Zanny Minton Beddoes Wants The Economist to Be More “Present” in the Media Conversation

After Harvard, Minton Beddoes did some field work in Ukraine surveying what happened to state farms after the collapse of communism. (Last year’s trip to meet Zelenskyy was her first time back, exactly 30 years later.) Then she turned down a job at Goldman Sachs to work for the International Monetary Fund, where she concentrated on macroeconomic adjustment programs in Africa and the transition economies of Eastern Europe. She also realized her true passion was not just working in economics, but writing about economics. That’s how she ended up at The Economist, first as a London-based emerging-markets correspondent and then, starting in 1996, as an editor in Washington, DC. In 2015, when Minton Beddoes was named editor in chief, she became the 17th person to hold the title—and the first woman. 

How is The Economist, which still refers to its nearly 180-year-old weekly magazine as a “newspaper,” different now than when she started? 

“There’s two parameters to answer that. One is, the world has changed. When I became editor, it was pre-Brexit, pre-Trump, pre-pandemic, pre-invasion of Ukraine. The kinds of things The Economist stood for—free markets, open societies, globalism—were a much more accepted worldview, whereas now, we are standing up for things that far fewer people believe in.” And the other parameter? “We had an app in 2015, we had Twitter followers, Facebook followers, but fundamentally, our DNA was that of a weekly written print publication. Now, I think we’re well on the way to being completely different: podcasts, Economist Films, 61 million social media followers. So my tenure, for good or ill, has been about shifting The Economist into the 21st century.” Also, Minton Beddoes says she doubled its China coverage: “China’s the country in the world that everybody needs to understand.”  

Does The Economist’s long-held business model, rooted in lucrative subscriptions, mean that it’s been immune to the pain inflicted on so many corners of the media world this past year? 

“We’re not immune to anything. We charge a high subscription price”—$209 annually–“and we have 1.1 million subscribers”—it’s actually closer to 1.2 million, a spokeswoman later pointed out—“so the business model works, but we’re not unaffected by trends in advertising.”

Allow me to rephrase: Have there been layoffs?

“Not in editorial. Not in my tenure. In fact, quite the opposite—the organization has invested in editorial.” 

That sounds like a pretty enviable place to be, given all of the industry’s turbulence. And so, as we wrapped up, I wanted to know if Minton Beddoes, who recently turned 56, plans to ride this job into the sunset, or if there are other things she still wants to do, either inside of journalism or out.

“I still have tons of things I want to do at The Economist,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. But I don’t believe in staying too long. I’m definitely not gonna be one of these decades-long editors. I think it’s not good for institutions, and certainly not for The Economist. Economist editors tend not to stay too long, and I think rightly so. What am I gonna do next? I genuinely have no idea.”

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