Sunday, June 28, 2009

Done w/ the Economist & WSJ

It's hard for me to admit it, but these 2 gotsa to go.  They no longer fit the way people read anymore and it's time for them to wake up.

Take the Wall Street Journal Online --  a sub now runs you $119.  That crept up on me; it used to be $59 when I first got it.   Breaking news that's relevant is reprinted in other industry news alerts or my internal company newsletter.  Maybe i'll browse a random feature article about how indian village salesmen are hawking cell phones.  But all the other articles are too in-depth for me to contemplate on a normal workday (for example, something about the credit crisis which assumes i already have a basic understanding of the crisis, which i don't).  Somedays I wonder, what did I even *learn* out of reading this?  And the answer is generally nothing; just the frantic guilt associated with attempting to keep up with the notions of reading it, in the first place.  

Then there's the Economist.  As with most of my similarly egg-headed friends, my Economist Guilt is high.  But I can't read the Economist every week!  Does this make me .. not an Economist?  It's like being on a hamster wheel - no sooner have i done reading an article on the Lebanese election, along comes a new one the next week.  I tried to listen to the audio edition while commuting to work, but found it so mentally taxing to absorb the article while driving at 7 am in the morning, that i'd get to work sleepy.  plus, if you know how long it takes to read an economist cover to cover (probably 7-10 hours) then imagine listening to it in spoken word.  The thing is, spoken word is slow... really, really slow.  And then the thing is after all that effort - I don't feel particularly smarter or more well-informed for reading it; instead I find the entire magazine to be increasingly well, stale.  The technology & science articles have always been lame, but now even their leaders and main articles feel remarkably hum-drum.  The only bright spot are their culture articles and yes, the obituaries.  Oh Economist, what have you done for me lately (while I pay you $225/year for the privilege).  

but here's what does work:

Foreign Affairs.  Single-handedly the BEST journal out there.  It comes out 6 times a year and costs a palty $44.  There are rotating contributors, which means sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I don't, but precisely because they are on rotation, I'm encouraged to think independently after every story read.  The in-depth nature of the coverage allows one to learn and absorb.  Some of my favorite articles are in there.  During the presidential election, each major candidate was asked to submit an article on their perspective of foreign affairs.  A recent article went in depth on the coming military conflicts over the Indian ocean between China, India and other major powers.  Because the journal is not meant to be a weekly, the articles are relevant for many months, and often define the mainstream press's news agenda as a thought leader 6 months or more before they get to it.  So - the right amount of content, the right depth of content, cheap, a lack of guilt.  Perfect.

Wired.  At $12 a year for the print sub, they give this thing away.   Guest contributors means you can decide if you like their stories or not; in depth reporting allows you to learn.  And because their articles are relevant at least for 6 months to a year, and again often set the agenda of mainstream thinking by 1 year or more, there's no readers guilt.  Only downside is the snobbery associated with the mag and its penchant for turning ordinary people into geniuses/heroes/rockstars and the annoying number of adverts for cars and watches and crap.  One gets the sense that everyone who reads this mag is an a-hole that believes they are awesome because they have an apple product and happens to live on a coast.   But other than that, great.

American Economic Journal.  I'm testing this as my Economist replacement.  There are like, 7 journals on economic theory all within it.  We'll see how this goes.  They charge extra to send you print copies which I appreciate, and they price your membership based on household income which I also appreciate.  


Capt. BS said...

For someone who suffers generally from MSGs (Magazing Subscription Guilt syndrome, where the second S is lowercase to make the acronym more amusing), this is a very refreshing post to read. I feel slightly less crazy knowing that I'm not the only one who feels anxiety over the fact that I am unable to get through all of my magazine subscriptions, yet at the same time I do not feel particularly inspired to do anything about it.

I have two magazine subscriptions, neither of which rise to the same pretenses as the Wall Street Journal or The Economist. The first is Time Magazine, a venerable publication that I grew up reading, but also one that has been on the decline for several years. Their recent layout overhaul pretty much amounts to a hail mary pass at staying relevant in the Internet Age by titling sections with IT-loaded words like "Inbox" and "Dashboard", and rearranging their printed pages to resemble a Web-like layout... all the while not realizing that if I'm going to pay for something, it's going to be for quality content, not a hip look-and-feel. Nevertheless, every so often, they put together a well-written and engaging feature, usually relating to something in the mental-health field, and that's probably the reason why I've kept my subscription going (at something like $50/year). Unfortunately, the bulk of the magazine still relates to current events, and so by the time my mag arrives, I've already read most of it via the Internet.

The second -- I am embarrassed to admit -- is Information Week. I get this subscription free by virtue of my IT-related "Director" title (um, yeah, at a five-person company), and under no circumstances would I ever advise anyone to pay a penny for it. Maybe it's because I'm not a "pure IT" (i.e., infrastructure) person, but I have yet to read an article that actually stated or asked anything meaningful. It astounds me that they employ writers who make a living by filling up three pages with what could be distilled into a single sentence. (A common example that you'll usually find in every issue: "Even though no one really knows what it is, everyone agrees that the Cloud is good.") Their monthly "hot startup company profile" features all read the same ("Company XYZ is pioneering innovative ways to deliver solutions to the ABC problem, but we have serious doubts as to whether they can actually do it") and their CIO interviews are similarly uninteresting ("John Smith, the CIO of WeUsedToBeAFortune500Company, made his mark on the industry by reducing infrastructure costs by 35% and cutting application delivery time in half. He credits James Jones, an early mentor and now CEO of, with showing him the ropes earlier in his career.) Yet at the same time, every week, I feel compelled to plow through all of this unreadable crap, out of fear that I'll miss some source of career or industry-related inspiration... So I try to find a happy medium by approaching it as if it were People Magazine for Nerds: expect fluff, read it while you're on the crapper, and be thoroughly shocked if you actually take anything away from it.

So, in [hasty] conclusion [because I have to leave five minutes ago], I would like to say: I will no longer feel guilty if I'm unable to finish my print subscriptions, and perhaps one day I will realize that there are better (mostly Internet-based) options out there and adjust my subscriptions accordingly.

Priya said...

oh. my. god. as a young systems analyst i received staggering numbers of information weeks that used to collect in each apartment. i have come to the conclusion that the entire magazine is full of huge nerds, many with low journalistic standards, often many articles are barely more than glorified press releases or magazines you suspect someone paid for as a sort of CIO glamor shot. you'll never miss a thing in this magazine, i promise.

Lilac - Like The Flower said...

As a note from someone on the "Feeding the press" side of the madness, let me just say - I would give my left pinkie to get an article in informationweek. yep. it's that glorious.