June 18, 2007

The best and worst of The Economist

The Economist is a weekly magazine that focuses on world news, business, and politics. The magazine, based in London, is dense with information and can be tough to wade through. The publishers target an upper-class demographic, and it shows in their ads for the magazine. A recent ad had a tag line which read, “It’s lonely at the top, but at least there’s something to read.” The Economist is the sort of magazine pretentious people like to be seen reading.

Naturally, I have a subscription.

econcover.jpgAs I was wading through this week’s issue, I realized that whoever writes the headlines (the copy editor, I think) has an interesting sense of humor and a penchant for puns and cultural references. Some of the headlines are better than others. I went through the stack of unread issues that’s been piling up in the living room and picked out some of the best and the worst headline puns and references from recent weeks. Whether you think they are the best or the worst probably depends on whether you like puns. Here are some examples:

Article topic: What conservatives get, and do not get, about foreign aid.
Headline: Right to bear alms

Article topic: Former CIA Director George Tenet’s new book has some factual errors but is still worth reading.
Headline: George’s tenets

Article topic:Two big meat producers agree to merge.
Headline:A steak in the market

Photograph: A polar bear stands on a piece of ice surrounded by water. The article is about global warming.
Caption: It’s getting unbearable

Article topic: Scrubbing carbon from coal-fired power stations is possible but pricey.
Headline: Dirty king coal

(I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a play on Nat King Cole or Old King Cole)

Article topic: Businesses are engaging in war game style simulations to gain new perspective on complex problems.
Headline: Shall we play a game?

Article topic: The cost of making cell phone calls overseas.
Headline: When in roam

Article topic: Californians are leaving the state, filling its neighbor states with former Californians.
Headline: Dreams of Californication

Article topic: Ecuador has a new President, Rafael Correa
Headline: Magical mystery tour

(Seriously, I have no idea what this headline is supposed to mean. I read the whole article and still can’t figure it out. Correa isn’t touring anywhere. He’s not listening to the Beatles. Why the reference? I don’t get it.)

Article topic: Rio de Janeiro’s economy isn’t doing so well.
Headline: Blame it on Rio

Article topic: The popularity of the Russian royal family
Headline: Tsarstruck

Article topic: The president’s policies on global warming
Headline: Emissionary positions

Article topic: Scientist Craig Venter takes on yet another big project
Photo caption: Craig’s list gets longer and longer


Haha some of those are pretty great. I particularly like “Tsarstruck.” I’ve been kinda thinking of getting a subscription to the Economist, but I’m pretty sure it’d just pile up and not get read.

the only time I can wade through the magazine is while I’m traveling. Reading The Economist is a decent way to spend those five hour flights from DC to CA. I’ve tried reading it while grounded but, yeah, it doesn’t really happen then.

I used to have a subscription to the Economist, but once I stopped my two hour (each way) commute it was too hard to get through it. Now, like Patricia, I usually read it only when I’m flying.

Gah. Seriously, emissionary positions? That just sounds gross.

I imagine that the Magical Mystery Tour reference is a suggestion that Correa is making dubious promises (“Roll up GOT EVERYTHING YOU NEED … / Roll up SATISFACTION GUARANTEED”). Having a pessimistic bent, I read something sinister into the chorus, too: “[t]he magical mystery tour is coming to take you away”…

Definitely a headline too clever for its own good, though.

Alright, now I’m a huge fan of puns and have a desolate social life to prove it. But still, some of those should’ve been nuked at the first round of proofing. … but still, WHEN IN ROAM is a winner.

“It’s getting unbearable” … just too easy.

One of my fave covers from the Economist was when China launched a manned spacecraft.

Congratulations, China

They have a great sense of humor, and really aren’t afraid to call it the way they see it.

I subscribe to The Economist, but I think it has a different significance in Britain and the Commonwealth where reading the magazine signifies a political and economic conservatism, and being a fuddy-duddy rather than being pretentious.

Perhaps that is also connected to the fact that the word ‘liberal’ in the non-American English speaking world tends to be more like what you call libetarian-lraning conservatism in the U.S.

Actually that kind of headline style is common in the UK media — for extreme examples see the alternative press e.g. Schnews or Private Eye.

The Australian media turned the headline pun into an artform — see e.g. Defamer Australia for examples.

I realise it’s totally subjective of me but I really think Ozzie and Brit media show up America’s pedestrian style… e.g. all those tedious “Headlines with lists that can contain one, two comma-separated items”…

It’s true that yank journalists can really research a case when they want to… but I think it’s much rarer for them to go out on a limb… and the style reflects that (including the headline style)…. much more plod, much less flair.

The Economist is great. I think they offer a podcast of the entire newspaper now, too.

I read (in Harpers? I think?) a correction that The Economist printed in November 2001:

In the issues of December 16th 2000 to November 10th 2001, we may have given the impression that George Bush had been legally and duly elected president of the United States. We now understand that this may have been incorrect, and that the election result is still too close to call. The Economist apologises for any inconvenience.


It is funny you posted your comment on that subject september 11th. A coincidence ?

I am a total fan of ‘The Economist’ - and esp. with the new ‘podcasts’ made available, its even better! For a magazine to come up with so much of editorial content and almost, most appropriate ‘headlines’… all the time.. … isn’t that easy!

Article topic: Scrubbing carbon from coal-fired power stations is possible but pricey.
Headline: Dirty king coal

(I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a play on Nat King Cole or Old King Cole)

My guess it is a play on “N(e)at King Cole”

I think the ‘magical mystery tour’ is a reference to the new president taking up his tour of duty - if it is anything more subtle and intelligent it is lost on me

sometimes, the captions are full of that too. for example, in the recent special report on china, there’s a caption “A sight to terrify the enemy” under a picture of the chinese army marching. All of the soldiers are women wearing miniskirts.

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