In memoriam Norman Macrae

I was poised to write a highly serious post about the creeping tendency towards ideas about state subsidy for news organisations when I took a look at The Browser and fell across an long, affectionate obituary from The Economist for Norman Macrae, the paper’s deputy editor for 18 years. Macrae, a defender of open markets in a collectivist age, would have had no truck with the idea of government’s subsidising the provision of news.

Macrae was influential and at the same time almost unknown. The obituary opens with the astounding observation that when Macrae died this month, not one newspaper mentioned the news or his career. Macrae was not self-promoting, never became The Economist’s editor and worked much of his career at a paper which doesn’t print bylines. But even so, this is quite some indifference to the journalist who “discovered” Japan and its economic potential in the 1960s, was one of the first people to understand modern computing at the internet (he coined the term “telecommuting”) and more generally was a formidable explainer of post-industrial society. But read the piece for yourself.

The comments, including one from Macrae’s son Chris, are just as well worth reading. Many of Macrae’s ideas would have been regarded as daft when he first expounded them (a handful remain dotty) but in the long run he was often proved right. Time is a great reviser of reputation.

(Update 26/6/10: a week later, the Financial Times prints an obituary.)

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