Timely Ledes From This Summer's New Yorkers
They're all dated for your reading safety.
Upon becoming editor of The New Yorker, Tina Brown dredged from its harbor tons of silt deposited there by the magazine's longtime chief, William Shawn, during his 36-year reign. Brown decreed that stories be newsy and that cover illustrations be relevant. She introduced photography and adrenalin to the magazine's pages, hired new blood, and proclaimed the end of The New Yorker's traditional "50,000-word piece on zinc."
But one New Yorker tic endures: The lede weighed down by a date. The purest expression of this New Yorker tradition came in a June 18, 1984, feature titled "The Staffs of Life: 1—The Golden Thread," by E.J. Kahn Jr., which commences:
When the New England farmer and botanist Edward Sturtevant retired, in 1887, as head of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, in Geneva, he left behind a bulky manuscript that was published in 1919, twenty-one years after his death, as "Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants."
Peeved by the date bloat, Michael Kinsley wrote at the time, "Even supposing we need to know about Dr. Sturtevant's book, when it was published, and when the good doctor died, why do we need to know when he retired?"
Defenders of the dated lede say that such time markers provide readers with an anchor to help them weather the whirl of data about to wash over them. The date pileup assures readers that there will be no narrative surprises, that all to be revealed will first be foreshadowed. Plus, it gives the fact-checking department something to check! Detractors heave phooey on the magazine's devotion to straight chronology and dismiss the dated lede as "once-upon-a-time" hackwork. They yearn for magazines that refuse to script linear TripTiks.
Setting all editorial preferences aside, here are nearly two dozen dated ledes from this summer's New Yorkers for your inspection. And to think that summer isn't even over. ...
In 1835, Georg Büchner, a young sometime medical student, began to write "Lenz," a story that inhabits the schizophrenic breakdown of the eighteenth-century poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz.
—"She's Not Herself: A first novel about marriage and madness," by James Wood, June 23, 2008
The Presidential flight of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which had been aloft for nearly a year, began its descent stage on January 3, 2008, somewhere over Iowa.
—"Exhillaration," by Hendrik Hertzberg, June 23, 2008
On March 16, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President.
—Short uncredited review of The Last Campaign, June 23, 2008
It was nearly midnight before Keith Olbermann left the NBC News election studio on May 13th, having spent five hours on the air, co-anchoring coverage of the West Virginia Democratic primary.
—"One Angry Man; Is Keith Olbermann changing TV news?" by Peter J. Boyer, June 23, 2008