The blokes over at The Economist are spending this week celebrating their 170th anniversary, which is amazing, since it’s become the world’s leading English-language newsmagazine not only by excellence, but also by stamina.
Of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report – all 20th century creations – only the former still exists in a print edition, and it’s an anemic shadow of its former self. Everybody else has long gone digital. Yet since September 2, 1843, the British “newspaper” – that’s what it still calls itself – returns solid, intelligent, sprightly-written but resolutely fact-based journalism, each and every week. Articles are unsigned, as they used to be in America’s newsmags, and regular opinion columnists are identified only by historical personages: “Lexington” for the U.S., “Bagehot” for Britain, “Charlemagne” for Europe, “Schumpeter” for business and economics, etc. The journalists behind these names may change – and they often say so-long in their final columns before a new writer picks up – but the bylines remain the same.
A leading American businessman told New York magazine last week that you could learn all you need to know just by reading The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek. (This individual happens to own Bloomberg Businessweek, but he’s right: it’s a great, lively mag these days.) The Economist covers everything else with a charming Old World objectivity; it’s instructive to get the British take on American subjects, and even to be chided about our own odd obsessions, such as with the President’s place of birth or our Bizarro-world relationship to our guns. Here was the paper’s entire coverage of a certain spring 2011 event, in its world roundup section: A young man and his fiancée were expected to get married in central London on April 29th. Millions of Britons took advantage of the opportunity to take a foreign holiday. This in a week when Time and Newsweek both had the royal wedding splashed all over their covers (and thus missed the killing of Osama bin Laden).
The Economist would probably fall into the “moderate Republican” camp if it were American; in other words, there’s no place for it in Congress. Socially open-minded and fiscally conservative, it can’t possibly agree with your point of view every single week. (It is currently acting quite hawkish toward Syria and is aghast that Parliament declined to support a military operation for the first time since 1782.) But, aside from the clearly delineated opinion pages, you can trust it for straight, unadorned news. There is no better way to learn about our complicated, interconnected world than in the spinless pages of this international paragon. Happy 170th, mates, and have a pint on me!