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International Writers Magazine: Wither the New Yorker?
New Yorker, Collusion and All That
New Yorker building sits at 4 Times Square in New York City. If
a writer or artist were to come before this edifice, what would
he or she see? That is to say the free-spirit with few publications
or gallery showings in their resume. Or the poet that is lacking
in the requisite amount of readings. What do they see?
Hope? No, the prefabricated
rejection letter will crumble up hope, as you too, crumble that letter
and throw it into the wastebasket. In an interview on www.hararetz.com,
entitled, How to Put a Legendary Magazine Back on its Feet,
The New Yorker editor David Remnick said it best, It is hard when
you publish one story and two poems a week - and you, for instance,
get a yet unpublished poem by Elizabeth Bishop - to prefer a new poet
Of course, how can you possibly prefer a vibrant, new voice to that
of the familiar racehorse trotted out? What this editorial mindset makes
for is an increasingly numb audience. How can you have a cadre of poets
and writers, more then less, appointed for life and not have their works
blend, carryover and homogenize into the cookie cutter variety of Norman
Rockwell paintings. Look once more at the monstrosity of architecture
that is The New Yorker. Surely if you dally to long, you will be escorted
by New Yorker drones, thought police, to a modern Bastille
prison for subversion to the sense of esthetics so proudly bandied forward
by the magazine, ad nauseam. With that said, I will show that words=equal=money
and the questionable pursuit of it in The New Yorkers fairly recent
Nevertheless, under Remnick's editorship, The New Yorker
not only survives against all odds, but even earns profits. Not long
ago, for the first time in the life of the magazine, it surpassed the
one-million-reader threshold. Orna Coussin, writer from above
mentioned article. In furtherance of the strong financial stability
enjoyed by The New Yorker. Remnick adds this quip, "But I expect
good in-depth work for the good pay," Makes perfect sense. A fair
statement. Wouldnt expect anything less from the renowned New
Yorker. But less is exactly what happened. As reported by Jack Shafer
of Slate, in his article, Money Talks, This
week, an anonymous e-mailer asked if I knew that two New Yorker staff
writers, Malcolm Gladwell and James Surowiecki, collect speaking fees
from corporations and trade associations while writing on business topics
for the magazine. Although the Anonymouse acknowledged that he could
name no specific New Yorker article, paragraph, or sentence tainted
by a speaking fee, he demanded that I bring this subject to the public's
Shafer goes on to say that Gladwell is a close friend of Slate
editor Jacob Weisberg and Surowiecki is connected to the magazine
through a personal relationship. The all that is the nothing of
the investigation by The New Yorker is contained in this sound bite,
"[H]e spoke at their luncheon for a fee; that was the sum total
of his activity, and then, after it came up as an issue, we discussed
it, and that was that," Remnick writes. Remnick was speaking
about Gladwell. The matter was dropped by Remnick with that sentence.
Ethics, collusion and the obligation to report the truth unfettered
by the draw of money where was this brought up in Remnicks
minimalist dressing down of Gladwell?
To Jack Shafer,
something must be said. He did have the willingness to report the apparent
conflict of ethical interest. But, sadly, he is connected too closely
to at least two involved, I've edited Surowiecki and consider
him a friend,
As for David Remnick, Schafer is obvious throughout his piece that he
holds the man in high esteem, bordering on worship. Not too much objectivity
there. At least one other writer took New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell
to the woodshed and that was New York Times reporter David Carr. He
delved into the relationship between Gladwell and Simmons Market Research.
SMR stated it had forged "a research advisory alliance" with
the writer. What transpired was a lobbyist of SMR wooed and gave money
to a salaried staff writer of The New Yorker. So what we are left with
in this matter of accountability is that the chief editor, who by very
virtue of his title, should, but does, next to nothing. Two brief reportages,
a knuckle rapping (if that) for those involved and an episode best not
talked about around the water cooler.
What is the big picture for The New Yorker? Does its eighty-three year
history speak to success? If increased advertisements space and therefore
added revenue is success, then yes. If, as a result, there are a dwindling
number of pages dedicated to art, then it is unsuccessful. If you look
back to 1925 when founder Harold Ross launched his dream of a sophisticated
humor magazine then you get to the root of it. Three
works of fiction, poetry and the light zaniness of The Talk of the Town.
Between the covers what lay in wait were such entirely whimsical cartoons.
To bring such joy! But now, here is the current New Yorker, and what
Harold Ross famously declared in a 1925 prospectus for The New Yorker:
"It has announced that it is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.
The obvious slur on old ladies and Dubuque aside, thats just what
the magazine has become. Not only for the old lady but all
of Dubuque and beyond.
See the old lady has a thirst for reportage; in her hands, The New Yorker.
A Dubuque garbage man is in terrible wont for current events, a schoolteacher
with a perverse attraction to cartoons of the one-dimensional, stick
figure kind and the local beat cop, so unblessed by Ross to have been
born in the heartland (American Gothic not withstanding), why this young
enforcer of law must have his fix of Goings On About Town because it
is so utterly, dearly important to him in his life - so relevant. With
the current editors dogmatic pursuit of hard driving political
world events, (ten years with The Washington Post will do that)
The New Yorker has become little more then a glorified news journal
with an interestingly drawn front cover that changes from week to week.
Little else between its two covers does.
Not long ago, I set my copy of The New Yorker out on the curb with the
recyclables. I thought, no, it goes with the regular trash. Because
trash is something you dont want to see again resurface.
So to The New Yorker goes the The New Yorker and others of the same
ilk who believe that to express oneself differently, to take an alternate,
unpopular position is akin to treason against the established order
and the very nation itself. Well this headset is intricately woven and
taken as gospel by a wide grouping of intellectuals who unfortunately
hold the key to what is and what isnt: the Professors who desperately
pound out scholarly papers to retain tenure and little else, philosophers
that stick to a dogma of theory to the death, novelists that indulge
in a prescribed school of expression even be it lacking originality,
literary critics who in their whimsical, utterly subjective way are
bought and sold according to the politics of reviewing, lexicologists
who spout words and definitions and are confined in their self-made
rigid jail cells.
All of the above hang their hats on The Elements of Style and it
is a crowded, rickety hat rack. The denigration, devaluation and defamation
afforded those writers that use free-thought, free association and others
of like expression are whom I advocate for. I take pride as
I rail against the writing organizations, professors who are literary
magazine editors, and professional literary editors. Every and all who
cloak themselves in the established order. A place for everything and
everything out of place. That said, I take all that are named in this
narrative down, down to Dantes Ninth Circle of Hell. Here
stands Satan, hip-deep in a frozen lake, himself frozen, much like the
group that accompanies me, their minds atrophied imagination subjugated
to Satans realm. Here is their eternity. And me? Free as ever
and ever free, I am free, free to leave.
Roberts November 12 2008
Chris Roberts writes short stories, poetry and essays. In 2003, he was
nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
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