Friday, February 15, 2008

Myths about journals

Hopi Sen observes correctly that the New Statesman is not a very good magazine. It's like reading the comment and review section of the Observer, but without Andrew Rawnsley and at much higher cost (though at least both now seem to have dispensed with the services of Cristina Odone).

But he goes on to perpetuate the myth that its rival, the Spectator, is a better magazine. I am bitter about this, because I'd heard this from a number of people, and was once foolish enough to buy the Spectator and read it. None of the book reviews were interesting, and the articles in the front bit were generic right-wing pieces on the issues of the moment, none of which read like they had taken the author very long to write. Reading Fraser Nelson's thoughts on welfare reform spread across three pages isn't actually an improvement on reading exactly the same points made in his News of the World column.

The same goes for the Economist, which I've heard people say is very good because of its international coverage. On closer inspection, its international coverage turns out to be articles from round the world about the need to cut taxes, privatise services and deregulate in [insert country here]. Which I guess is comforting if you think that sort of thing is needed everywhere and all the time, but isn't really adding much.

I guess part of the problem is that political coverage on t'internet provides for free a much quicker response and much more detailed and informed analysis than any monthly political journal can offer. But if the New Statesman under its new editorship could manage to rise to the level of 'if I have nothing to read on the train, I will get this rather than save my money' then that would be an improvement on where it is now.


At 10:21 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

All three magazines are dreadful, but to its credit the Economist was one of the first magazines to realise there are areas of the world not in America or Western Europe.

If the New Statesman is the Observer in magazine form, the Spectator is the Telegraph and the Economist is the Times. I'm not sure which paper relates to the Sunday Mirror but clearly the New of the World is Heat and the Mail on Sunday is a racist Woman's Weekly.

At 1:13 pm , Blogger ejh said...

On closer inspection, its international coverage turns out to be articles from round the world about the need to cut taxes, privatise services and deregulate in [insert country here].


At 1:55 pm , Blogger PooterGeek said...

"On closer inspection, its international coverage turns out to be articles from round the world about the need to cut taxes, privatise services and deregulate in [insert country here]."

You haven't inspected it very closely if that's what you think.

Today's international cover stories argue respectively that "preventing a global downturn is too big a job just to be left to American policymakers", stating that monetary policy is "a blunt tool"; worry about the anti-democratic thrust of unrestrained Chinese infrastructure development; and contend that Lakshmi Mittal built the World's biggest steel firm through "opportunism" rather than "vision".

There are certainly times when the Economist's politics get the better of its judgement---like its disgusting campaign against Bill Clinton based on what he did with his penis (when there were rather better reasons for objecting to him)---but it's one of the two remaining serious newspapers in Britain. This is (in part) because its staff usually take the time to find out about things first hand, rather than make stuff up that fits their prejudices. That's an approach worth imitating.

At 7:07 pm , Blogger cian said...

While I agree the Economist is not always quite as neoliberal as its reputation (though it is often, and seems to have increased with greater sales success in the US), its not particularly reliable. I've read plenty of articles which misuse statistics, ignore extremely pertinent parts of a story, or are just plain wrong. And its predictions, or warnings, seem to be always, and quite badly, wrong. They certainly employ their fair share of hacks. Looking back at past issues of the Economist can be very entertaining. I suspect the Economist Intelligence Unit keeps them reasonably honest - though I'd love to know more about the RCP attempted coup there...

At 10:01 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

Thanks to all for comments.

PooterGeek - What's the other serious British newspaper?

At 12:33 am , Blogger PooterGeek said...

Cian makes a good point about The Economist's predictions. I think this might be because its editors force its writers to write unambiguously, even when the truth is blurry. If the people at the paper could predict the sort of things they predict with the sort of confidence they project then they wouldn't be working at The Economist; they'd be lounging around on yachts in the Maldives.

The Financial Times is the other serious British (national) newspaper. I could be being hard on The Scotsman because I never read it, except online, and no library I've recently been a member of has taken it.

The decline of The Independent in my lifetime has been a horrible thing to witness, like seeing a brilliant and stylish prizewinning university professor run away to a shack in the woods to gibber at the moon, naked but for an aluminium skullcap.

At 12:10 pm , Anonymous pregethwr said...

Much as it pains me the Spectator was much, much better under Boris Johnson.

At the momement is completely foaming at the mouth.

I am increasingly coming to your conclusion on the Economist though: there's that loss of innocence when you read an article on a subject which you know inside out - and it is a load of old cock.

F'rinstance their Tory article this week seems mainly to have been cribbed from ConHome and given a loftier tone.

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