Barack Asks for a Signed New Yorker Cover
This is from CNN, a transcript of a recent interview with Howie Kurtz and David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker. I had the honor of being rejected by the magazine a few weeks ago. But my friend who works there was very nice saying that often stories he suggests to his editors don’t make the cut.
KURTZ: A couple of months ago “The New Yorker” ran a cover cartoon by Barry Blitt of Barack Obama walking on water, but then starting to slip into the water. And apparently, David Axelrod’s office called you about that?
REMNICK: Well, they wanted a signed version of the cover. And, you know, there were other covers maybe they didn’t like as well. But I think they got over it. In fact, they got over it a lot faster than some other people.
KURTZ: What did Axelrod’s office tell you about Obama’s personal reaction?
REMNICK: I think Axelrod and Obama were laughing hysterically over this cover. And the fact to their credit, within a matter of weeks, that they reversed the really sinking trend that they were experiencing, and they passed health care. And the White House certainly reversed its downward trend pretty quickly after that cover. I’m not saying the cover was anywhere near responsible for it.
KURTZ: Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t have him sinking all the way into the water after Scott Brown’s victory.
Let’s talk a little about “The New Yorker.”
This is, as you know, a very tough time for the magazine business. “Newsweek” is —
REMNICK: I’ve heard that.
REMNICK: — up for sale. Yes, you have.
Your company, Conde Nast, has had some cutbacks, has closed a couple of titles. “The New Yorker” doesn’t seem to have been affected all that much.
How have you insulated your magazine from these trends and declining advertising and all that?
REMNICK: We’re not insulated from trends, but certainly — and advertising in general has been much harder to come by, and the recession was very tough. I think we’re coming out of it now.
I think “New Yorker” is fortunate in that we have something that people want — a model for depth and penetration and journalism and — as well as literary work that people want. There’s no question that this genre of magazine is wanted by our readers. We have a renewal rate of 85 percent in an industry where, if you have half that, you’re pretty successful.
The tough thing is advertising. But that, I think, is starting to see a return.
The second part of it is technological, people reading things in different ways, whether it’s on a Kindle or on an iPad, or online and all the rest. And we have to adapt to that and work with that, and be good on that in ways that my predecessors didn’t have to think about.
So, the editor’s job is now more — it’s more varied. It’s just not concentrated on that one issue that very week.
KURTZ: But to the extent that you can run 5,000 words or 8,000 words on some —
REMNICK: Or 25,000 words, as Janet Malcolm did the other week.
KURTZ: OK. All right — on a topic where the writer spends weeks, months, and really — why don’t we see more of that from other magazines? Is there something unique about “The New Yorker” franchise? I mean, very few publications even attempt that.
REMNICK: Well, it’s expensive, for one thing. To have somebody working on one piece, as you know, on an investigative piece for six months, for a year, is very expensive. You just added up all the expense that’s go into it, whether it’s the salary and expenses incurred in terms of travel. It’s very expensive.
And you have to invest in it. And you also have to know that sometimes those stories will lead to nothing. You can have an investigative reporter on something for six months and it becomes a dry well.
KURTZ: And recognizing that it’s a dry well, I think, is one of the underrated judgments that journalists have to make, so you don’t just print something because you spent so much time on it. I’ve got half a minute.
KURTZ: Everybody wants to know the answer to this question. Do you really pick all the cartoons?
REMNICK: I do. I work with Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor. And we sit there on Wednesday afternoon and pick them. It’s the best hour of my week.
KURTZ: And does it have to meet some sort of Remnick standard of humor?
REMNICK: Yes, they have to be funny.
KURTZ: If you think they’re funny, I guess that means that the cartoonists get to appear in the pages of “The New Yorker.”