You can’t be a good writer of longform journalism without reading.
The New Yorker’s David Remnick said he doesn’t know a serious writer who is not a serious reader at the Future of Digital Longform Conference at Columbia Journalism School on Friday. His comments marked an interesting discussion that lasted about an hour.
However, reading alone won’t get it done.
“There are a lot more people who are doing their reporting and thinking off of what they are reading on the web,” Remnick said. “There is less running around and going to boring meetings and doing that other kind of reporting.
“I don’t want to be dismissive. Reading on the web is also important. It’s a big part of my day too. I don’t want to be dismissive or patronizing, but I do think there is a big old world out there. If you want to write about issues or war and peace and crime on the street, whatever it is, you got to get out in that world. See that world. Speak to people who are not like you. And read a lot.”
Remnick admits that the future is still unclear in some ways. However, The New Yorker has built a model that works for them – investigative pieces and essays.
“I think we are not only profitable but we are going to thrive,” Remnick said. “But the only to do that is to be true to what we are. We see sometimes great publications devalue their center and chasing after what everyone is doing. If The New Yorker would give that up or lessen that, we would be fools.”
Paying for longform journalism seems to be a growing trend, at least judging by the number of digital startups in the field. The Columbia Journalism School panels had members of new companies hoping to make money. Some admitted, profit has yet to come.
Remnick thinks that if readers want good material they will have to shell out some money.
“I do think you have to pay for stuff that is good and expensive,” he said. “I think the New York Times learned it the hard way by giving it away for free and then going back on it. It’s not ideal. There are only a couple of ways to have this go, and web advertising for a non-mass thing ain’t competing with Google and Yahoo or even BuzzFeed.”
Part of the issue with magazines and its websites is reads get different content in different outlets. Some content is on the magazine while other is on the web, but eventually Remnick feels it will all end up in one place.
“Soon you will be able to get everything everywhere in every which way,” he said. “But you have to pay for it.”