Question: How did you get into journalism?
David Remnick: I was the kind of kid in high school who did the entire high school newspaper on the kitchen table and used fake names for other pieces.
And I’d never met anybody like this until 25 years later. I went to do a piece about the Forward, the Yiddish newspaper. And Yiddish, of course, is a dying language. And those who still speak Yiddish, for the most part, are Hasidic and want nothing to do with this formerly socialist paper. And the old man who still did this newspaper did the same thing. He was doing it basically in his little office, and he and three colleagues did the whole paper.
That was much like the newspaper that I put together in high school.
I went to a high school called Aztec Valley High School, and we were the Indians. Even to this day they’re the Indians, though no Indians in sight. And of course, the newspaper was called – wait for it – The Smoke Signal. You get it? Communication, smoke signals, Indians. It’s amazing it’s still legal.
I should also say that journalism for me was two things. It was a way of seeing the world, and getting out and traveling and forcing myself to meet other people and see other things, and to know something. That was the way I could bring myself to know something. I’m not a scholar and didn’t have a scholarly temperament.
And it was also a way to make a living. I came from a family where I knew I would have to absolutely make a living if not even support my parents because of illnesses and things like that. And so the idea of setting up shop after college and writing a novel and hoping for the trust fund to kick in, that wasn’t going to happen.
So in college, the jobs I had were not waiting on tables, but being a stringer for other newspapers – writing the same obituary 10 times, or writing about a basketball game, or a fire, or a crime, or a this, or a that – anything.
My addiction came early and I learned a lot from it.
Recorded on Jan 7, 2008