April 3, 2004

US News & me. Back in the early 1970s, after I graduated from the University of Michigan's School of Architecture & Design with a BFA degree, before I went to law school, I supported myself by working for a small market research company in NYC. We specialized in producing a monthly report analyzing the editorial content of magazines and doing various individual studies for magazine publishers. I thought this was a very nice day job for an artist, because we sat around reading magazines all day. I read at least 50 magazines a month, including many I never want to see again (like Woman's Day, Grit, and Sports Afield ...), for about three years.

One of the clients that were most interested in our individual studies was US News & World Report. Like the 3d and 4th tier schools on their present-day lists, US News had an inferiority complex. For them, Time and Newsweek were like Yale and Harvard. They wanted to find a niche. They needed leverage of some kind to get ahead of the elite newsweeklies. Their idea was "news you can use." Time and Newsweek, you see, didn't care about the consumer. They just told you what happened in the news. But how could you use that news? US News would give you news you can use, and they wouldn't just give it to you, they would document that they were doing it and use that documentation to prove that they were better than the two newsweeklies with the bigger reputations. At my little market research company, we found and measured and counted up the lines of news you can use in the newsweeklies, producing a statistical report that US News could use to show that they had more news you can use.

Specialization as the newsweekly that serves the consumer led them to serve the consumer of educational services. What poetic justice that the little newsweekly with the inferiority complex found a way to make all the elites tremble every year as it made its own success as a publisher of special school-ranking issues! What poetic justice that in finding a way to distinguish itself, US News created a mechanism that all the schools snubbed as inferior could use to challenge their elite competitors!

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