The founding principles of the magazine that calls itself a newspaper
“To take part in a severe contest between intelligence.”
To those who believe The Economist is meant to be about the economy, that is logical but inaccurate.
The New York Times doesn’t write about time, nor does Time magazine. The Atlantic isn’t a magazine about oceanography. The Wall Street Journal isn’t only about a street. The Economist was founded in 1843 by the British businessman and banker James Wilson to advance the repeal of the Corn Laws, a system of import tariffs. His principle belief behind the idea was to create a newspaper to “take part in a severe contest between intelligence.”
Why is it called a newspaper? Because that was the only means of regular printing when it was first published as a daily paper on 2 September 1843 before transitioning into a weekly in 1971.
A prospectus for the newspaper from 5 August 1843 enumerated thirteen areas of coverage that its editors wanted the publication to focus on. Here are the original principles set out at the founding.
Note, item #2 explains the balance of articles written today.
- Original leading articles, in which free-trade principles will be most rigidly applied to all the important questions of the day.
- Articles relating to some practical, commercial, agricultural, or foreign topic of passing interest.
- An article on the elementary principles of political economy, applied to practical experience, covering the laws related to prices, wages, rent, exchange, revenue and taxes.
- Parliamentary reports, with particular focus on commerce, agriculture and free trade.
- Reports and accounts of popular movements advocating free trade.
- General news from the Court of St James’s, the Metropolis, the Provinces, Scotland, and Ireland.
- Commercial topics such as changes in fiscal regulations, the state and prospects of the markets, imports and exports, foreign news, the state of the manufacturing districts, notices of important new mechanical improvements, shipping news, the money market, and the progress of railways and public companies.
- Agricultural topics, including the application of geology and chemistry; notices of new and improved implements, state of crops, markets, prices, foreign markets and prices converted into English money; from time to time, in some detail, the plans pursued in Belgium, Switzerland, and other well-cultivated countries.
- Colonial and foreign topics, including trade, produce, political and fiscal changes, and other matters, including exposés on the evils of restriction and protection, and the advantages of free intercourse and trade.
- Law reports, confined chiefly to areas important to commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture.
- Books, confined chiefly, but not so exclusively, to commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture, and including all treatises on political economy, finance, or taxation.
- A commercial gazette, with prices and statistics of the week.
- Correspondence and inquiries from the newspaper’s readers.