Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
What (if anything) do Facebook’s News Feed changes mean for fake news?
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Sept. 14, 2015, 9:30 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

There is a solution to the problem of your giant stack of unread New Yorker magazines

Help arrives in the form of targeted curation — a new email newsletter, The New Yorker Minute.

The New Yorker was never a quick read, but nowadays it seems to take longer to get through an issue than ever. There’s just so much other content out there, and it would really be best to sit down with The New Yorker at a specific time — I mean, it’s the only print magazine you still get, and it’s so venerable, so why not pay it its due? But oh god, suddenly there’s another one in your mailbox — surely a week hasn’t passed? Isn’t it about time for another one of those double issues that skips a week? Welp, add it to the stack. It will be so great to get caught up with all those! Maybe next weekend!

kQTMdrbWIf you’re okay with not reading all of every issue (I mean, the alternative appears to be reading none of any issue), there’s a solution to this — and it’s a marker of one kind of solution to that most contemporary of problems, reading overload. It’s a new email newsletter, The New Yorker Minute, which quietly launched in July and made its Twitter debut earlier this month. The newsletter is written by four people who are choosing to stay anonymous, perhaps because they don’t want to get on David Remnick’s bad side. (“On its own, it’s just blah—an encomium that says more about Remnick than subject Jon Stewart. But consider that what could have occupied this space is Jelani Cobb on the one-year anniversary of Ferguson, and it’s enraging.”)

That’s the most satisfying thing about The New Yorker Minute (well, aside from the David vs. Goliath type of satisfaction). It actually provides informed criticism, beyond the snarky hot takes so common on the Internet, in a highly digestible format that allows you to guiltlessly shirk the burden of getting through an entire issue. (Matt Thomas does something similar for the similarly print-imposing Sunday New York Times.)

I mean, The New Yorker Minute even has poetry criticism! That is fun to read! From a recent issue:

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 4.29.11 PM

And the cartoons do not escape criticism.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 4.30.37 PM

In some cases, articles get a longer look. Here is part of The New Yorker Minute’s judgment of that much-criticized Darren Wilson profile:

What I think the magazine tried to do, though, was a profile that gave the subject enough rope to tie himself. Halpern has the raw material for that, too: when he intersperses Wilson’s obtuseness about race in the first city he served in with quotes from his so-called mentor, who saw the racism clearly; when Wilson, time and again, reveals that he has absolutely no interest in treating Michael Brown or any other black resident of Ferguson as a human being worthy of his attention. Halpern doesn’t come out and say that Darren Wilson is a tremendous racist. But it’s a ready inference to draw.

The anti-profile is technically very difficult to write, because the genre is so powerfully humanizing. If you do not succeed, you fail painfully. That is what happened here. Lots of conventions that would be innocuous in any other piece here feel like tipping the scales in Wilson’s favor: describing him offhandedly as a ‘former Boy Scout,’ not to mention the soft-focus photo and the title. (And take a minute to consider how differently someone will come to this piece from the newsstand, where the flyleaf promotes it as ‘The Man Who Shot Michael Brown,’ and from the website.)

I interviewed “Tilly Minute,” the pseudonymous editor of the newsletter, via email.

Laura Hazard Owen: Who are you and how many of you are there? How do you divide up the work?

Tilly Minute: There are four of us, each operating under a pseudonym. The division of labor is straightforward. @dntsqzthchrmn handles our poetry reviews. Constance Reader (Connie) does fiction. The Old Lady from Dubuque (Lady) reviews cartoons (and helps me out when there’s a visual feature like a photo portfolio). I, Tilly Minute, write the rest.

LO: What can you tell me about your day jobs and locations?

TM: Some, but not all, of us are in media. Some, but not all, of us live in New York. None of us work for The New Yorker. As far as I know.

LO: How quickly does the newsletter come out after the new issue comes out?

TM: New issues come out Monday mornings online; the newsletter goes out Wednesday evenings. I’ve recently learned many people get the print edition earlier than Thursday; I apologize to them for having to let the magazine sit for a few days before knowing what they need to read.

LO: I know that the newsletter has been around since July, but you went “public” recently on Twitter and, I assume, got a whole bunch of new subscribers. How many subscribers do you guys have now?

TM: We’re growing so fast that any number I give you would be outdated! I will say that TinyLetter caps subscriptions at 5,000, and we’re still using TinyLetter.

LO: Do you have a sense of who your subscribers are?

TM: The only thing I know about them is that many of them are extremely eager to read our newsletter.

LO: What kinds of reactions have you gotten?

TM: Simple gratitude and relief.

LO: The complaint about unread New Yorkers piling up is so common it’s kind of a cliche by now. As far as you know, has anybody tried to do something like this before? And what do you think it is about The New Yorker that forces people to want to read all of it, whereas they don’t do so with lots of other similar-ish publications?

TM: It’s not unique to The New Yorker. We’ve gotten requests for, inter alia, The New York Review of Books and The Economist. The utopian hope is that this project will inspire other people to do the same for the magazines they actually read every week. Like that community at the end of Fahrenheit 451, but with magazines.

LO: You tweeted: “If you are reading less of the New Yorker than before you subscribed, we’re doing something wrong.” Isn’t that kind of the point, though, to free people from their guilt and struggling through stories they don’t care about?

TM: I don’t think there are that many people who read the whole magazine every week, but I don’t want to change their habits! I’m looking out for those who get the magazine every week, but can’t read the whole thing. I imagine instead of saving people from struggling through pieces they won’t enjoy, we’re saving them from avoiding the pieces they will enjoy just because they don’t have time for the rest.

LO: How concerned are you that you will point people to read things on topics that you yourselves are already interested in, rather than analyzing them more critically or broadly?

TM: I don’t mind being idiosyncratic. We’re presenting ourselves as interested readers, not as authorities. But the biggest struggle for me as a pseudonymous reviewer is the temptation to be much harsher on articles when I’m familiar with the topic. I have to mitigate that.

LO: There is so much content coming at us all the time now, and there have been a variety of ways that people try to deal with this (aggregating, linking, and so on), but the newsletter format does seem to work particularly well for this. Why?

TM: My pet theory: RSS did this quite well, and RSS has been abandoned by most major entities (R.I.P., Google Reader), so newsletters have emerged to fill the gap.

You can subscribe to The New Yorker Minute here.

Photo of New Yorker issues by Tom Small used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Sept. 14, 2015, 9:30 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Aggregation & Discovery
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 45,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What (if anything) do Facebook’s News Feed changes mean for fake news?
Plus: Lessons from Bolivia and Slovakia, and what’s the reach of fake news in the EU?
Newsonomics: NPR’s Ross Levinsohn scoop delivers a double blow to Tronc
The Tronc rollercoaster continues: Just as it tries to unveil a familiar strategy (“gravitas with scale”!), its top digital leader’s past catches up with him.
Media companies should open up an HQ2
If it’s good enough for Amazon, why not for news publishers? Trade in your New York rent for a wider, subway-phobic pool of talent.