What’s so great about the Economist?

MarketWatch‘s Jon Friedman concludes a two-part series on the State-side rise of the Economist by pondering whether or not the US market has “enough smart people around who will want to read it.” In the series’ first installment, American publishers dismissed the paper as a “niche magazine.” Friedman fears that the magazine’s highbrow may limit its life in America:

HBO is a premium cable service purchased primarily by affluent subscribers, the Economist faces a different kind of limitation on its audience size. There are only so many Americans who are — to put it bluntly — smart enough to enjoy its articles.

So much of the U.S. media focus on the celebrity culture and present news in bite-sized portions that the Economist’s content may be too meaty for a country that once celebrated a show called “Beavis and Butthead.”

The Economist’s increasing popularity among Americans is at least in part symptomatic of a dearth in both the quality and quantity of international coverage coming from American news outlets. Informed Americans increasingly look to British and European sources for international news and analysis, be it the Economist or the BBC. American reporting often determines a story’s value according to its relevance to the United States or popular culture (an excessive reliance on “human interest”). With an increasing interest in foreign affairs (it’s foreign policy, stupid), it is not surprising that Americans would turn to media outlets that offer more global perspectives. International relations and area studies students are often advised to check the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and Le Monde (plus Le Diplo) as often if not more than they do the New York Times or the Washington Post, because similar American magazines and newspapers rarely approach their level of depth and seriousness.

But are Americans really too dense to “enjoy” the Economist? Some of them certainly are. But there will always be a market for dry British magazines among the educated and pretentious. (Not to mention that the magazine has been selling in America for decades without too much trouble.)

I personally prefer IHT, FT, Der Spiegel and the Economist to most American publications (aside from Foreign Policy and the Washington Post) simply because they cover more of the world than any of the American ones. Another [British] publication I am fond of is Monocle, a pleasant cross somewhere in between the Economist, GQ, and Vanity Fair. [Via, Passport.]

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