New Yorker editor-in-chief discusses journalism’s challenges

Christina Amoroso

Telling jokes and imparting bits of wisdom, David Remnick, editor-in-chief of The New Yorker magazine, spoke to a group of students and community members at a Thursday afternoon Crain Lecture in a full McCormick Tribune Center.

Remnick, the author of “Reporting: Writings from The New Yorker,” answered questions from moderator and Medill Prof. David Abrahamson and audience members. Question topics ranged from interviewing sources and editing to the difficulties of fact-checking and discovering new writers.

“The New Yorker is homemade,” Remnick said in response to an audience question about how the magazine responds to reader requests for changes. He acknowledged the magazine “doesn’t want to test market” what readers want to see. It’s run more like a restaurant that doesn’t have a menu, instead offering a variety of dishes, he said.

“Each week we send (the magazine) out there into the world,” he said. “And then we hope you like it.”

Remnick also talked about the increasing prevalence of fact-checking, something he said started 10 years ago when Tina Brown was editor-in-chief. He said it is “very vital” to what the magazine should be. Even writers such as Seymour Hersh, who relies on unnamed sources for his stories, must go through fact-checking.

“This is all a part of editing, fact-checking,” Remnick said.

Remnick also talked about Hersh’s Abu Ghraib prison scandal story. He joked with the audience, saying he expected more reaction from the Pentagon following the story’s publication.

“I was a little hurt,” he said.

Several audience members asked about the magazine’s content and direction. Remnick discussed balancing the magazine between its New York and national audiences. He said he believes many readers want to be connected to New York because, in many ways, it is considered the world’s cultural capital.

“At the same time, it’s a national magazine,” Remnick said.

When asked about the origins of the magazine’s back-page cartoon competition, Remnick said he wanted to include something that allowed readers to do something other than think. At many publications, he said, the back page is an afterthought. He said the magazine has received cartoon entries from Supreme Court justices.

“Doesn’t the Supreme Court have anything better to do?” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.

At the end of the lecture, Remnick imparted advice to students who aspire to have a career similar to his. He attributed much of his success to luck but also emphasized the importance of hard work.

Northwestern students who attended the lecture said they enjoyed Remnick’s insights.

Weinberg sophomore Marissa Ronk said Remnick’s description of the magazine production process was interesting. The editor was exactly what she thought he would be: “intelligent, witty.”

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