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'Long-form is alive'

The New Yorker editor on why life can't be fitted in 140 characters. Antara Das writes.

books Updated: Jan 20, 2012 19:12 IST
Antara Das, Hindustan Times

Guessing might be the lowest form of journalism, but David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, hazarded one on the first day of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Remnick, whose book The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama was published in 2010, predicted that the incumbent US president Barack Obama might still win the 2012 presidential elections. Beneath the white awnings of what is grandiosely called the Mughal Tent, packed to capacity with people craning their necks for a view of the journalist, a few hands broke out in a limp clap. The session had been titled as 'The Disappointment of Obama' - and not many seemed to be happy to let that disappointment go to waste.

Remnick, of course, elaborates on his guess. "When it comes to seriousness of purpose, science, thoughtfulness, not taking the American people for granted, this is about as good as it gets," he said. One has to remember the circumstances under which Obama took office, he said. It included being close to a Depression situation, the war in Iraq, another war in Afghanistan , and an endorsement of the use of torture. "A huge amount of that has been reversed," he added.

Of course, the "clown show" in the Republican Party was only helping matters, said the Pulitzer-winning jouranlist. The party was ageing, as was America's white population. "As the United States was becoming more ethnically various - which was both the genius and the reality of the country - it made certain people anxious," he said. Along with economic troubles was the question of America's place in the world. "To listen to the Republicans go on and on about American exceptionalism… it's as if nobody is reading a newspaper."

"It is shocking that the Republicans are not serious," Remnick tells me later. "I may not have agreed with [former US president] Ronald Reagan, but the set of ideas that he represented was vivid and vital. I don't know what those ideas are anymore, other than rejectionism," he says. And " lowering taxes and lowering taxes," he adds as an afterthought.

This is Remnick's second visit to India, and the last time he visited he was 22 years old. It is a good thing for an editor to go out, he says, "away from the well-worn groove between apartment and office". "I cannot presume to report in India though," he adds.

The journalist in Remnick feels that the days of long-form journalism are hardly over. "The web has given birth to a new 'short form' like blogs, diaries, or tweets. But there is a real place for depth and investigation."

"Life cannot be encapsulated in 140 characters," he says, "and it will be a tragic abdication of mind and journalism to see it [long-form journalism] wither."

First Published: Jan 20, 2012 19:12 IST