Remnick: ‘New Yorker’ mulled biweekly route, once

DAvid Remnick. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
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Nicole Levy

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Since news of New York’s move to biweekly publishing in 2014 broke on Monday, media personalities have spun the decision two ways: as a promising flank of the magazine’s digital advance and a dismal signifier of the industry’s retreat from print.

David Remnick, editor in chief of the New Yorker, doesn’t think the news of New York magazine going biweekly is good news.

“I think [Moss] would have preferred if the magazine was healthier economically and that they would come out every week,” Remnick said this morning. “You lose something. It’s clear what you gain — by not printing, and perhaps having a little less staff, you save money and therefore it changes your profit and loss statement, potentially.” (A statement published on nymag.com mentions plans of “staff additions” to its digital ranks.)

Moss, in what amounted to a reassuring fireside chat with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Wednesday morning, had said of his magazine’s cut in frequency that “some people feel a great sense of sorrow about this — which I have to admit I did too when we first made the decision — but I’ve had a lot of time to get used to it and I’m actually pretty excited about what we’re doing.”

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Speaking today at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s conference on the future digital longform, Remnick was, respectfully, incredulous.

“I don’t think that Adam, who is an editor I respect enormously, enormously, is happy about this,” he told the audience gathered in Columbia Journalism School’s lecture hall.

And Remnick, who said he believes Moss will make the best of a complicated situation, has empathy. In 1998, a strapped New Yorker undermined, along with the rest of the magazine industry, by the dot-com bust, considered cutting back print issues, and the final decision fell to the weekly’s new editor in chief. “I felt that we would lose our place in terms of currency,” he said. “The New Yorker, in order to be what I want it to be, has to have pieces that can be read six months from now, but some elements of the magazine have attachment to the now.”

Remnick discussed the challenge of staying in your readership’s life when you only drop by twice a month.

“If you don’t have the relationship with the reader and the reader thinks he or she can get this stuff anywhere, it’s over,” Remnick argued. “The renewal rate of The New Yorker is 80 percent, which is off the charts. Now why is that? Because I have the vanity at least to think the reader thinks well, okay, this is not cheap goods. This is something of value.… It’s part of, in a sense, who I am. That’s an invaluable thing for less than a buck a week.”

Remnick was careful, though, not to paint the picture from the schadenfreude palette.

“I want to see other magazines, other websites thrive, even on a given week when they beat me and I regret that that piece is there and not with me,” he said. “I want the ecology of this enterprise, whether it’s online or on paper, whatever it may be — I want that ecology to thrive.”