A Suggestion for The Economist

The wonderful magazine The Economist has a two-page spread The world this week at the beginning of each issue with very short blurbs about the week’s news. I was reading the section this week when an idea came to me.

In this week’s section, there’s an entry for the horrific deaths in India:

At least 22 children died in a village in the Indian state of Bihar after eating a school meal that contained a chemical used in pesticides.

Other weeks, too, will contain reports of tragedies that have made the worldwide news.

I don’t mean in any way to diminish the horrors of these individual tragedies. But the space and attention of readers is limited, so there’s a reason to think about what is most deserving of these lines.

Why not, instead, do the following? Each day, well over a thousand Indian children die of malnutrition. Yes, the poisoning—whether accidental or intentional—is horrible, and yes it might reflect on the corruption or ineffectiveness of the government. But imagine, instead, if the Economist each week nestled a blurb like the following between the other blurbs:

In the past week, over 10,000 Indian children died of starvation.

Similarly, the deaths at Newton were an unspeakable atrocity. But there have been almost 20,000 shooting deaths in the United States since then. What if the Economist one week wrote:

Over 30 people were killed per day this week by guns in the United States.

Or what if it wrote one week the following?

Six thousand black men and women were stopped in New York City this week, over five times as many as whites. Over half of such stops involved frisks; only one in nine resulted in arrest or summons.

Why don’t more newspapers and magazines do things like this? Harpers does, with its famous Index, but that’s all I can think of.1 But this list often feels too political (I’d characterize it as having a bit too much of a certain self-righteous leftist smugness), and feels more like a list of miscellany than a part of the news. Wouldn’t it be more powerful if it were unexpected, in the middle of the “real” news—i.e., the specific, non-anonymous events that get more coverage in the media?

It’d have to be done right—you’d want it in the hands of editors with wisdom and judgment—but it could be powerful.

I don’t mean to criticize the Economist‘s approach: The world this week is an excellent summary of the news, and well-weighed. I’m not necessarily suggesting that the Indian poisoning incident not be covered; it became an important enough part of the news cycle that it might warrant mention. After all, life is about much more than numbers; humans react to stories, and things that speak to us, as certainly a tragedy like this would, should be told. But why not give more of a sense of all the other, unreported things happening each day? (And maybe, too, make them into stories: perhaps begin with the name of a real person, and then list the number afterwards. “This week, [real name] was stopped-and-frisked in New York City while walking home. He was one of 6,000 black men…”)

  1. The New York Times published a notice of every soldier’s death in Afghanistan and Iraq. But this is restricted to a specific topic. (Also, after the Newton shooting, a few newspapers reported regularly on gun deaths—but that has tailed off.)