Walter Issacson’s modest proposal to save newspapers: Oh, the Irony

I just noticed that the Time.com essay I blogged about yesterday in the post, “Stop blaming me for killing your newspaper,” is the cover story for the current print edition of the magazine. (Update: the image of the magazine original accompanying this post has vanished from the web.)

But that cover sub-head perplexed me. Maybe it’s just me, but when I see the phrase “A Modest Proposal,” I think it refers to a suggestion or proposal that is outrageous and absurd to the point of being offensive. Perhaps that’s because I’ve read Jonathan Swift’s “bitingly” satirical essay from which the phrase “A Modest Proposal” originates.

Perhaps it would have helped the person who added that sub-head to Issacson’s essay to re-read the sub-head to Jonathon Swift’s essay: A Modest Proposal – For Preventing the Children of the Poor People of Ireland from being Aburden to their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Country. I hate to throw a spoiler in for any of you who haven’t read the essay, but Swift’s essay (it’s satire, recall) suggests the Irish could ease their economic problems by selling children as food for rich people. Gross, is right.

So, as I looked at that sub-head, “A Modest Proposal,” I tried to comprehend why the editor is equating Issacson’s suggestion to Swift’s. Are we supposed the think Issacon’s essay is satire; that there’s actually no hope for newspapers? Are we to think newspapers should be sold as food to rich people?

Or are we merely to think that whoever wrote the sub-head and all those who looked at it before it was published were unaware of the ironic meaning of the phrase, “A modest proposal”?

If so, I have a modest proposal the next round of lay-offs at Time magazine.

Other followups to my earlier post: Doc Searls used the post to point to what seems to me to be a great solution for readers and publishers, alike: the concept he’s working on called PayChoice. Also, an excerpt from the post made its way to the NYTimes.com’s Opinionator Blog.