Journalism is on the back foot. That’s putting it kindly. Hundreds of newspapers and thousands of careers have been consigned to the great media burial ground since the dawning of the digital age. Those still standing operate in a climate of deepening mistrust. From Trump’s America to Erdoğan’s Turkey, demagogues saddled with democratic political systems trumpet their scorn of so-called media elites.
Among those that refuse to die is The New Yorker magazine. Founded in 1925 as a ‘comic weekly’ under Harold Ross, it has proven remarkably durable with its signature blend of long-form journalism, highbrow criticism, poetry, fiction, and humour. I have my doubts about the wisdom of letting out into the world this superb collection of New Yorker pieces from the 1960s. Those were the glory days. In an era when so much ‘content’ is counted in characters, this is like looking at the ruins of the Parthenon and asking, what happened?
The 1960s were a different country. The New Yorker’s pages were stuffed with high-end advertising that paid the bills. Here is one example of how good the good times were when they rolled. In 1959, William Shawn (editor from 1952 to 1987) gave the novelist and essayist James Baldwin an advance to make a trip to Africa. Baldwin was a busy man, so he didn’t make it to Africa until 1962. On coming home, he decided he had more important things to write about than Africa.