With layoffs, cutbacks and buyouts everywhere else, the New Yorker is probably the only magazine around that's actually hiring. Kelefa Sanneh and Ariel Levy are joining the magazine, making them respectively the second black guy and first out lesbian on staff. The two are expected to report, presumably on cultural trends. And with these hires, the New Yorker is taking an aggressive step to up their cool quotient.
In the past three weeks, the only must-read story to appear in the New Yorker was a letter to the editor complaining about the scientific impossibility of the way sunlight was depicted in Grand Central on a recent cover. After a post-Tina Brown smartening up of the magazine, they've ended up with articles about how the brain understands numbers and profiles of turgid Upper East Siders. While their political coverage and war reportage is still respected, the New Yorker is trying once again to ditch their boring reputation.
Along with now publishing four letter words, the magazine is actively mocking their institutional stodginess. Covers now feature hipster nipples. In the cartoon issue, the editors responded to former New Yorker EIC Harold Ross's question "what's so funny about red?" with five cartoons about red.
At the New York Times and New York, Kelefa Sanneh and Ariel Levy both proved to be brilliant at explaining Youth Culture to The Olds (the mission of cultural reporting for Old Media) and appealing to younger audiences. Sannah's most famous piece for the Times might still be his attempt to define "rockism" in music criticism, and Levy's most famous work—besides the Dash Snow "introducing 'the new downtown' to the Old Downtown" New York cover—is Female Chauvinist Pigs, her investigation into and castigation of the post-feminist culture that produced Girls Gone Wild and gave Playboy a female editor. All those stories were debated, linked, discussed, and dissected on websites and blogs that reach very attractive demographics.
If Sanneh and Levy each contribute one or two pieces of must-read of cultural reporting a year, they'll build internet buzz (and ad bucks!) while maybe even raising the New Yorker's subscription base. Buying four issues at the newsstand is almost the same cost as subscribing. And with the cartoons, and the venerable brand, even when the New Yorker is bad, it's still worth getting.
Plus now when David Remnick goes to parties, he'll be to tell all his Upper West Side friends with that he's down with black people and lesbians.