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The Economist

The Economist is a British weekly newspaper printed in demitab format and published digitally. It focuses on current affairs, international business, politics, technology, and culture. Based in London, the newspaper is owned by the Economist Group, with its core editorial offices in the United States, as well as across major cities in continental Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In 2019, its average global print circulation was over 909,476; this, combined with its digital presence, runs to over 1.6 million. Across its social media platforms, it reaches an audience of 35 million, as of 2016. The newspaper has a prominent focus on data journalism and interpretive analysis over original reporting, to both criticism and acclaim.

Founded in 1843, The Economist was first circulated by Scottish economist James Wilson to muster support for abolishing the British Corn Laws (1815–1846), a system of import tariffs. Over time, the newspaper's coverage expanded further into political economy and eventually began running articles on current events, finance, commerce, and British politics. Throughout the mid-to-late 20th century, it greatly expanded its layout and format, adding opinion columns, special reports, political cartoons, reader letters, cover stories, art critique, book reviews, and technology features. The paper is often recognizable by its fire engine red nameplate and illustrated, topical covers. Individual articles are written anonymously, with no byline, in order for the paper to speak as one collective voice. It is supplemented by its sister lifestyle magazine, 1843, and a variety of podcasts, films, and books.

The editorial stance of The Economist primarily revolves around classical, social, and most notably economic liberalism. It has supported radical centrism as the concept became established in the late 20th century, favouring policies and governments that maintain centrist politics. The newspaper typically champions economic liberalism, particularly free markets, free trade, free immigration, deregulation, and globalisation. Despite a pronounced editorial stance, it is seen as having little reporting bias, and as exercising rigorous fact-checking and strict copyediting. Its extensive use of word play, high subscription prices, and depth of coverage has linked the paper with a high-income and educated readership, drawing both positive and negative connotations. In line with this, it claims to have an influential readership of prominent business leaders and policy-makers.


Tone and voice

Though it has many individual columns, by tradition and current practice the newspaper ensures a uniform voice—aided by the anonymity of writers—throughout its pages, as if most articles were written by a single author, which may be perceived to display dry, understated wit, and precise use of language. The Economist's treatment of economics presumes a working familiarity with fundamental concepts of classical economics. For instance, it does not explain terms like invisible hand, macroeconomics, or demand curve, and may take just six or seven words to explain the theory of comparative advantage. Articles involving economics do not presume any formal training on the part of the reader and aim to be accessible to the educated layman. It usually does not translate short French (and German) quotes or phrases. It does describe the business or nature of even well-known entities, writing, for example, "Goldman Sachs, an investment bank". The Economist is known for its extensive use of word play, including puns, allusions, and metaphors, as well as alliteration and assonance, especially in its headlines and captions. This can make it difficult to understand for those who are not native English speakers.

The Economist has traditionally and historically persisted in referring to itself as a "newspaper", rather than a "news magazine" due to its mostly cosmetic switch from broadsheet to perfect-binding format and its general focus on current affairs as opposed to specialist subjects. It is legally classified as a newspaper in Britain and the United States. Most databases and anthologies catalogue the weekly as a newspaper printed in magazine- or journal-format. The Economist differentiates and contrasts itself as a newspaper against their sister lifestyle magazine, 1843, which does the same in turn. Editor Zanny Minton Bedoes clarified the distinction in 2016: "we call it a newspaper because it was founded in 1843, 173 years ago, [when] all [perfect-bound publications] were called newspapers."


Editorial anonymity

The Economist‘s articles often take a definite editorial stance and almost never carry a byline. Not even the name of the editor is printed in the issue. It is a long-standing tradition that an editor's only signed article during their tenure is written on the occasion of their departure from the position. The author of a piece is named in certain circumstances: when notable persons are invited to contribute opinion pieces; when journalists of The Economist compile special reports (previously known as surveys); for the Year in Review special edition; and to highlight a potential conflict of interest over a book review. The names of The Economist editors and correspondents can be located on the media directory pages of the website. Online blog pieces are signed with the initials of the writer and authors of print stories are allowed to note their authorship from their personal web sites. "This approach is not without its faults (we have four staff members with the initials 'J.P.', for example) but is the best compromise between total anonymity and full bylines, in our view", wrote one anonymous writer of The Economist. There are three editorial and business areas in which the anonymous ethos of the weekly has contributed to strengthening its unique identity: collective and consistent voice, talent and newsroom management, and brand strength and clarity.

The editors say this is necessary because "collective voice and personality matter more than the identities of individual journalists" and reflects "a collaborative effort". In most articles, authors refer to themselves as "your correspondent" or "this reviewer". The writers of the titled opinion columns tend to refer to themselves by the title (hence, a sentence in the "Lexington" column might read "Lexington was informed...").

American author and long-time reader Michael Lewis criticised the paper's editorial anonymity in 1991, labelling it a means to hide the youth and inexperience of those writing articles. Although individual articles are written anonymously, there is no secrecy over who the writers are, as they are listed on The Economist's website, which also provides summaries of their careers and academic qualifications. Later, in 2009, Lewis included multiple Economist articles in his anthology about the 2008 financial crisis, Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity.

John Ralston Saul describes The Economist as a "...[newspaper] which hides the names of the journalists who write its articles in order to create the illusion that they dispense disinterested truth rather than opinion. This sales technique, reminiscent of pre-Reformation Catholicism, is not surprising in a publication named after the social science most given to wild guesses and imaginary facts presented in the guise of inevitability and exactitude. That it is the Bible of the corporate executive indicates to what extent received wisdom is the daily bread of a managerial civilization."