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"The New Yorker" Editor David Remnick Has A New Gig: Radio Host

David Remnick on his approach for "The New Yorker Radio Hour," launching Saturday, and the importance of sitzfleisch.

"The New Yorker" Editor David Remnick Has A New Gig: Radio Host

David Remnick in studio

You've heard of The New Yorker? It's a great magazine.

That's been true for decades (though it's especially true now). What's more remarkable is how, over the last few years, The New Yorker has also become a great website, app, and general social media presence. Perhaps more than any legacy magazine, The New Yorker has weathered the storms of digital transition with aplomb, adapting to the times while also preserving and projecting its voice. Its website is averaging 13 million visitors—up 28% over last year—even as its paid subscriber base stays strong, at around a million.

And now, The New Yorker is pushing forth a new shoot: "The New Yorker Radio Hour," a radio show and podcast coproduced by The New Yorker and WNYC Studios. The first episode debuts this Saturday, featuring a lengthy interview with journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, a personal story from magazine staff writer Jill Lepore, and a segment in which New Yorker cartoonists chronicle the exhausting process of submitting cartoons at the magazine.

Helming the magazine through this era of transition has been David Remnick, who began editing The New Yorker in 1998. Remnick will also be stepping into the host's chair for the new radio show. Fast Company caught up with Remnick to learn more.

Fast Company: What can you reveal about "The New Yorker Radio Hour"?

David Remnick: I promise you I’m not going to sing. I don’t want to alienate the potential listenership. There’s a group from WNYC led by a guy named David Krasnow who are real radio pros. They’re full of ideas, and they’re working in partnership with our editorial staff. I’m the host, but I’m not the sole voice of the show by any stretch of the imagination. My role is to introduce the show and do an in-depth interview with someone. What you’re getting is the writers, editors, and artists of The New Yorker, but translated into radio terms.

What’s the audio equivalent of a cartoon?

I’m not sure that there is one. Though if you’re a New York history buff, you know that Fiorello La Guardia, during a newspaper strike, read the comics to people over the radio. Nothing made him more popular as mayor than that move. But the reason a cartoon works is the explosive combination of the drawing and the caption. If you’re not in a visual medium, it doesn’t work, so the humor has to come from somewhere else. But humor is a big part of who we are, and we want the show to be at least in some part funny.

In the magazine, you can turn straight from your piece on the Charleston massacre to a Shouts and Murmurs humor piece.

It’s a strange DNA. In the magazine, it’s perfectly accepted by the reader that in the midst of a big giant piece about something tragic or political, there are gag cartoons. There’s a sense, developed over many years, of what The New Yorker is. It’s an odd recipe—I hope a magical recipe—and we have to find the right recipe with an entirely different medium. In a magazine, you can skip around. But radio takes place in time.

So how do you find that new recipe?

We’re in week one. It’s early days. I have every expectation the show will develop with time. A novelist’s first novel is usually pretty radically different from his or her fifth novel. You find your voice over time. You hope you’re good enough in the beginning that the audience stays with you.

Most New Yorker journalists probably need to feel comfortable switch-hitting among mediums.

Some are more comfortable with it than others. Some writers took to the web faster. And it’s not age-dependent. Roger Angell is 95 years old and writes for the web with as much energy as a 25-year-old blogger. I’m sure that will be the same case with the radio show. Nobody’s going to get forced to do this. I want people who want to dive in. One of the great pleasures of being editor of The New Yorker is working with people who are as obsessed as you are, if not more so.

Who are radio journalists you admire?

Terry Gross is, I think, the Willie Mays of interviews. Her questions come from different angles, and there’s a sense of surprise. I’ve been interviewed by her, and I listen to her with an attention to her craft, which is a very different interview than what I do in print.

How is print interviewing different from radio interviewing?

In a print interview, you might be going for a certain thing, but you know you shouldn’t begin with it. For example, Dexter Filkins went to Argentina not long ago to write about the alleged suicide and possible murder of someone who was investigating an act of terrorism there. He got an interview with the head of state, [Cristina Fernández de] Kirchner, but knew if he began his interview going right for the jugular, it would alienate her. So instead he asked for a half hour about the Argentine economy, politics, to put her at ease. Then he got to the heart of the matter and got the good stuff, the revealing stuff. But in a radio interview, you can’t spend a half hour dancing around.

I imagine you also want a kind of conversational flow in a radio interview.

I think I’ll be better at answering this question a year from now when I actually have some experience. Right now it’s amateur hour. I’m just learning.

People already have been asking how you manage to juggle all your responsibilities, before you decided to add those of an Ira Glass to your plate. What’s your secret?

Amphetamines. I’m kidding. Look, I’m really lucky. To work with the colleagues I do, to be at the place that I’m at—it’s just crazy luck. Crazy luck! So you should ask someone who doesn’t like their work how they manage to do it for long periods of the day. That’s difficult.

You’ve spoken before about the importance of sitzfleisch.

Sitzfleisch! It means, basically, the ability to keep your ass in a chair.


This interview has been condensed and edited.

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