For decades, The New Yorker magazine has aspired to excellence in publishing what we now call long-form journalism. Each week, it delivers well-written, deeply-researched, and fact-checked dives into topics both mainstream and esoteric, along with fiction, poetry, reviews, and its legendary one-panel cartoons. A subscription to The New Yorker is something of a mild status symbol, proclaiming that you seek quality commentary about current events and popular culture.
The New Yorker also has a very lively online presence. In addition to publishing its print issue articles online, it adds a lot of content daily, often on breaking news topics. In all, The New Yorker offers a lot to its subscribers.
But here’s my somewhat blasphemous hypothesis: The New Yorker may also be one of the most unread magazines in existence. If my experience is in any way typical (and I freely admit that it may not be so), then a lot of folks get their magazine in the mail, quickly scan the table of contents, and then put it aside with the best of intentions to get to those beefy articles when free time allows. We rinse and repeat with each weekly issue, thus creating a pile in our homes.
Furthering the blasphemy: The New Yorker sometimes says too much about too little. Too many long pieces are overextended explorations by gifted writers who are very close to narrow topics that may not justify the reading time of many readers. Others — such as lengthy explorations of current news topics — may have a very limited shelf life. (I’m not going to give examples, because my purpose is not to trash specific pieces or writers.)
In sum, The New Yorker strikes me as being a writer’s magazine, but not necessarily a reader’s one.
Of course, my problem with The New Yorker could fairly be recast as The New Yorker‘s problem with my limited attention span and my decidedly middlebrow center of cultural gravity. You see, as much as I’d like to think of myself as the kind of reader who devours each issue in order to be both informed and sufficiently erudite, I am not that person.
Many of my day-to-day interests are of a niche variety, and if The New Yorker‘s chosen deep dive niches don’t match with mine, then I’ll likely flip past them. (To be totally fair, I don’t expect The New Yorker to run pieces about my niches, such as my passion for karaoke or my interest in obscure, defunct professional football leagues.) And I tend to rely on newspapers (online editions, these days) for current news and commentary.
From a lifelong learning perspective, The New Yorker implicates the choices we make about our reading. Given X amount of time available for reading, how much of it do I want to devote to lengthy article Y? Using that calculus, I’m on the fence about renewing my subscription.
In any event, I’m confident that my little critique of The New Yorker will not have a negative impact on its readership. I’m good with that. After all, the magazine stands for quality commentary and stringent editorial standards, at a time when the written word needs such strong support.