“While most magazines have their moments in the culture, The New Yorker has mattered a lot at various points in time,” said David Remnick, the magazine’s editor. New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute hosted a wide-ranging conversation with him on Tuesday evening.
Remnick shared his candid thoughts on his career, his editorial role, the magazine’s print and digital content and occasional controversies. While being The New Yorker editor is a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity, many takeaways from Remnick’s experiences about career timing, managing work relationships, having strong competitors and staying relevant apply across positions.
Below are selected highlights.
Early career: “There were things back then called paid internships”, Remnick emphasized, (in his only reference to the ongoing Conde Nast internship controversy). He got an internship at Newsday, and another at The Washington Post. He also taught English in Japan and served as WaPo’s foreign correspondent in Moscow, competing for stories with Bill Keller of The New York Times.
He attributes his eventual switch from newspapers to magazines to the waiting room at his father’s dental practice. He spent time there reading magazines while listening to rock music. “The New Yorker was hard to grasp beyond the cartoons when I was little, but I warmed to it.”
Being named editor : After Tina Brown left, Remnick, who had been working at The New Yorker, became editor. He said he got the job, even though he had no prior professional editorial experience, after Sy Newhouse’s initial choice was nixed. As Remnick recalled, “they really needed an editor in a hurry. But the geometry of my relationships with other editors changed, and that’s still complicated.”
The New Yorker’s content: “When editing the magazine, I self-assign a few stories per year since I want a sense of the world and different textures of life, away from the bureaucracy.” Remnick recently reported on Syrian refugees from the Middle East. Still, he seeks a mix of content. “Ideally the magazine should have something that makes you laugh. It can’t all be massacres and the horrors of the world.”
Cover story: “When you live long enough you’re wrong about things sometimes”, Remnick said. However, he sticks by his decision to run a cover about Obama that caused an outcry. He said it was clearly intended as a joke. “I’d run that one again in a second. It wasn’t meant to be polite,” he added.
Digital pioneers: Remnick focused on early adoption of digital formats such as apps because he said that’s “precisely what people thought was our disadvantage. My job is to keep you reading in all formats, with content that’s worthy of The New Yorker. The world of technology will sort itself out, and I have to be ready for all contingencies.”
He appreciates that the web has more space than print, allowing for more images and slide shows. However, he said online content makes the fact checking process more complex. “The print magazine is as thoroughly edited as it can be. Overall, it’s a complicated process, and we do the best we can.”
Importance of being weekly: The New Yorker is not built to bring you the news every week. We’re quirkier and more in-depth. Many of our pieces are evergreen and vital. But I didn’t want to go biweekly, or we’d lose the currency of what’s going on.”