In last week’s New York Observer package on the future of magazines, there’s an interesting quote from The New Yorker‘s editor David Remnick: “Let’s say God forbid something awful happened on a Monday. And someone Herculean could write a 5,000-word piece by Wednesday. Could I put that online? I could imagine it. But we are very, very, very rigorously edited and fact-checked… So can I imagine it? It would be very, very exceptional. It wouldn’t be part of the routine in the near future.” It wasn’t routine then either, but on a Monday in 1992, when word circulated that Remnick’s predecessor, Tina Brown, had just been given the job Remnick now holds, Ed Kosner, then-editor of New York magazine, summoned me to lunch and ordered me to produce a cover story on the subject, to close three days later. Yes, it took a day longer than Remnick’s imagined scenario, but the resulting piece, “Tina’s Turn: The New Yorker’s Head Transplant,” published six-and-a-half days after that lunch, was 9,000 words long, very, very, very rigorously edited and fact-checked, and was of high enough quality that the Sunday Times of London later ran it as the cover story of its magazine, too. I didn’t consider it Herculean or exceptional. I thought it was my job. And had there been the internets then, it could have gone online the moment we shipped it to the printer, i.e. on Thursday night. What I find inexpressably sad is that such things are now considered impossible, or at least that’s what another editor at New York told me (“We can’t do that anymore”) shortly before I quit in 2000 to take his advice: “You like writing long. You should write books.” In fact, I like to write short, too; hence this blog. But jeez Louise, the biggest difference in periodical print media between then and now isn’t the advent of online, it’s the loss of editorial spine. If they don’t write ’em and run ’em like that anymore, it’s not because the writers’ skills or ambitions have gotten smaller. To paraphrase Norma Desmond, we’re still big. It’s the magazines that got small.