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.

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