When it comes to satire, the Internet is getting its ass kicked by a bunch of old people
Private Eye magazine isn’t particularly well known here in the US.
Certainly it’s not as well known as some other British news magazines like The Economist or the Week. And yet, as of the most recent circulation figures, the fortnightly satirical news magazine is beating the Economist UK’s sales numbers to cement its position as the highest selling news and current affairs magazine. With paid sales of 230,099 (to the Economist’s global 224,761), Private Eye is enjoying ~1% year on year growth, and its highest circulation since 1986.
So why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because of something else interesting about Private Eye: it has no online edition beyond a bare bones subscription homepage. While the Economist and the Week have spent combined millions of dollars building out extensive digital editions, Private Eye has channeled all of hits money into journalism. Here’s editor Ian Hislop:
“People say you can’t do satire any more because of Trump. I think people are saying: ‘Can we have some?’”
He added: “We have put in more pages of journalism and there are more pages of cartoons in the paper [45 cartoons per edition] and it’s a great outlet for quite an old skill which is drawing and coming up with a joke.”
I’m telling you all this because here in the US the single most effective media property when it comes to getting under Donald Trump’s skin is not the New York Times or the Washington Post but Saturday Night Live, currently enjoying its highest ratings since the 90s. Before SNL, the most effective Trump troll was Spy Magazine which kicked off the “Short Fingered Vulgarian” meme back in the late 80s (fun fact: Spy was created by Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson as the US’s answer to… Private Eye). Meanwhile in the UK, the biggest, most effective voice of opposition in the post-Brexit era is a 56 year old print publication with no website.
I’m telling you all this because I’m embarrassed for the Internet. The smartest people on the planet, with more money than god and Silicon Valley still can’t tell a fucking joke as effectively or profitably as an ancient TV show and an even more ancient magazine.
And don’t get me started on Charlie Hebdo or Le Canard enchaîné.