NewsroomPlus.com Welcome to our ongoing series in praise of magazines – where the time has come to give a shout out for The New Yorker. First of all, the reason we’re devoting a regular spot for ‘magazine reviews’ on NewsRoom_Plus – enabled with the kind help of Magnetix – is twofold. One reason has similar, if not identical, motivations to the defenders and lovers of books. Namely, a sincere belief that the culture and tangibility of a printed artefact may be subsumable by online formats, but it can never truly be replaced. The other reason is directly related to the simultaneous mix of currency and curiosity that a print magazine naturally contains and conveys. Speaking just for myself, a magazine hits home most when there is a soupcon of current affairs and an embodied ability to surprise with its quality of writing, or with the wit and weave of its combinant design of words and pictures. The surprising thing about the institution that is The New Yorker is its well-appreciated retention, and repetition even, of its look and feel, from finely-wrought font to its famous and ever-finessed cartoons that could, at a mere pinch, see the pages being turned back to The New Yorker’s birth year of 1925. Examining the Nov. 2 issue – The FOOD Issue no less – signs of 2015 do emerge if you flip past its opening signifiers of cultural life (Food and drink, Auctions and antiques, Readings and talks, Jazz and standards, Night life, Orchestras and choruses, Dance, The Theatre, Galleries, Museums and libraries, Art, Movies), which while largely specific to the city many still call the Big Apple, are just so undeniably urbane. In that most enduring editorial space, ‘The Talk Of The Town’, the commentary focuses on the grilling that Hillary Clinton recently underwent on the backend of seven full investigations of the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack that occurred during Clinton’s term as Secretary of State. The conduct of the House Select Committee on Benghazi is summed up in one word: absurd. For purely journalistic reasons my pick in this section of The New Yorker was a contribution by book author James Surowiecki (he of The Wisdom of Crowds) on the “misdeeds” of the for-profit education industry – schools that “made promises they couldn’t keep”. In almost the briefest article in this edition of the magazine, Surowiecki surgically identifies that a dependence on student loans and gaming of a taxpayer-funded financial-aid system was the business model for the for-profit boom in the USA that targeted “non-traditional students”. One sentence says it all: “Since the schools weren’t lending money themselves, they didn’t have to worry about whether it would be paid back”. Lies and more lies. Lies about job placement rates. Lies about projected life earnings. Surowiecki incisively observes that students at those cash-extracting colleges could be compared to home-owners during the housing bubble. “In both cases, powerful ideological forces pushed people to borrow (‘Homeownership is the path to wealth’; ‘Education is the key to the future’). In both cases, credit was cheap and easy to come by…” The, no doubt partial, remedy in the US is that the for-profit gravy-train-riders will be required to “prove that, on average, students’ loan payments amount to less than eight per cent of their annual income”. Ones that fail that test four years in a row will have access to federal monies cut off. At one level this may shut doors on inclusive education options and accessible degrees to those who were being put on the rack, students. What Surowiecki argues is that the long overdue “crackdown” should be prompting more money for funding-starved community colleges and public universities. More crucially, he suggests that it would be timely to challenge the notion that a tertiary education automatically transforms a person’s job prospects or presents an automatic answer to an economy’s ills or creates jobs if they’re not there.
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