In that sense it is a false friend, it shares etymology with Romanian traduce but not meaning.

Saying it is a false friend is just a repetition of what I just said. In English it is a euphemism, like "going out" means being involved in a romance. Traduce- means to translate, as a euphemism it becomes to distort. The only way to know what the word means in English is to know what the word means in English; there's no hinting other than context, and the contexts of the two possible meanings could be very similar.

It's obviously not an incorrect usage, just an unnecessarily alienating one.


Thought this was about writing tools in Go...

The Economist, a journal that speaks for the British millionaires...

The Economist has always been upfront about their bias in coverage and that has helped them all along. They were established to challenge the Corn Laws in the United Kingdom.

https://www.economist.com/free-exchange/2007/01/29/the-econo...

Their coverage of countries at odds to the US elite/national security state ranges from being slanted to suspect word choice to falsehood by omissions to complete lies.

They are open about being a mouthpiece and an advocate and not impartial. Among the 100s (since 1843) of false coverage of countries on the receiving end of Anglo Saxon imperial aggression and genocide (English-speaking countries etc) look at their fake coverage of the coup in Chile and more recently the one in Bolivia. With non-white and non-European countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Vietnam etc they openly advocate their destruction. (worth looking into their archives for those who want to study manufactured consent)

This helps serve the policy objectives of lowering non-white populations:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Replacement


You’re suggesting the Economist is open about its globalist bias, but meanwhile they also have another secret bias, which is white supremacy?

If I took lessons in writing from the Economist, my writing would appear to take a few scant observations and then apparently jump to suggest what the world should do about a certain long unsolved problem as if no one else had thought about that before, like some sophomore at Oxford just discovering the 2nd chapter of a textbook.

I find that style of writing a little bit obnoxious, so I have not taken my lessons from the Economist.


A lot more would be revealed by contrary examples, either yours or those you greatly prefer, stylistically, over The Economist.



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