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Last Updated: Friday, 28 April 2006, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Under the cover of the New Yorker
Naomi Gryn
Radio 4's Inside the New Yorker

File photograph of Seymour Hersh
Seymour Hersh is one of the most respected journalists in the US

"A weekly variety bill of the printed word and the graphic gag."

That is how AJ Liebling once described The New Yorker where he dazzled readers with masterful prose from the mid-1930s to the 1960s.

The New Yorker's distinguished literary tradition and reputation for editorial integrity makes most writers yearn to be published in it.

So when the magazine's editor, David Remnick, agreed to let me loose in its offices to a week, I felt like Dorothy in the land of Oz, reaching the gates of the Emerald City.

Like the magazine he captains, Mr Remnick has a relaxed humour which underpins his considerable intellect.

Every week, The New Yorker offers a compendium of essays, political comment, fiction, poetry, reviews, listings of New York cultural events and, and the irreverent cartoons that have been a feature of the magazine since its earliest days.

Origins

Its tone is urbane, unapologetically liberal, and driven by its writers' passions. Since 9/11 the political volume of the magazine has increased.

It now devotes more of its resources to reporting world events, making waves internationally with hard news stories such as Seymour Hersh's revelations this month about the Pentagon's plans to strike Iran's nuclear sites.

Editorial meeting about cartoons
Even cartoons are given a rigorous fact-check

Eastern views from its offices at Number 4 Times Square will soon disappear behind the skyscraper under construction next door, but for the moment, from The New Yorker's windows, you can see Reuters, the New York Public Library, and The New York Times.

Two blocks away is the wood-panelled elegance of the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street. Here, over a poker game, The New Yorker was conceived by Harold Ross, a Runyonesque impresario who edited the magazine from its 1925 launch until his death in 1951.

Ross recruited Dorothy Parker and other members of the fabled Algonquin Round Table to create a witty and satirical magazine that would reflect metropolitan life.

It soon became one of the most influential publications in America, attracting the heaviest calibre of writers: James Thurber, Ogden Nash, Isaac Bashevis Singer, S.J. Perlman, Susan Sontag and Philip Roth are all on its list of luminaries.

It was the birthplace of the Addams Family cartoons; extracts from Truman Capote's In Cold Blood were first published in the magazine in 1965.

Search for simplicity

The rigorous attention to detail of The New Yorker's fact-checking department is notorious.

In a culture infested with clichés and platitudes, a culture that has become monolithic yet ever more fragmented, the magazine resists bland conformity

Sixteen eagle-eyed fact-checkers unravel every sentence of every article and test meticulously for accuracy. Even memoirs and short stories.

A recent article about the difficult relationship between the Bush Administration and science was accompanied by a drawing of George Bush erasing scientific equations from a blackboard.

The fact checker made sure that each equation stood up to scientific scrutiny.

Clarity is paramount. Writers and editors collaborate in the belief that there is always a simpler way to say something.

But individuality is not squashed into uniform "house style", it is venerated.

In a culture infested with cliches and platitudes, a culture that has become monolithic yet ever more fragmented, the magazine resists bland conformity.

This is what gives it an authenticity that is disappearing elsewhere as fast as the views from The New Yorker's windows.

Inside the New Yorker will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 1030BST on Saturday 29 April or listen online afterwards at Radio 4's Listen again page.


SEE ALSO:
US rebuts 'Iran covert op' claim
17 Jan 05 |  Americas
Rumsfeld 'backed prisoner abuse'
16 May 04 |  Americas


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