Against the Tyranny of New

Saw Sidney Lumet’s new film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” at BAM today (and my attempt at a review will materialize in this space shortly, I hope). On the way to the theater, I stopped in for a quick visit with a friend who is fortunate enough to have professional reasons for spending time inside the offices of the Atlantic, where he heard scuttlebutt of William Greider’s Dec. 1981 feature on David Stockman, Reagan’s budget director. The talk, specifically, was that the article is fantastic — and my pal was nice enough to furnish me with a photocopy.

And this got me thinking about newness and how terribly we overvalue the new, particularly in the realm of journalism. Of course, it’s not for nothing that we call them newspapers, etc. etc. But when it comes to august magazines with long legacies of top-notch work (New Yorker, Atlantic, Playboy, Esquire, Rolling Stone), the rise of the Internet has not coincided with a parallel revival of out-of-date-yet-semi-legendary articles. Sure, you can find confirmed classics like “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” online, but who is out there aggregating and recirculating the far more numerous minor masterpieces?

In part, I imagine, this is a business-model issue: the New Yorker, for instance, has reserved the lion’s share of it’s archive for sale as a DVD set. Others, like the Atlantic, only let subscribers into what exists of its online archive. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think you’d do better business with online ads tied to open archives — I know I’d click through a fullscreen ad if it meant access to any out-of-date magazine feature I so desired.

In an open archive world, I’d hope to see the rise of a whole subset of archive bloggers. But even with most of it’s old material locked on DVDs, it seems the New Yorker already leads the way: My Atlantic buddy also tipped me off about Emdashes, a NYer-centric blog that seems at least somewhat in line with the archive-scouring approach I’m looking for.

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