The Guido Fawkes news site recently reported a letter sent to shareholders of The Economist Group regarding the issuing of a profit warning, its first in living memory. Under the stewardship of Zanny Minton Beddoes, who took over in 2015 from John Micklethwait, the magazine has adopted an increasingly sensitive tone towards what is casually referred to as ‘social justice politics.’ Embracing sympathy for woke politics under Beddoes has scarcely served the magazine well. A high profile advertising campaign – helped by a 14% budget increase according to the group’s financial results – increased readership, but reality has struck a different tone of late. Abandoning the current shift and realigning to higher standards the magazine was once renowned for would be a sensible move; the retention of longtime subscribers should not be sacrificed in the quest for readership growth. Precisely how bad the news really is remains to be seen.
For decades The Economist was the print equivalent Radio 4’s Today Programme. Now – just like the Today Programme – its standards have declined, and the personal political biases of journalists are regularly on show. One such example was the wholly uncritical review of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, written by Caroline Criado-Perez. In the book Perez makes numerous spurious claims – including that smartphones are apparently sexist because women generally have smaller hands than men, a conclusion only imaginable by someone seemingly unaware of consumer power and the vast resources companies expend trying to understand it – which were repeated in a piece that resembled a serialisation rather than critical analysis. Feminism in the field of economics is another subject to receive support so regular it now comes as a surprise when it does not feature.
Beddoes should be fired. To expect consumers to fork out for an annual subscription for a political magazine built on nearly 177 years of history, only to watch it become cheapened, will become an increasingly strenuous task. And unless what is a journalistic institution is controlled by a person keen to adhere to the foundational ideas upon which The Economist was originally built, more bad days are likely to follow. Beddoes, strictly speaking, cannot be removed from her post thanks to the magazine’s constitutional structure, meaning in practice that she will have to leave of her own volition. One can only hope she does so soon, and that her replacement takes the magazine back to its roots: political analysis that engages a broad audience from across the political spectrum.