Remnick could heal magazine Feuds: A Pulitzer-winning writer has the power to unite a deeply divided New Yorker.

July 14, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- The factions and feuds that have tried the soul of the nation's most prestigious magazine for the past six years may soon come to an end.

That was how the New York publishing world received the news yesterday that Pulitzer Prize winner David Remnick -- the most acclaimed writer that Tina Brown hired during her six years as editor of the New Yorker magazine -- had been named as her successor.

Brown is the one who engendered those feuds. The Old Guard, who worked for or simply cherished the New Yorker of the 1960s and '70s under William Shawn -- serious, restrained, deeply literary -- lambasted Brown as a betrayer of the tradition, a vulgarian obsessed with glitz, glamour and power-profiles.

The Young Turks, on the other hand, who escorted Brown on her ascension, lauded her as a fresh force who brought zip and energy to what they felt was becoming -- especially under Shawn's successor, Robert Gottlieb -- an increasingly stodgy tome.

All last week, after Brown announced she would be quitting the job to run a multi-media enterprise for the Miramax film-production company, the factions and their acolytes -- who abound in nearly every quarter of the media business -- have been buzzing about who would replace Tina and in which direction the new New Yorker, under only its fifth editor in 73 years, would spin.

Remnick's appointment, which takes effect Aug. 1, came as a surprise. the New York Post, which had been running a handicapper's sheet on the subject every day, put his odds at 15-to-1. But yesterday, it seemed, everyone, on all sides of the Tina Brown struggle, reacted with delight.

Charles McGrath, editor of the New York Times Book Review -- and a former deputy editor of the New Yorker under Shawn, Gottlieb, and Brown -- was typical in his enthusiasm, calling Remnick "the best possible choice" for the job, the one person who might span all factions.

"He will know, perhaps more than anybody else," McGrath said, "what aspects of the old New Yorker and the new New Yorker are worth salvaging and scuttling."

Remnick, in a phone interview, said, "I do have ideas for changes, some of them quite radical, but it's not Year Zero." He declined to elaborate, noting, "I haven't been editor for four hours yet."

Remnick, 39, first made his mark as the Washington Post's Moscow reporter during the final years of the Soviet Union, and won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for "Lenin's Tomb," a book about that era.

He caught Brown's eye with an article he wrote about Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for Vanity Fair while Brown was editor of that magazine. Around the same time, he also wrote a piece about the fall of the Soviet Union for Gottlieb's New Yorker. When Brown was hired to replace Gottlieb in 1992, Remnick was one of her first hires and has remained, ever since, a key and -- among the rest of the staff -- highly popular figure in her inner circle.

Remnick has never been an editor, unless one counts a year as the editor of his high-school newspaper in New Jersey.

However, Hendrik Hertzberg, a senior editor at the New Yorker during Brown's entire reign, said yesterday, "To a degree that is highly unusual for a writer, David was involved in editorial consulting, decision-making, meetings. Tina put a lot of stock in his judgment and advice. Almost every day, she asked his advice about pieces, people, ideas for the direction of the magazine. And he edited pieces. He edited some of my pieces."

At the same time, though, Remnick's interests and tastes are known to be broader -- more global and more literary -- than Brown's.

Anne Fadiman, editor of the American Scholar, said, "It's quite exciting that they picked someone who's a writer, not an editor. This is a vote for literary quality."

Remnick graduated from Princeton University with a degree in comparative literature. He started out at the Post as a sports writer, moved speedily to the Style section, the Sunday magazine, then to Moscow. In his time at The New Yorker, he has written more than 100 pieces, not only about Russia -- which he has revisited many times -- but also about subjects as far-flung as race relations, poetry, religion, and boxing.

His next book, "King of the World," to be published this fall, is about Muhammad Ali.

"He's interested in everything, he reads everything," Benjamin Bradlee, who hired Remnick while he was the Post's editor, said yesterday. "I think he's a terrific choice. I just hope he knows what he's getting into."

Remnick comes to the helm at a crossroads moment for the New Yorker -- not only in terms of its identity, but also of its commercial viability. Although Brown raised the magazine's circulation from 500,000 to 800,000, it lost money -- $11 million last year alone.

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