Outsourcing Insight

In the Hutong
Culling the herd
1657 hrs.

It is perilously easy to plunge into one’s navel here in China, to be absorbed by all things Chinese and to lose sight both of the global context in which we all operate, and the way China is seen in other parts of the world. While I’m a vocal advocate of immersion as a way to understand the way things work here, I’ve also learned that understanding China demands currency in global business, economic, political, and security affairs.

I tend to read for insight as much as information, and by trial and error I’m gradually honing my reading list to ensure that I’ve got a good balance of both.

Each year, as a habit, I go through a culling process to ensure I’m getting the most for my time – and my cash.

Stuff I’ll be paying for in 2008:

1. The Economist Still the best – if not the only – truly global news weekly, The Economist should be creating tremendous pressure on Time and Newsweek to improve their level of their coverage. Given that the latter two publications are perfectly happy to remain middlebrow (and thus likely doomed to meld into the deepening grey goo that is print media), their often-brilliant and always-engaging British rival looks to dominate its niche (and our attention) for some time to come. I mean, come on – any magazine that would run a cover photo of Kim Jong-Il with the caption “Greetings, earthlings” is the kind of publication we all should be reading.

2. BusinessWeek – What I appreciate about this publication is that, unlike Forbes and Fortune, BW rarely plays the role of business fanboy, and so delivers stories that ask discomfiting questions and that catch trends ahead of the curve. What I typically do is first listen to editor John Byrne’s weekly podcast on the cover story, then I dive into the magazine (which lands in my laptop courtesy of Zinio even before it lands on US newsstands.)

3. The AtlanticI like to have one monthly that runs thoughtful stories in my media mix. Esquire runs a close second and Vanity Fair third, but I find that they spend too much time covering matters of parochial interest. That bums me because Dr. Tom Barnett, the grand strategist who wrote The Pentagon’s New Mapand A Blueprint for Action is a regular Esquire contributor. The Atlantic also offers access to over a decade of back issues online, which is one of my must-haves when subscribing to a publication.

4. IEEE Spectrum – Thirty-two pages of condensed innovation once a month, Spectrum gets pigeonholed as an engineer’s magazine, and that’s unfair. If you want a clear, unhyped view of the direction of electronic and computer innovation, this is the publication for you. I used to love reading Wired in the old days before Conde Nast got hold of the thing. Every year when I get back to the U.S. I’ll pick up the latest copy at the newsstand and decide if I want to subscribe. I only wish they’d produce a downloadable electronic version. Ah, well.

You’ll notice there are no dailies on the list. I have to admit to being conflicted. On a day-to-day basis I really focus on the China-related stuff, and my RSS reader tends to serve very well for that. I didn’t renew either my WSJ or my FT subscriptions when my credit card company issued me a new card number following a security breach. I have no desire to send money to the News Corp publications, especially as it looks like WSJ.com is going to be free in a few months, anyway. I do, however, sorely miss the writing of the WSJ’s and FT’s China reporters – they all deserve to be in newsweeklies that would appreciate their long-form stories.