The Economist: Voice of the New Global Elite
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago, if you had asked a typical senior American corporate type or public official what his or her weekly reading consisted of, the answer would usually have run something like this: “Time,Newsweek and maybe U.S. News & World Report … oh, yes, and the Economist.” Today, instead of being an afterthought, theEconomist probably would head the list. It might even be the only publication mentioned. U.S. News & World Reportceased being a full-scale newsmagazine years ago. Newsweek, since 2010 the feeble foster child of Tina Brown’s flamboyant Daily Beast website, has lost much of its influence and most of its original staffers and subscribers. Even mighty Time, once the educated American middle class’s undisputed arbiter of all things political, economic, social and cultural, has suffered massive staff and circulation hemorrhaging and is in the throes of a seemingly endless search for a new identity.Time knows it isn’t what it used to be but still can’t make up its mind what it should become.
All of this would seem to be conclusive evidence that the era of the weekly newsmagazine is over, rendered obsolete by burgeoning electronic media and 24/7 cable-news coverage and commentary. But if the once-great redwoods of American weekly journalism are all dead, dying or seriously ill, a smaller, older English oak survives and flourishes, possibly because it has never tried to be anything other than itself: a literate, informed (and occasionally smug) publication aimed at a literate, informed (and occasionally smug) readership. First published in 1843, which makes it eighty years older than Time and ninety years older than Newsweek, theEconomist remains true to the statement of purpose printed in its first issue, still proudly run each week at the foot of its contents page: a pledge of commitment to the “severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”
The age of Victorian optimism is long gone, and the sun has forever set on the British Empire. But the Economist goes on, the exemplar of that old Victorian determination to get things done and do them right. Today, it is arguably more influential, more widely read and more prestigious than at any other time in its 169-year history and in a way that is unlike any other magazine. Why is this so? And how well does the quality of its content live up to theEconomist’s lofty status?