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How does commentary affect the world around us?

Is The Economist a Blog?

A new article by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic seems to be theorizing that The Economist, as a collection of ruminations on previously-reported information, constitutes a blog. Its blogginess, Hirschorn seems to be saying, is what distinguishes The Economist and its success from struggling newsweeklies like Time and Newsweek:

By repositioning themselves as repositories of commentary and long-form reporting—much like this magazine, it’s worth noting, which has never delivered impressive profit margins—the American newsweeklies are going away from precisely the thing that has propelled The Economist’s rise: its status as a humble digest, with a consistent authorial voice, that covers absolutely everything that you need to be informed about. (Tellingly, the very lo-fi digest The Week, which has copped The Economist’s attitude without any real reporting or analysis at all, is thriving as well.)

Somewhat oddly, perhaps, Hirschorn goes on to posit that the very magazine that “covers absolutely everything” is simultaneously a niche publication, while Time and Newsweek are not:

General-interest is out; niche is in. The irony, as restaurateurs and club-owners and sneaker companies and Facebook and Martha Stewart know—and as The Economist demonstrates, week in and week out—is that niche is sometimes the smartest way to take over the world.

There seem to be a number of problematic points in the article, perhaps the main being the tension between digest/blog and niche. Doesn’t a digest, by definition, contain a broad body of information? How, then, is that reconciled with the alternative presentation of The Economist as “niche”? Perhaps it’s not the contents themselves that are niche, but their target audience–but then, again, the point of the article is to present the magazine as popular, not limited in scope. A conundrum.

The other interesting part of the problem has to do with The Economist as blog. I’d counter that The Economist (its print version, at least) lacks two important features of blogs: links and commentary. But of course, The Economist has a web site with its share of blogs. How does the web site differ in popularity and purpose from the magazine? What sets apart the print version from the interactive online community? I’ll look at some commentary tomorrow to find out!

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Filed under: Blogs, Commentary

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