The Future of The New Yorker

Why isn’t the New Yorker editor worried about what has been happening to the magazine industry?
  • Transcript


Question: What will the New Yorker be like in 20 years?

David Remnick: To my mind, The New Yorker, whatever experiments occur, the most interesting experiments to occur, the ending of radical departure are in the writing. To me, that’s where the excitement is. Will we be on an iPad? Absolutely. I hope we look great there and if people want to read us there fantastic. We’re working very hard to do that just as we’ve worked hard to have a Web site that’s worthy of the name.

My idea of The New Yorker, as long as I’m there, is that we are not going to change who we are, no matter what the delivery systems are, no matter what the means of reading us. We are about reading. We’re about long form journalism, analysis, humor, fiction, poetry, a sense of delight, a sense of seriousness when it’s appropriate. If we start giving away these core things because in the short term we somehow think, "Wow, you know, actually three paragraph long pieces, the hell with George Packer doing 15,000 words on American politics, or Sy Hersh writing an extremely knotty piece about some aspect of intelligence or sending somebody to Afghanistan three times to get the story, or unleashing David Grand for six months to get a death penalty piece, or what have you." In other words what I think of as the core of The New Yorker. I’m not here to get rid of fiction because I think that not 100 percent of the people read it. I don’t care about that. I think this is a formula that took a long, long time to develop and people want what we do. They may want to read it on a different device soon enough and it’s not coming, it’s here.

Most of our readers at this point still think the best technology for reading it is on print. Those proportions will inevitably change. How much they will change, I don’t know. I’m not a media fortuneteller, I’m not a, God forbid, a media consultant. I’m here to edit the magazine and be as nimble as we can be in terms of this period of technological challenge and interest and it potentially will bring us more and more readers. But, I promise you that no matter what form you read it on, the intent is to be true to who we are.

Question: The Daily Beast’s traffic is sometimes double that of Does that worry you?

David Remnick: Not at all, and you know, I have a lot of respect for Tina and I reject any notion that somehow Tina was completely out of the mainstream of what The New Yorker wanted to do. I think she brought a lot to it and a lot of the visual aspect of The New Yorker is due to her innovation. She hired a lot of people that are still there, that are very important to The New Yorker. But any website that’s built around news and what’s going on now and five minutes later and aggregating and churning what’s going on in the moment, is inevitably going to get higher traffic. Certainly, is going to get a hell of a lot more traffic because it’s a daily newspaper that’s now not just daily, but is trying to keep up with the news in the moment. This is not what we’re equipped to do. That’s not what we are built for.

I’ve been at a newspaper. I spent 10 years of my life at The Washington Post. I know what that’s about. I’m not going to, at The Washington Post, have a fake AP, and we’re not going to spend all of our energies in aggregating from all over the Internet. We’re there to create the core long form journalism that may get aggregated by somebody else. It may get chopped into little bits and talked about on other websites. I can live with that easily. People want what we do and the more time goes by, and the more time this technological revolution happens, there’s not more of this. There’s not more depth, there’s not more deep analysis, in fact, there’s arguably less of it because it’s expensive to do. It’s hard to do.

So, my hat’s off to a lot of websites. I read them, but this is what I want to be doing at The New Yorker and that’s what my colleagues want to be doing.

Question: Who has sensibility to bring the New Yorker into the next era?

David Remnick: What’s interesting to me that as unnerving as any transformative period is, and there’s clearly, you can’t give young writers, or journalists the advice that you used to 20 years ago. You know, "Go to The Concord Monitor and work at a small newspaper and then find your way to a larger one." That model, it’s almost irresponsible to think that’s the singular piece of advice that a kind of middle-aged guy like me should give to somebody that’s 23. It’s obscenely wrong. In fact, the paths into journalism are now more various, they’re also more unnerving because where you get paid for it and paid decently for it are tougher to find. There’s no doubt that in some ways, it’s easier to get in and easier to get noticed because the Internet is so democratic that way, but to earn a living is getting more complicated. And I’m determined to pay people and pay people well, talented people well. Just so long as we can sustain a model or even a shifting model so that we can do that. That’s the idea, that’s the trick.

Do I see young people every bit as energetic and as intelligent, with the urge to express themselves? You bet I do. And even at some length, not everybody is interested I making a life as a blogger, not everybody thinks the best means of self-expression, or even information, or writing is to have 40 disparate thoughts in the course of the day. Some of that is interesting; some I think is really not. There are lots of people that I talk to in their 20’s that are really interested in doing the very same thing in terms of long form journalism that people twice their age and three times their age have been doing for a long time.

It is thrilling when we have the chance to hire new writers who are young and who are developing. I mean and getting better all the time and are totally obsessed with what they are doing. Somebody like Lauren Collins, or Ariel Levy, or Kelefa Sanneh at The New Yorker, who are relatively recent hires. It’s just fantastic and it’s also really fantastic to see one piece be better than the last one, and the next piece be even better. I mean because they’re just in the zone of growing all the time. It’s fantastic. It’s really thrilling as an editor.

Recorded on April 9, 2010