What do you do?

David Remnick: It is more unusual than you would think that a writer becomes an editor, at least in this era. It’s not unusual; historically it happened a lot; but at the New Yorker it’s pretty much a first.

[Harold] Ross was a newspaper man, but mainly an editor. [William] Shawn almost completely an editor. Bob Gottlieb became a writer really only after he retired from the New Yorker. Tina Brown wrote a little bit as kind of a spritely feature writer, but came to write a book long after she left the New Yorker.

I also had no time to think about it. I went from being a writer at the New Yorker on a Friday to the editor of the New Yorker on a Monday.

I had no thoughts of this. It’s not as if I were the third base coach for years, and then became the pitching coach, and then became the manager.

For a newspaper, you would go through any number of steps before you became the Executive Editor after long years of both experience and competition. So I had very little time to think about what this meant. And the only salvation was the fact that I was surrounded by extraordinarily talented people: Dorothy [Wickenden], Pam McCarthy, Henry Fender and so on; and that the magazine knew what it was about, and that I was in concert with them.

But clearly what being an editor is about at the New Yorker – I don’t know about other places – is to get the best work out of very, very talented people; continually replenish a staff of talented people with more of same; to give the magazine a kind of journalistic, and literary, and even moral direction; and ethical underpinning; and togive it a kind of sense of momentum, and drive, and imagination; and also to fire up other people about what they have to do; putting very intelligent and talented people in positions to succeed and get the best for themselves.

This magazine is largely about individual writers and artists and so on coming up with what they do best. Now do I ask for certain things? Do I push people toward certain things? Do I think we need certain subjects covered or looked at over time? You bet.

But we are not a newspaper. We are not a news weekly. I try to see what these writers are obsessed with and push them in that direction.

Do I miss reporting? I’m fully aware that you can’t do everything in life. And each day you get a little older, you realize that this is not just a cliché, but an absolute law of life. If I thought that my not writing either completely or even a lot was a great loss to the literary or journalistic world on the scale of a Philip Roth or John Updike deciding suddenly that they have to become chefs, I wouldn’t do it.

I think the world can live without my writing so much. I do it a little bit. I energize myself. I indulge myself by getting out of the office sometime and going to the Middle East, or Russia, or something like that and write about it; but not very often. Once or twice a year.


Recorded on Jan 7, 2008

Remnick answers what it is like to helm The New Yorker.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less