Thursday, January 29, 2015

The case for liberal optimism

by John Micklethwait


January 31, 2015

This newspaper churlishly deprives its editors of the egocentric adornments of our trade. Tragically, these pages include no weekly “editor’s letter” to readers, underneath a beaming, air-brushed picture. Online, there is a weekly e-mail, but that comes from your “desk”, not you. As editor, you spend your time in deplorable obscurity, consoled merely by the fact you have the nicest job in journalism. But there are two indulgent exceptions: a brief mention when you are appointed; and this valedictory leader, which attempts to sum up the world that has hurtled across your desk.

It starts on the first day, and never lets up. There are elections, coups, wars, bankruptcies and tsunamis. Science throws up discoveries and ideas. A pantomime of Putinesque villains and Berlusconi-style clowns force themselves onto the cover. But for the things this newspaper cares about, the past nine years have been a battle, one that has left me in a state of paranoid optimism. Paranoia because so much remains under threat; optimism because, for the most part, the creed this newspaper lives by is strong enough to survive.

That applies first to The Economist itself. One of my earliest covers asked “Who killed the newspaper?” (August 24th 2006), and this newspaper has arguably faced more change in the past nine years than it did in the previous century. On April Fool’s Day 2006, when, appropriately, I began this job, Twitter was ten days old, our print advertising was growing and social media was something to do with a very good lunch.

So any modern editor who is not paranoid is a fool. But my optimism remains greater, both about The Economist and the future of independent journalism. That is partly because technology gives us ever more ways to reach our audience. In 2006 our circulation was 1.1m, all in print. Now it is 1.6m in print, digital and audio. Already half a million of you have downloaded our new Espresso app; we are adding over 70,000 Twitter followers each week. Media is not the race to the bottom that pessimists forecast. People want to read about the Kurds, Keynes and kokumi as well as the Kardashians. Ever more go to university, travel abroad and need ideas to stay employable—and will pay for an impartial view of the world, one where the editor, whatever his faults (or from now on, her virtues), is in nobody’s pocket.