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Reading for value

My buddy Bill shared an article on Google Reader about the demise of Newsweek which linked to this New York Times article (does anyone else find it ironic that one newspaper experiencing financial problems is calling out another publication’s financial problems?):

American newsweeklies were built on original reporting of Large Events, helping readers make sense of a complicated world, but it is a costly endeavor with diminishing returns during an era of commodified and chewed-over news. Both The Economist and The Week were built, rather Web-like, to “borrow” the reporting and then spread analysis on top, thereby making a sundae without having to crank the ice cream maker.

And in this instance, the foreignness of the brands gives the reader an intellectual sheen that once Olympian domestic brands can’t. The Economist and The Week not only make you smarter at cocktail parties by giving you a brief on the week events, but name-checking them will make you sound in the know. Mention Newsweek and people will wonder whether you’ve been going to the dentist a lot lately.

Don’t you love British wit? 🙂

I’m an avid reader of The Economist, and Bill’s shared article got me thinking of why it is that I read The Economist (and many of the other things in my reading list) rather than the numerous other publications out there:

  1. It makes me look smarter. Okay, lets cover the least important (albeit still true) reason first, so I can get it out of the way and focus on the more substantive stuff :-).
  2. It’s analytical. I’m an analytical guy. If there’s one thing consulting has taught me, its that a reasoned conclusion requires both quantitative and qualitative analysis. I’m not satisfied with soundbytes, and I’m not satisfied with superficial reasoning. But, I probably don’t have the time to follow each thread/claim to its origin, nor do I have the time to crunch through all the numbers. Enter The Economist. How many other publications do you know who’ve created an index for measuring purchasing-power parity based on McDonald’s Big Mac? Or run their own quantitative models on the Greek economy to project how the Greek debt situation might look 5 years from now? Or are even in the business of selling macroeconomic analytical data?
  3. It’s opinionated, but still balanced and rigorous. A lot of newspapers strive to be “unbiased.” I think that’s the wrong approach. There are few articles in The Economist which I would say are truly unbiased. And much to its benefit, I might add. When done correctly, having an opinion means doing the necessary research and analysis and thinking. It means carefully considering opposing views. What distinguishes The Economist’s approach is, even if I disagree with the opinion they conclude with, I am given plenty of the background needed to disagree. What newspapers should focus on is not to provide “unbiased” coverage, but balanced (as in carefully presenting all sides of an issue) and rigorous (going beneath the soundbytes).
  4. It’s timely enough. As a weekly, The Economist can’t exactly provide the up-to-the-minute coverage that cable news networks provide (although a lot of that can be remedied if you just check their website). But, frankly, unless you’re a day-trader or a diplomat, I fail to see why you would ever need to know everything on a “as-it-happens” basis. And, if the tradeoff for not getting the news “as-it-happens” is missing out on hours of repeated soundbytes and the very trite cable news network commentary, then I am more than happy to make that tradeoff.
  5. Original content/coverage. Related to the previous point, although it may not be as timely as a cable news network, the Economist also goes places most cable news networks don’t go. It’s the one place I know I can go to get decent analysis of happenings in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia – parts of the world that the cable news networks and major newspapers ignore in favor of endlessly hyping up soundbyte-ridden coverage of more “popular” news items. Also unlike many news sources, they’re also one of the few I can reliably turn to who provide decent science coverage in a way which is respectful of scientists and what they actually found rather than what the newspaper thinks the public is interested in the scientists finding.
  6. It’s witty/doesn’t take itself too seriously. Let’s forget, just for a moment, the witty phrasings/titles that are all over The Economist. Take a look at these covers, and tell me that this is a magazine that takes itself too seriously:

image image image

The interesting thing is, without even thinking about it, the list of news-y blogs/web feeds I follow (right-hand-side column of my Links page) has steadily fallen more in line with the 6 reasons I mentioned above. Of course, the list could always use some pruning/adjusting (and as anyone who’s seen how much I share over Google Reader or on Twitter, they can tell I have a lot that I could cut from my list), but I think this set of 6 criteria is as good as any for helping people to manage their information sources.

What other criteria do people use in finding good sources of information/news to follow?

(Image credit – cover 1) (Image credit – cover 2) (Image credit – cover 3)

Published in Blog

  • Todd Farrell

    My criteria depends on the particular issue that I am following and which opinion I am trying to come to a conclusion on. I follow a trifecta that includes WSJ, The Economist, and NYT.

    I use WSJ because it has very quick reporting and turn-around on how political events might effect markets and particular companies. They do sacrifice some long-term accuracy and sometimes can be a little alarmist; if I want good econometric analysis and mature reporting I look for the economist. In particular if I want to know something about the long-term political economy of an industry or country The Economist is a good source.

    Lately, I have been using WSJ mostly because I just got a full subscription to it and have been trying to adjust some of investments in the short-term — abusing their company research section of their website. Sometimes its also funny to look at its “Lifestyle Section”, because well, I am not a retired millionaire in need of a chalet — if I end up that way I'll know where to look at least.

    NYT is a habit I developed growing up in CT and I like keeping up with Krugman and Friedman. They also have fairly good coverage/commentary of the finance industry and arts scene in the tri-state area, though tech-wise they could use some help — they are big fans of apple.

  • Todd Farrell

    My criteria depends on the particular issue that I am following and which opinion I am trying to come to a conclusion on. I follow a trifecta that includes WSJ, The Economist, and NYT.

    I use WSJ because it has very quick reporting and turn-around on how political events might effect markets and particular companies. They do sacrifice some long-term accuracy and sometimes can be a little alarmist; if I want good econometric analysis and mature reporting I look for the economist. In particular if I want to know something about the long-term political economy of an industry or country The Economist is a good source.

    Lately, I have been using WSJ mostly because I just got a full subscription to it and have been trying to adjust some of investments in the short-term — abusing their company research section of their website. Sometimes its also funny to look at its “Lifestyle Section”, because well, I am not a retired millionaire in need of a chalet — if I end up that way I'll know where to look at least.

    NYT is a habit I developed growing up in CT and I like keeping up with Krugman and Friedman. They also have fairly good coverage/commentary of the finance industry and arts scene in the tri-state area, though tech-wise they could use some help — they are big fans of apple.

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