Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Economist

A couple of decades (or maybe more) ago, I read Time magazine every week as part of my newspaper job -- also an occasional Newsweek and once in a long while a US News and World Report. Added to three newspapers a day (the Chicago Sun-Times, my employer; the Chicago Tribune, the competition; and the New York Times) I felt fairly well informed about general news. (This does not count specialized magazines such as Publishers Weekly or The New Yorker.)

In recent years, however, I've stopped reading the newsweeklies. Like all too many dailies, in their struggle for survival they've gone way, way downmarket, focusing on celebritneys, movies, television and other sound-bitey items of pop culture. There's less and less to the magazines each week as advertising disappears and their news holes shrink.

Then, last month, an airline offered me a choice of magazines in exchange for my dormant frequent-flyer miles. I opted for The Economist, which I'd loved to read whenever I found it on somebody else's coffee table, which was rarely. At $200 a year it's too pricey for this retiree.

But now I'm in heaven. Here is a magazine that does not insult its readership but assumes both intelligence and education. Though it is British-based, it covers the world in depth (this week's issue carries a long and fascinating article on Egypt, a potential minefield of radical Islamism). It treats the United States with offbeat but relevant pieces (Wisconsin as a swing state, Wyoming as heaven for libraries) and this week publishes a long and thoughtful article about cancer and stem cells. Its book reviews are both scholarly and readable.

The prose is neither thick nor abstruse but is surprisingly clear and lively.

Even the want ads entice; HM Government seeks a chair for its committee on climate change, and M.I.6 is looking for operational officers.

Best of all, a print subscription entitles one to premium content on the Economist's web site. Check out its excellent daily news analysis.

How nice to be treated like a reader with a mind.