The New Yorker, the middlebrow and the periodical marketplace in 1925

Hammill, Faye (2015) The New Yorker, the middlebrow and the periodical marketplace in 1925. In: Writing for the New Yorker. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 17-35. ISBN 9780748682492

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Abstract

The New Yorker is saturated with references to, and quotations from, other magazines and newspapers, and with gossip about editors, reporters and press magnates. This is especially noticeable in its earliest years, from 1925 to 1929, when it was establishing itself and negotiating its relationship with the American periodical marketplace. This chapter will explore the way that The New Yorker mediates the whole range of the New York press, thereby constructing and addressing a readership which is both consciously sophisticated and firmly middlebrow - in the sense of knowingly engaged with both elite and popular culture, without being fully aligned with either. One of Ralph Barton's 1925 New Yorker cartoon features included a picture of a powerful newspaper editor, captioned: Colonel Frank Hause — who, as editor of the Daily News, produces a newspaper which (along with its sister luminaries of the Fourth Estate, Graphic and the Mirror) presents the news in the luscious form in which it is discussed over our best dinner tables by the people who read the Times. High-society New Yorkers, Barton suggests, may only ever be seen reading quality papers, yet they know a surprising amount about the contents of the tabloids. In fact, The New Yorker itself offered readers access to daily papers and lowbrow magazines through its surveys of, and quotations from, the popular press. Readers could discover the sensational events and sordid places of the city without having to compromise their reputation as sophisticates by actually buying the Daily News or the Mirror. At the other end of the cultural scale, Janet Flanner and other columnists commented regularly on American coterie magazines such as Poetry and The Little Review, and on those published by expatriates in Paris and circulated in New York (the transatlantic review and transition). The New Yorker's audience could thus become familiar with the new publications and current debates of the modernist elite without being at the trouble of trying to decipher the work of Stein or Joyce. The third element of The New Yorker's response to print culture of the city is its part-admiring, part-mocking commentary on its direct competitors, particularly Vanity Fair and The American Mercury. The New Yorker was influenced by both the other titles, and its references to these magazines and their editors work both to reinforce its place in the sophisticated world of these smart magazines and to differentiate it from its rivals. This essay will draw on regular columns and features including "The Talk of the Town", "Reporter at Large", "Paris Letter" and "Heroes of the Week", in which The New Yorker negotiates its relationship (and its readers' relationships) with other periodicals, journalists and editors. In the course of the discussion, I will tease out the complex relationship between "sophistication" and "middlebrow", concluding with a comment on the broader implications of my argument for the study of the middle range of periodical culture.