Preventing errors from appearing in the magazine is not a simple process. For openers, you need to know that in addition to the basic reporting pieces, we also check “The Talk of the Town,” the critics, fiction, poetry, cartoons, art, captions, the table of contents, certain of the several-paragraph-long essays in the “Goings On” section. We also fact-check the contributors page, the cover wrap, the letters column, all the press releases, and a good deal of the recently mounted Web site.
To start checking a nonfiction piece, you begin by consulting the writer about how the piece was put together and using the writer’s sources as well as our own departmental sources. We then essentially take the piece apart and put it back together again. You make sure that the names and dates are right, but then if it is a John McPhee piece, you make sure that the USGS report that he read, he read correctly; or if it is a John le Carré piece, when he says his con man father ran for Parliament in 1950, you make sure that it wasn’t 1949 or 1951.
Or if we describe the basis on which the FDA approved or disapproved the medical tests that ImClone used for Erbitux, then you need to find out what the complexities of that whole situation were. And of course, this kind of thing has consequences, because if you get it wrong, it matters. We also work on complicated pieces such as the ones we’ve been running this fall about the Pentagon’s top-secret team that is trained to snatch nukes away from belligerent countries, or the piece about the Predator drone that had a clear shot at Mullah Omar, for better or for worse, and didn’t take the shot because the CENTCOM attorneys were not clear on the legality of that operation.
Back in 2002, New Yorker fact-checking director Peter Canby gave a lecture at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism about… fact-checking The New Yorker. The lecture is now a chapter in The Art of Making Magazines: On Being an Editor and Other Views from the Industry, an anthology released this September from this and similar Columbia lectures given over the years.
Peter Canby, Columbia Journalism Review. Fact-checking at The New Yorker.
But why would a writer as accomplished as Lehrer become this much of a copy/paste addict? Because he has ceased to be a writer. With the success of his recent books How We Decide and Imagine: How Creativity Works, Lehrer has moved into the idea business. This is the world of TED talks and corporate lectures, a realm in which your thoughts are your product. For the idea man, the written word is just one of many mediums for conveying your message and building your brand.
Sometimes something is too provocative or too sexist or too racist but it will inspire a line of thinking that will help develop an image that is publishable.
Françoise Mouly, Art Editor, the New Yorker, on how she works with artists on the magazine’s covers. Secrets of the New Yorker cover.
Mouly’s just published a book called Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See, that shows rejected work and the sketches made in the process of arriving at the covers that ended being used.