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Bill Wasik Plans To Keep His Job

Question: How does Harper’s cope with new publishing models?

Bill Wasik: I think that the fact that our articles are long makes a big difference. We typically run features that go from, you know, 5,000 words up to 10,000 and beyond so, and we can only run four of them in every issue so, you know, I think that very fact, the very sort of, you know, technological fact if you will, the form in which we’re putting our content, it’s inherently focusing us on questions of what is important and what is important over the long term as opposed to the short term. The fact that we have a long turn around time, you know, that we close an issue in June, that issue wont even hit newsstands until mid July so we have to be thinking not what’s relevant now but what’s going to be relevant to our reader in, you know, four to eight weeks when the magazine is actually on the newsstand so to a certain extent we’re helped out by all of our limitations which come from being a sort of old style publishing model with the internet where you have infinite capacity you have the immediate, you have the ability to immediately publish things. You know, the challenges is putting constraints on yourself that sort of keep you thinking big picture and keep you thinking long term, you know, I think we’re able to do it because of  the constraints that we have of being a monthly print magazine.

Question: Do you think a print format is sustainable?

Bill Wasik: I do. I believe very strongly that as everything gets shorter and faster that there is a kind of inherent human instinct to want to escape from that into things that are longer, things that are more meditative. I definitely see a great future for the book because I think that the book right now is an oasis more than it’s ever been from the demands of a sort of 24/7 media environment and I also think that magazines like Harper’s and the New Yorker are similar oasis from that, that they might be about the world at large but they’re coming at the world at large from a much more focused and contemplative and far reaching perspective.  They involve reporters taking months to compile their material and, often weeks or months just to write the material in order to create a long piece of narrative journalism that will feel relevant and will feel important even months down the line. You know, I think that there will always be a space for that even if the print medium itself isn’t the way that those kinds of pieces are delivered. I’m also very hopeful about the Kindle as a possible vehicle for long form narrative journalism.

Recorded on: June 3, 2009

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