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Why great journalism is worth the time

February 4, 2021, 11:30 AM UTC
Illustration by Nicolas Ortega; Photograph by Angela Weiss—AFP/Getty Images

It is sometimes hard to fathom, in our era of instantaneity, how long the timeline can be for putting together a print magazine. Our story in this issue on the striking SolarWinds hack—by David Z. Morris and Robert Hackett, two of the most seasoned and sophisticated writers on cybersecurity that I’ve ever read—got its germination shortly after this jaw-dropping breach was reported in mid-December. 

Viv Walt, our senior special correspondent in Europe, began reporting on Elon Musk’s controversial Gigafactory in Germany in the days before Thanksgiving, when she heard the brouhaha building in Berlin. If my email archive is to be believed, writer Rey Mashayekhi first pitched his feature on Wells Fargo way back in June, after gathering string on the troubled bank in several other stories. And Erika Fry’s simply mesmerizing tale of her home state in crisis, “Hawkeye Elegy,” got its start shortly after she was born—or at least that’s my guess based on the sheer depth and expertise of the reporting.

That long, deliberate timeline is a feature, not a bug. To be sure, we are proudly digital first at Fortune—eager as any flock of ravenous reporters to take flight with a breaking story. And I hope, dear reader, you’ll return to Fortune.com again and again to see what we’ve uncovered. Yet for all of the virtue of speed in this endlessly streaming information age, there is wisdom—perhaps even the irreplaceable kind—to be found in the slow-but-steady act of feature-writing.

That’s what you’ll find, I believe, in the collection of stories we’ve assigned for this issue’s cover package. Together, they try to answer a question that has taken several patient weeks to figure out: What comes next? As a new President presides at the Resolute desk, as a new Congress dithers and perhaps even begins to deliberate, as a slate of challenges from COVID-19 to climate change to the collapse of civic kindness grow ever more urgent, what lies in wait just over the horizon?

I’m happy to say that the answers, conscientiously reported by my colleagues, do shed light. They offer thoughtful guidance for anyone who hopes to navigate an uncertain landscape for business, the economy, and life during a pandemic that won’t seem to fade. One extra note of comfort, as political correspondent Nicole Goodkind reveals, is that the U.S. economy has a steady hand at the tiller in new Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen—a woman who has proved to be an assiduous steward in every previous role she’s held.

This issue also marks another change in Fortune’s now-91-year history—and I believe it is a welcome one. We are now publishing our print magazine every other month. That move will not only free up our reporters to break more news and offer urgent commentary on Fortune.com, it will also help ensure that the stories you do read in these pages are always worth your time.

Clifton Leaf
Editor-in-Chief, Fortune

A version of this article appears in the February/March 2021 issue of Fortune with the headline, “Worth the time.”