MEDIA: What on earth has gone wrong at the Economist?

Nope, I think you’ll find it’s the Economist…but not as we know it.

Now that Little Red has gone the way of paid-for content along with the FT, I’ve been trialling it for a few weeks. What a disappointment.

Some of you may have spotted The Slogger’s review of an ‘article’ in The Economist the other day. The piece wasted three columns absolving Britain of any and all social decline. Not only was it wrong and ignorant on almost every dimension, but it clearly emanated from a writer so obviously inside the opaque Metropolitan bubble, it was funny in a horrifying way. The sheer insensitivity was almost at the level of the judge asking the jury if they “would want their servants to read such a book”, as the beak in charge of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial remarked in his 1963 summing-up.

Now today there’s an interview with Nick Clegg, in which (for some very unEconomist reason) Nick is putting on a tasteless orange tie. The shot is very up itself – as was his ‘arms and legs outstretched’ pose at the end of the Libdem special conferencette during the week: the resultant publicity shot looked like a poster for West Side Story.

When in my thirties and climbing up management’s greasy North Face, I was a solid Economist subscriber. If Thursday was my day for the Campaign fix, Friday began with the plop of the Eco through our letter-box. It not only ran thoughtful pieces, it ensured that every last one offered a pov which (a) made the issue more clear and (b) was usefully distinctive from the crowd. The Clegg interview reads like something out of Hello.

I don’t mean by this that Nick tells all on his wild and wicked days of drug-fuelled nasal damage while laying across his bright green leather sofa. Rather, the author falls for the Libdem line lock stock and bottom of the barrel – yet manages to miss the obvious point that the Party’s positioning is hopelessly confused, and its leader a confusing tart. This extract is a cracker:

‘With his Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, Mr Clegg nudged Lib Dem economic policy away from social democracy (one half of the party’s family tree) and towards liberalism (the other). It is still redistributive, but with fewer big spending pledges and more emphasis on tax cuts than on benefits for low-earners.’

So, it’s a sort of socialistish, liberalish, Thatcherish thing, this Party created by Clegg’s Clever Nudge. Here’s some more Janet & John:

‘“Liberalism is a really old British tradition, and it has a completely different attitude towards the individual,” [Clegg] insists’.

Cool insistence there Nick, but liberalism’s attitude to the individual wasn’t redistributive at all. Predictably, the writer fails to spot this – or indeed to ask Clegg what that attitude to the individual is now. (And the PR boys must be glad he didn’t).

While I can sense already that the scent of power has gone straight up Nick Clegg’s nose and inflated his carefully-trimmed head, The Economist appears to be going to the dogs. After scanning its pages during sixteen days for something well-informed, my considered view is that it isn’t worth the subscription. Nor does it, any more, deserve a position in my treasured Favourites panel.

What’s gone wrong? Well if you look at some of the review sites, dumbed education is one of the factors. This quote from a satisfied fan particularly caught my eye:

‘I’m ding (sic) Economics at A-level and have throughly (sic) enjoyed the subject and found it very interesting on a personal level and particularly as it is key in every business, government and country…’

Hmm: ding, ding, my dingaling. Here’s another one:

‘…when I tell people I’m a huge fan of reading “The Economist,” I get either raised eyebrows or comments on what a peculiar and strangely mature taste in magazines I have…’

Some clues on readership motive there, but the threader’s avatar (‘mystikchick’) doesn’t scream ‘Top Banker’.

I mean it’s a fair cop, I know it’s me and all that, Grumpy Old Man described alarmingly by my younger daughter’s boyfriend last year as ‘highbrow’ etc etc etc: the thing sells 1.4 million copies worldwide and is very highly thought of. I just think it is, on this trial basis, crap.

Still, the Clegg/Economist meeting of minds was obviously predestined. This is how the Eco describes its core position:

‘The extreme centre is the paper’s historical position’.

Right. We’ll do that, then.