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Around the World In Ten Minutes

Guest Column Andrew J. Kim

Originally, I intended to base this column upon the ranking of colleges that the U.S. News & World Report puts out year after year. I saw it as an excellent chance to dismiss the rankings and the methodology used by the magazine, and then go on and criticize all the low quality journalism used by many of the weekly news magazines such as Time and Newsweek.

I mentioned this idea to an upperclassman at dinner one night, and he simply responded, "That's silly."

"What's silly, the rankings or the column?" I asked.

"Both," he said. "The column is silly because you're writing about a topic and a magazine that are worthless."

I spent the rest of the night trying to qualify that assessment, but I finally realized in the morning that I actually like and read these magazines. Sure, they've made plenty of mistakes over the years. Time got in trouble several years back for altering the cover picture of O.J. Simpson. Newsweek columnist Joe Klein, anonymous author of Primary Colors, lied when asked point blank on his authorship, causing people to doubt his journalistic credibility. Military men I know always say that articles on the armed forces are misleading, and I've even noticed that Time and Newsweek have articles in the culture sections on the same topics with identical pictures on frequent occasions. I also find it quite humorous that a magazine like Time, which only seems to care on a weekly basis, actually has the nerve to anoint a "Man of the Year" every December.

This brief case history is all the fuel that critics of these magazines need. The critics tend to be those who feel that the only quality journalism left on newsstands today are the likes of The New Yorker and Scientific American. I admit that the caliber of these magazines is far beyond that of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News, but in my mind, there are some crucial points that are overlooked. The New Yorker and Scientific American are flat out boring and require great amounts of time to actually read and digest.

With the tremendous time crunch that MIT puts on us students, I don't know how anyone has enough time to block out a solid hour or more on an weekday evening to sit down and read The Atlantic Monthly cover to cover. For people like me who struggle to finish even the easiest of problem sets, it's inconceivable to give up that much time.

This is where Time and Newsweek actually play a decent role in my frenzied existence. I'll come home after a day of classes, and see someone else's issue of Time tucked in their mailbox. I take the magazine and flip through it for about ten minutes. During that short period, I manage to catch up on world events, national news, and what's happening on the national movie and music scene. For instance, only by reading Time did I find out the details of Princess Di's tragic death. Last Tuesday, I once again borrowed a copy of Time and it happened to be the commemorative issue on Princess Di. I thumbed through half of it before I learned that Mother Theresa had also passed away the previous week. This discovery greatly shook me with the realization that I probably would have gone the rest of the year without knowing that she had passed away.

On a lighter note, an upperclassman had told me the week before that MTV's video of the year was "Virtual Insanity." This week's regular issue contained an article on music video directors, including the one who choreographed the award-winning video. I spent a little more time skimming through this article, and I was able to pick up that these directors had had no hit videos until this year. That information is quite useless in the big scheme of the world, but it's a little fact that I consider nice to know and even a little uplifting. "Quality" magazines wouldn't bother writing about such trivial matters, but in my meager position in life, that's the kind of information that interests me.

Weekly news magazines take a lot of unfair criticism. They play an important role in the lives of busy people. Granted, the articles in these magazines are not as eloquent or refined as those found in classier magazines aimed for the educated, but they keep us informed without testing our short attention span or draining the limited resources of our brains.

Andrew J. Kim is a member of the Class of 2001.