NEW YORK — Conde Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse named staff writer David Remnick editor of the New Yorker Monday, just hours after withdrawing an offer for the same job from Slate editor Michael Kinsley in an incident bizarre even by Conde Nast standards.
By all accounts, the staff of the New Yorker got the editor it wanted to replace Tina Brown, who quit last week to work with Miramax Films on a multimedia venture.
Remnick, 39, brings a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and a George Polk Award for excellence to one of journalism’s most coveted positions.
Remnick is also a known commodity at the New Yorker, having written more than 100 pieces since he joined the weekly in 1992. The staff cheered when Newhouse made the appointment at a staff meeting Monday morning.
The night before, however, the job belonged to Kinsley, who had been summoned from Slate’s Redmond, Wash., offices to spend the weekend with Newhouse.
According to a memo written by Kinsley and distributed by e-mail to his staff at Slate Monday, Kinsley met with Newhouse at the publisher’s Gotham apartment on Saturday morning.
“We talked there for a couple of hours and at lunch at a nearby restaurant for another hour or so,” Kinsley wrote, “and then he says, ‘How would you react if I offered you X?’
“I say, Are you offering me the job? He says yes. I say I will tell him yes or no within 48 hours. He is unhappy with that, so I say we’ll settle this by first thing Monday morning. (He wants to announce something Monday.)
“He then invites me to dinner with his brother and family. I say I would make a counterproposal at that time.”
At dinner Sunday, Kinsley and Newhouse are joined by S.I.’s brother Donald, the Newhouse wives and a son of each couple.
Kinsley, in his report, continues: “Talk virtually no business. Parting at the restaurant door, I say, I’ll call you first thing tomorrow morning.”
Then, on returning to his hotel 15 minutes later, Kinsley already has a message to call Newhouse. The notoriously capricious publisher has changed his mind, citing Kinsley’s reluctance.
One industry exec speculated Kinsley was nixed by family members after the dinner meeting.
Remnick, meanwhile, is described by insiders as embodying the values of the old New Yorker as much as the new. “He is seen as somebody who will protect the magazine’s traditions,” one said.
One of those traditions, as defined by Craig Unger, a former New Yorker contributor who’s now the editor of Boston magazine, is a commitment to “serious, in-depth narrative reporting. He’s got all that and a sense of history, too.”
An insider added that Remnick was “a very popular guy in the office, very affable.”
Remnick lived up to this billing during his speech at the staff meeting, thanking Brown in a way someone present called very generous.
Newhouse, on presenting the new editor, was flanked by Conde Nast group publisher Steve Florio, who later told magazine staffers that the appointment was handled entirely by Newhouse.
Florio’s expanding role at Conde Nast, which includes taking control of the New Yorker’s infrastructure, was one of the issues that prompted Brown to quit.
The New Yorker has been bleeding money since Newhouse acquired it in 1985, and while Brown had managed to lift circulation, she never got the weekly into the black.
Whether Remnick will bring more of a commercial instinct to the magazine is unclear.
A week ago, however, Newhouse told staffers that the magazine’s editorial budget would not be cut under the new editor and that the New Yorker would stay a weekly.
Newhouse is said to have interviewed several other candidates in the days after Brown quit, but before meeting with Kinsley on Saturday.
Remnick appeared to take all the speculation in stride Monday, even showing his humorous side in his speech to the staff. Reading from a memo by colleague Rik Hertzberg, Remnick said future story ideas would include “lots more Russian coverage” — an allusion to the new editor’s time as a Moscow correspondent for the Washington Post and his Pulitzer-winning tome “Lenin’s Tomb.”
Remnick joined the New Yorker after 10 years at the Washington Post, where he most recently served as Moscow correspondent. He has written three other books, including the forthcoming “King of the World,” which examines the life of a young Muhammad Ali.
In a release, Newhouse described his newest top editor as “one of the first people Tina Brown hired.”
Newhouse also noted that, for a few years, Remnick has been “a consulting editor, one whose judgment was integral to major editorial decisions and to the development of special issues.” The comment was seen by some as an attempt to allay fears about Remnick’s limited hands-on editorial experience.
Others said Remnick would stand out from other editors in the Conde Nast empire by what he is not.
“He’s not in the Tina Brown, Graydon Carter or Anna Wintour out-on-the-town mode,” a close observer explained. “He lets his work speak for himself.”
Other than the release, Newhouse declined further comment. Through an associate, Kinsley said he would have a public statement on his return to Redmond.
(Martin Peers contributed to this story.)