Enjoying the Pineapple Express
As I do each year at this time, I review the rather short list of publications I receive (and pay for) and decide which ones will get my money in the coming annual cycle.
I do not take this exercise lightly. While I think much of the garment-rending over how the Internet is bringing about The Death of Journalism and The End of Good Writing is hyperbolic melodrama, I intend to hedge my bets by writing checks to a small but growing number of periodicals.
My Subscribe list for 2011 will be:
The Wall Street Journal (Online Edition) – Despite growing signs that News Corporation is trying to turn the WSJ into The New York Times, the Journal remains one of the two papers of record for global business. What is more, The WSJ’s Beijing Bureau Chief Andy Browne maintains a nonpareil bullpen of superb journalists which, paired with the staff of the Dow Jones Newswire down the hall, offers the best coverage of business and economic issues available in China.
The Financial Times (Online Edition) – The other, equally essential newspaper of record for global business and economics. As good as the WSJ is, I could never imagine not having a subscription to The Financial Times. The FT‘s coverage compliments the Journal’s, both through its more Euro-centric (and delightfully Murdoch-free) point-of-view and through the scope of stories that it covers. Besides, any paper that has Richard McGregor on its staff deserves support.
The Economist (Online Edition) – If any publication proves that there is still a value to a weekly publication covering world events, The Economist is it. Wading through each issue demands discipline, but it is always time well spent. I understand why their writers contribute without a byline, but I continue to believe The Economist does itself a disservice by not recognizing and celebrating the superb people who make the world’s best news weeekly possible.
The Atlantic – There are few articles in The Atlantic from which I do not learn something of value, and find myself entertained in the process. And little wonder: with a lineup of writers that includes James Fallows, Robert Kaplan, Marc Ambinder, Megan McArdle, Ben Schwarz, B.R. Myers (who helped me understand why I couldn’t get through Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom) and Christopher Hitchens (whom I respect as deeply as I loathe), there is no non-fiction monthly in the English-speaking world that can come close.
Harper’s – I am anything but the target demographic of this unabashedly left-liberal publication (George McGovern is on the board, Naomi Klein is a contributing editor, but the virtue of Harper’s is that, for the most part, it manages to be passionate without being shrill in its coverage of a wide range of issues. I like reading that challenges my thinking, and Harper’s does that each month.
Foreign Affairs – As the journal of record of the international relations establishment in the United States, Foreign Affairs is the platform in which U.S. policy and its alternatives are publicly debated, in many cases by the people making that policy.
Thunderbird International Business Review – Leave aside for a moment that I am a Thunderbird alumnus and would have an automatic bias in favor of TIBR. I am a past subscriber to both The Harvard Business Review and The Sloan Management Review, and where both of those outstanding publications fail me is on relevance. In any given issue, well over two-thirds of the articles have little or nothing to do with my work, my interests, or my aspirations. I suppose it would be different if I was leading a division of General Electric, running a global supply chain, or trying to make my company more innovative. But I’m not: I am helping companies figure out how to succeed in places far from home. TIBR wins, even at $100 a year.
The Wilson Quarterly – This is a new one this year. I have found myself reading its online articles with growing frequency, and I’m impressed with its deep-dives on key topics, as well as its attempt to bridge journalism and academic writing.
Those are the magic eight that I am buying and reading in 2011, but they were not the entire field. There are a handful of publications I considered getting this year, but something stopped me for each one.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek – I have always enjoyed the coverage from Tiff Roberts and the BusinessWeek team in Beijing, and I’ve been a subscriber off-and-on over the last ten years. I still feel like the dust from the merger of these two news powerhouses is still settling, and once it does, I expect I’ll subscribe again.
Commentary – As both a thinking Jew and a Bull-Moose conservative, Commentary should be the first journal I pick up each month. Indeed, I subscribed for several years. Alas, the magazine’s Judaic fervor comes largely from a no-questions-asked AIPAC Zionism, and its conservative chops remain decidedly Neocon. As soon as Commentary evolves beyond those, I’ll start paying for it again.
Esquire (iPad) – Technically my subscription runs until May, but I will not be renewing. Writers like Tom Junod and Thomas P.M. Barnett originally influenced my to give Esquire a try, but far too much of the magazine is devoted to telling me what clothes to wear, what Scotch to drink, and what music to listen to. I’m old enough to keep my own sartorial, dipsomaniacal, and terpsichorean counsel, and I trust the advice of friends and family more than some stranger with a word processor and an expense account.
Foreign Policy – An excellent magazine. As soon as I get over FP Editor Moises Naim’s near-hysterical December 2007 editorial predicting disruptive demonstrations and unrest in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, I will probably subscribe.
Vanity Fair – Every month there are at least three articles in each edition of VF that are simply outstanding. Unfortunately, there are also far too many articles about the parties, affairs and scandals of the decadent elite of the declining Atlantic civilization (i.e., the Main Line – Manhattan – Hamptons – Cape Cod – London – Paris – Gstaad crowd). I am sure these are very nice people, but I’d rather not kill the trees for 150 pages of articles about people I don’t care about and ads for products I’ll never buy just to read 15 pages of articles I want.
Wired – After it was purchased by Conde Nast and moved from San Francisco to New York, Wired lost its edge, and for a long time hovered on the cusp of becoming, well, Esquire for geeks. I can see improvements, though, so I’ll wait another year to see if S.I. Newhouse has the cojones to let Wired be less tired.