Commentary by Scott Donaton

IN PRAISE OF LANGUAGE AND THE PRINTED WORD

An Interview With the Editor and Publisher of 'The New Yorker'

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David Carey is one of those people who responds to e-mails sent to his Blackberry within minutes, regardless of what day it is or which time zone he's in. It's a testament to both his work ethic and his tech savvy.
Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'

David Remnick is less of an early adopter, but presumably reads the articles Ken Auletta files for his magazine and is in any case well acquainted with the consequences of media consolidation and fragmentation.

Printing words on dead trees
They're both fairly young -- Remnick is 46, Carey 43. So it's reasonable to ask the Davids -- who serve as editor and publisher of The New Yorker, and whose careers are still ascendant -- why they would choose, in the year 2005 in the city of New York, to earn their paychecks printing words on dead trees.

It's a question I put to them both over wraps and grilled vegetables in the pointlessly sumptuous cafeteria inside Conde Nast's Times Square headquarters building.

(Yes, by the way, I am aware of the irony of the editor of a 75-year-old weekly published by a midsize, family-owned company asking the editor of an 80-year-old weekly published by a midsize, family-owned company whether what he does is relevant.)

The consummate salesman
Carey, a consummate salesman, answered with impressive statistics about The New Yorker's circulation, advertising and profit performance. I rephrased the question.

"There are many cliches that are wrong," Remnick ventured. "F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts. That's obviously wrong. Look at Donald Trump.

"Another cliche that's wrong is that pictures are worth a thousand words. It's not true. In the conveyance of human news and beauty, still the greatest invention that exists is language." Language, of course, is the core of The New Yorker, a statement true for a dwindling number of glossy titles.

'Not about snobbery'
Remnick, who claims credit for discovering Paris Hilton (don't ask), says there's nothing elitist about his view. "I'm an enormous consumer of movies, music, television and photographs and believe in each of them in their own way. But language is not going to disappear. People are coming to us because of a certain seriousness that they're hungry for. This is not about snobbery."

Carey believes the core advantage magazines have is their credibility: "It's the only medium that truly is trusted today." The rise of branded content, he fears (hopes?) will further erode consumer trust in TV and film. "It's a terrible impact."

There's no question, though, that even magazines are blurring the once-sacred line between editorial and advertising, including Conde Nast-owned titles like Lucky. Remnick says it will be a cold day before Pepsi gets a plug in a Sy Hersh investigative piece. "I'd rather sell pencils in front of Bloomingdale's."

Digitally altered landscape
Ooh, a follow-up question: Are you worried that's exactly what you might have to do in a digitally altered media landscape?

"I'd have to be asleep not to worry in general," Remnick says. "But my worries are broader. They have to do with the different ways generations get their news." In the short term, he thinks newspapers have more to fear from that shift than magazines, but it's still a challenge.

The good news for The New Yorker is that all vital signs are healthy. It is soundly profitable and its circulation statements are among the industry's cleanest and most transparent, with stunning renewal rates (80%).

Each David insists he would go into publishing again if his career were just starting out (though Remnick did say "maybe" when asked if he might instead start his own blog).

"I know how to do one thing," says Carey, "fortunately, reasonably well."

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