What people say they read online vs. What they really read online

March 18, 2009

Do people who say they read The Economist online really read The Economist online?

The paper’s Andreas Kluth has a great post that digs below the ‘what we say/what we do’ BS. (In the UK, ever wondered why so many people say they watch Channel 4 News but then don’t actually watch it?)

Here’s Andreas:

I keep thinking about a young lady named Rebecca…

She was, I think, an MBA student at Stanford, obviously super-bright and media-savvy, busy, ambitious, and all the rest of it. They asked her what her home page was. It was The Economist. So far so good.

She said a few more of the things that my colleagues and I tend to hear when people first discover that we work for The Economist. You know: global, intelligent, cosmopolitan, and things along those lines. Then Rebecca visibly got bored with her own bullshit.

So how much of The Economist do you actually read? her interviewer asked her.

Hardly anything, it turns out. And now Rebecca held forth: To be honest, she really only has The Economist as her home page because, well, that’s what one does in her circles. But she feels no connection to it at all. To her, the tone is that of some robot-like genteel alien preaching to her about what she should know for the next cocktail party…

[W]here does Rebecca go (if not, apparently, to her own home page)? She named a few sites. But the one she seems to “depend on” most, currently, is The Sartorialist.

…Officially The Economist, but really The Sartorialist. A site run by one man who

  • loves his subject–fashion in the world’s cosmopolitan cities
  • takes artful and intimate pictures
  • cares not a hoot about whether anybody agrees with his taste, and
  • is rewarded by a growing and steady following (largely from the same demographic as The Economist’s) for precisely that authenticity…

Here we are at The Economist – having powwows about the future, basking in our no-bylines eccentricities – while the Rebeccas out there politely keep us as their homepage, then bugger off to some other place that “gets” it. We would be foolish, and soulless, not to pay attention to Rebecca.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

S block March 18, 2009 at 22:11

Unfortunately, the Rebeccas of the world get their news from writers who don’t do the scholarship, many of whom are imposters in costume designed by the Mr. Sartorialists in the media world.

This would explain why people in Washington think (or know) that the general public is uninformed and not likely to become informed. Repubs, Democrats and the President all knew without any question that bonuses were to be paid even under the bailout to AIG as the topic was specifically discussed in committee and yet when it became public they all acted as if they are disgusted and had no idea; and the public laps it up and gets disgusted. And if they didn’t know where the money was going to go, then I am disgusted. By in large, the press doesn’t present such information; it’s like they are addicted to the soundbites of politicians and just regurgitate them to us.

The lack of accountability is something that both sides of the aisle count on and are therefore loath to challenge each other in the public square.

There is great opportunity for journalists to do the right thing, call things as they really are, ruffle a few feathers and put the truth back into reporting. They, indeed, have also become the imposters, see lengthily discussions on Kluth’s blog and as described by Don Henley in Dirty Laundry.

We are going to be in even bigger trouble if the cynicism and distrust of government and the markets continues much further.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.



Charlotte March 18, 2009 at 22:56

Should The Economist really pander to people who have them as their home page for vanity, shouldn’t they concentrate on ensuring they provide quality content that their current readers enjoy. Quality will increase readership not altering to try and attract readers that think street photography ‘gets’ it to a higher degree. They are significantly different. Perez Hilton gets millions of readers and is a guilty pleasure for a huge amount of people but that doesn’t mean The Economist should start taking note of whether Britney Spears is wearing underwear today.


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