Since taking the helm of The New Yorker in 1998, David Remnick has returned the magazine to its profitable glory days. A graduate of Princeton University, he began his journalistic career as a night police reporter at the Washington Post in 1982, becoming the paper's Moscow correspondent in 1988. His coverage of the Soviet Union's collapse led to his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1993 book "Lenin's Tomb." His latest book "The Bridge," is a biography of President Barack Obama. He lives in New York with his wife, Esther Fein, and their three children.
Question: What advice do you have for young journalists?
David Remnick: I knew a guy who was a bartender in Washington named Steve Daily. And I found myself covering Wimbledon with him. Because I was a sports writer for two years at the Washington Post, because that’s the job that they had open after my being a police reporter.
And I said, “How did you get from being a bartender to a columnist for the Chicago Tribune?”
He said, “Well I used to be a funny bartender and the sports editors would come in and say, ‘You ought to try writing a column.’”
And he did it, and then he did it again, and he did it again, and he got this job.
So what happens when you become a big shot editor or a big shot columnist? Sooner or later people ask you questions like this. “What advice do you have for young journalists?” And unfortunately, if you’re honest, you have to say number one, get real lucky. But number two – and maybe more important than number one – is to work like a nut; to work really, really hard and to learn as much as you can; and to hope that you have some talent almost equal to or equal to your sense of effort.
Because I have to tell you, as an editor, what always impresses me are the people who are obsessed; people who are gifted perhaps, but obsessed. And they can’t even imagine themselves doing anything other than covering the political campaign or writing about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or for that matter writing fiction at the level of an Alice Monroe, or George Sanders, or whoever you happen to like.
Those people invariably do it all the time and with a sense of passion and obsession that makes them as successful as they are.
Recorded on Jan 7, 2008