The New New New Yorker: Brains Over Buzz

Under David Remnick, The New Yorker has “no guest editors, no sultry photographs of the neighborhood dominatrix, no cloying fascination with celebrity,” writes Alex Kuczynski in today’s New York Times. Where Tina Brown spent Condé Nast’s money on expensive parties, Remnick spends it adding up to ten additional editorial pages per week. The writers are happier, and the magazine is better. So, of course, the New York Buzz Machine is dissatisfied. The magazine is “a bit more cerebral and a bit less pop-cultural, and more centered on its serious journalistic tradition; that makes the publisher’s job harder, because you’re selling more steak and less sizzle,” says David Verklin, chief executive of an ad agency called Carat North America. Gene DeWitt, president of DeWitt Media, says the last issue “looked as though it fell down the stairs. It seemed very helter-skelter. I haven’t been concerned until the last issue.”

Chatterbox thinks these ad executives are completely deluded about who reads The New Yorker. These are not the kind of people who want to read about dominatrixes. Tina Brown’s New Yorker, which unquestionably improved on the dull-but-worthy magazine edited by William Shawn (just as Robert Gottlieb’s New Yorker had–a point that’s usually lost when media critics celebrate the Brown regime), succeeded in spite of Brown’s tarty obsession with glitz and celebrity, not because of it. This is illustrated nicely by the journalism that the “serious” David Remnick produced while working as a writer under Brown. Most of his writing was very good (if sometimes a little pompous). Some of it–Chatterbox remembers in particular a cheesy valentine to Howard Stern–was bad. It’s striking that since Remnick has become editor, he hasn’t compelled anybody to write anything in the vein of that Stern piece; instead, he has pushed his writers to produce pieces more on a par with his own best work. Indeed, a decent case can be made that Remnick is proving to be better at editing the New Yorker than he was at writing for it. In addition to showing sound editorial judgment, Chatterbox thinks Remnick is showing sound commercial judgment. Do you know anyone who picks up The New Yorker to read a puff about a shock jock?

Of course, it’s a stretch to say TheNew Yorker truly makes business sense. Chatterbox thinks the current losses, which (according to the Times) continue to equal about $1 million per month, can’t be sustained even by a magnifico like Si Newhouse. The Times says the magazine could realize vast savings by going biweekly. Chatterbox hereby endorses the idea. He also thinks that the magazine will eventually have to downsize to something a bit more ambitious, staff-wise, than Harper’s and the Atlantic, but considerably less ambitious, staff-wise, than it is now. The editor who presides over this bloodletting will be reviled in the press and will cost the magazine untold quantities of Buzz. But he (or she) will guarantee the survival of a cherished cultural institution. Chatterbox thanks him (or her) in advance.