The New Yorker's Great Wall of Silence

Dan Baum chronicled the loss of his New Yorker gig on Twitter. His story—and the New Yorker's own reaction—is a great reminder that America's best magazine still runs itself like a secret society.

We talked to Dan Baum on the phone today. He told us the story of the last time he talked to Gawker—in 2007, after the magazine decided not to renew his contract. When we "revealed" that NYer writers are on one-year contract, Pam McCarthy, the New Yorker editor who deals with writers and their contracts, sent Baum some rather passive-aggressive emails, culminating in her allowance that well, if speaking to Gawker helped him sell books, then she could forgive that "there was a bit more there about how we do contracts" than she would like.

Which raises the question: What the fuck does the New Yorker care if the unwashed public knows they give out yearly contracts? A year later Baum took to Twitter and gave out way more details about his own contracts there, down to the dollars-per-word. "We're all reporters" ostensibly dedicated to openness, Baum said. "I just think it's hilarious that this created such a stir...It's a magazine. It is not an organ of state security. It is not a sacred temple."

Of course, the New Yorker has always been insulated and touchy. That was part of its "charm!" Tom Wolfe pointed this out decades ago in a story called "Tiny Mummies!" which made fun of the magazine in its William Shawn days. The opening words:

"Omerta! Sealed Lips! Sealed lips, ladies and gentlemen. We are editing the New Yorker magazine, Harold Ross's New Yorker. We are not running a panopticon. Not exactly!"

Even then, secrecy for absurd reasons was a given. As was an inexplicable fervor amongst the magazine's priesthood!

The New Yorker was in a class by itself. One went to work there and one—how does one explain it?—began to get a kind of...religious feeling about the place. There were already a lot of...traditions.

And those traditions remain! After Wolfe's piece ran he was bombarded with condemnation from a long list of the magazine's most famous writers. Although there was also quite a bit of "Don't dish it out if you can't take it" reaction towards the New Yorker, which enjoyed publishing takedown pieces.

So, some things never change: The New Yorker is insular, easily offended, and America's best magazine, and even though you know all about their contracts now, you still can't get a job there.