Via GalleyCat comes the text of New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati‘s keynote address at the 2009 CASE Editors’ Forum. Marzorati talks about standing in line behind a man who is immersed in reading a long Dexter Filkins article from that week’s Magazine, which leads to a discussion of just how much these long form articles cost to produce.
What I am also conveying to you, I think you are sensing, is that that guy with the Blackberry reading Dexter Filkins‘s piece on a tiny screen on a lunch line really got under my skin…On the other hand, he WAS reading the piece, wasn’t he?
And one more thing about Blackberry Dude: He wasn’t paying to read it. He hadn’t bought the Sunday Times. Maybe a Google search had somehow brought him to the piece and he had only the vaguest idea it had appeared in my magazine. Or maybe a friend had e-mailed it to him. Whatever, the fact that reporting of the kind that long-form journalism requires costs lots and lots of money was surely not being communicated out there in Webland. Paying for what now gets called content — that wasn’t cool. But if more and more people were going to be reading on line, and, thus, fewer and fewer people were going to be paying for this kind of journalism, how could it survive? Blackberry Dude, it turned out, was a bigger threat to me than any weirdo fervidly reading Dostoyevsky.
But let me finish a thought here by saying what is required of the writer of such a long-form magazine piece. Always, always, it requires a tremendous amount of reporting. Weeks and weeks of reporting. Hanging out with the subject of your piece, hoping some scene will emerge that because of where it is and what the dialogue is, will reveal that subject. Journeying to all sorts of places, hoping the trip will encounter drama, and meaning. Painstakingly re-creating a moment — like the one when the tsunami hit — through hundreds of interviews. It is arduous, all this reporting. The weeks, the months. And all this time, of course, costs money. A typical cover story in the Times Magazine, when you add up what we pay the author and what the expenses for travel are — and this leaves out the editing and fact-checking costs, the photography, and so on – - the tally is north of $40,000, and often, if a war zone is involved, considerably more. Do we still have the time to report and read such pieces? And will we have the money? If the reader is an on-line reader, paying nothing, who is going to foot the bill?