The Economist magazine. 164 years old, intelligent reporting, objective to the point where the writers aren't even allowed to display their names (poor bastards). This is serious journalism. It's almost the opposite of what blogging and social media in general is about, because there are no personalities and trivial topics don't get covered. Yet I love it! The appeal is, simply put: The Economist is an institution and a source of in-depth analysis and news. What it does have in common with the best blogs is that it makes you think.I love
So when I received an email today entitled '164 year old pub embraces social media tomorrow', followed by an almost apologetic pitch by The Economist's PR agency, I had to check it out. The pitch started: "Since youÄôre into social media, I thought this tidbit would tickle your funny bone: The Economist, a 164 year old publication is embracing social media." I don't mean to embarrass the PR person, but I'm a fan of The Economist and so I am happy they're embracing social media. I wouldn't dare laugh at The Economist!
The venerable magazine recently launched an Audio Video edition, which is available to subscribers for free and others for $8-10 a show. It will also be "embracing iTunes and Podcasts" in the next few weeks.
Tomorrow (Tue US) The Economist launches a new online debate product called The Economist Debate Series. It's being styled as an "online Oxford-style debate". This is explained in the About page:
"The Oxford style of debate is characterised by its formality and structure. Debates are hosted by a moderator and take place between two teams, the "proposition" and the "opposition"."
In my country, New Zealand, the Oxford debate is most famous for a 1985 Oxford Union debate featuring our then Prime Minister David Lange, who argued the proposition that "nuclear weapons are morally indefensible".
In what it terms "Oxford 2.0", The Economist is running an "online variant of the Oxford rules" - whereby the proposition and the opposition are each represented by an expert speaker chosen by The Economist's staff. Users may comment on the proceedings, just as they might comment on a blog. But all comments are directed to the debate moderator, who will "raise points that are of particular interest or merit" with the two speakers. There are also "Guest participants", who are basically featured commenters.
The other way users can interact with the debate is by casting a vote for their favourite speaker. Users can get email alerts, to track the debate's progress. The Economist is also developing a Facebook group for followers of the debate, a real sign of the Web 2.0 times!
The debate which launches tomorrow is on national competitiveness. You can check out the Opening Statements here. I think this is a great way for a traditional media company to utilize social media, but still keep its high-end brand of thoughtfulness and intelligence. What's more, it drives subscriptions to the magazine,
because you need to be a subscriber to interact in the debates. [Update: you actually donÄôt need to be a subscriber to participate in the debates. The content of the debates is free to the public, but if you want to comment you need to register with the debate site - which is free.]
The PR pitch to Read/WriteWeb ended: "Please support discourse, and may intelligence prevail!" Indeed, hoo-ray!
Update: Pluck contacted us to say that their SiteLife product is behind The Economist's debates feature. Also The Economist was one of the customers who joined Pluck in their recent announcement regarding SiteLife support for Facebook API and OpenSocial. Very cool!