David Remnick on How Writers and Publishers Can Thrive in the Digital Age
The same question haunts most every publisher: On a limited budget, how do you create and publish the best possible content?
David Remnick has some answers.
At the Future of Digital Longform conference at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, The New Yorker editor sat down with The Big Roundtable’s Michael Shapiro to discuss journalism and publishing in the rapidly-evolving digital age.
For writers, thriving in the digital age requires the same thing that great journalism has always required: honing you craft over long periods of time. Remnick said that writing requires “huge amounts of hungry, voracious reading in which you learn to read like a writer.”
“If you want to write about issues of war and peace and crime on the streets and women’s issues, you’ve got to get out in that world and speak to people who are not like you,” Remnick said, even if reporting is time-consuming and sometimes expensive. As an editor, that’s what Remnick is looking for. “The people I’m interested in – whether to hire or to read – are obsessed,” he said.
If you want to write about issues of war and peace and crime on the streets and women’s issues, you’ve got to get out in that world and speak to people who are not like you.”
For publishers of all kinds, creating the highest quality content involves culling the best talent that they can find. “Talent is where talent is,” Remnick said. He mentioned Evan Osnos, The New Yorker’s China correspondent, who originally covered the beat for the Chicago Tribune, and Sarah Stillman, a young writer whose investigative work for The New Yorker has already garnered several awards. Developing a dream team, Remnick said, is thrilling.
Crafting an excellent publication also means heeding article length. Though longform was the theme of the day’s conference, Remnick warned writers and editors that there is such a thing as too long: Don’t “bore the shit out of everyone,” he advised.
For publishers, Remnick warned that he sees “great publications devaluing their center chasing after what everyone else is doing,” such as quick-hit blog posts on a trending topic.
I think we’re going to thrive, but the only way to do it is to be true to what we are.”
But what does that mean for The New Yorker? “I think we’re going to thrive, but the only way to do it is to be true to what we are.” That means sticking with the publication’s hallmark profiles, investigative pieces, and essays. “If [we] were to give that up or devalue that, we would be fools.”
All of which is to say that writers, editors, and publishers must create unique value with their publications, just as The New Yorker has over its 89-year history. Explained Remnick: “If you don’t have a relationship with the reader and the reader thinks they can get this stuff anywhere, it’s over.”
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