The Engima of Business Journalism, The Economist

Cloaked with a veneer of secrecy that leaves readers to wonder “Who the hell wrote that article?” The Economist takes pride in baffling the garden-variety PR person.

Its editorial decisions can at times seem quirky for the sake of being quirky. I mean, do we really need 499 words devoted to ornithology and a bio-acoustic monitor that can distinguish the chirps from 110,000 species of birds from the hiss of a snake?

Yet, contrary to popular belief, this is not some niche publication only serving the British intellectualazzi. Its readership tips 1.3 million with about half of those copies ending up on American doorsteps.

For this very reason, when we supported the announcement of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk a few years ago, we zeroed in on The Economist to tell the in-depth story. It didn’t hurt that our homework revealed that Economist technology editor Tom Standage had penned a book that also took liberties with the same topic, “The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine.”

But more than serendipity, our continued success with The Economist comes down to building the right content that aligns with the book’s approach to storytelling. I touched on the importance of anecdotes using one example from The Economist back in July. 

Taking this a step further, we analyzed the tech-related articles (list of articles included at the end of this post) in The Economist, covering the April through November 2008 issues.

Seventeen percent of the content fell under the anecdotal umbrella.

It just goes to show that even high-brow business journalism depends on the amusing, provocative or downright weird to keep the reader’s interest.

Economist Articles Analyzed:

Green iron

November 14, 2008


Moving images into the future

November 5, 2008


A stitch whose time has come

October 29, 2008


A really secret ballot

October 22, 2008


Spinning a good tale

October 15, 2008



October 8, 2008


An order for disorder 

October 1, 2008


Silence, please

September 24, 2008


Spot prices

September 17, 2008


Thanks for the memory

September 10, 2008


Speaking in tongues 

September 2, 2008


Automated twitching

August 27, 2008


Every move you make

August 20, 2008


Tailpipe power

August 12, 2008


The computer says no

August 5, 2008


Brew your own

July 30, 2008


Whirlybirds go green

July 23, 2008


I, human

July 16, 2008


Liquid logic

July 9, 2008


Virtual fencing

July 2, 2008


Gas, gas, quick boys

June 18, 2008


Making no waves

June 11, 2008


Meshing together

June 4, 2008


The FAST track to better health

May 28, 2008


Enlightenment at last

May 21, 2008


Cores of the problem

May 14, 2008


Blowing at sea

May 7, 2008


Detecting T-rays

April 30, 2008 

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2 Comments so far

  1. [...] everyone obey this rule? Well, take a look at PR man Leo Hoffman, of this outfit, taking credit. [W]hen we supported the announcement of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk [...]

  2. Lou Hoffman December 15th, 2008 5:36 pm


    I’m not exactly sure how “we” became “I” by the time your thinking made its way to a posted comment. Look forward to reading your second rule of public relations which no doubt will be equally revealing.


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