By: Rob Tornoe
The New Yorker, known throughout the field of journalism for its erudite take on politics and humor, tweeted earlier this month, “As much as President Obama wants us to call Mitt Romney ‘Romney Hood,’ I’m going to stick with my nickname for him, ‘F–king Asshat.’”
Actually, it wasn’t a New Yorker tweet per se — it was sent by the New Yorker’s new high-profile columnist Andy Borowitz, the comedian and writer behind the immensely popular Borowitz Report.
The New Yorker acquired the Borowitz Report in July as part of a larger effort to launch a humor vertical on newyorker.com, which, according to editor Nick Thompson, will steer clear of the cute cat stuff so prevalent on the Internet.
So how did Borowitz, who by all accounts was doing terrifically on his own, end up with the New Yorker?
“It was their idea,” Borowitz said. “David Remnick and Susan Morrison, who edits me at the magazine, approached me about doing it a couple of months ago. They made a very strong financial offer, and the deal came together quickly.”
Thompson said that many editors at the New Yorker, including Morrison and Remnick, had long considered Borowitz the funniest guy on the Internet and were already addicted to the comedian’s Twitter feed, which he updates with topical jokes and off-color remarks many times throughout the day.
Borowitz is now the centerpiece of the New Yorker’s new humor page, called Shouts & Murmurs after the popular magazine feature. It is a showcase for the magazine’s popular essays as well as original blog posts. Not only is it a spotlight for the New Yorker’s stable of writers and big-name comedians, it also offers staffers an opportunity to showcase their humor chops, including fact checker Nathan Stein.
“One of my absolute favorite things about Mitt is the way he constantly inhales oxygen and expels carbon dioxide and water vapor,” Stein wrote on the blog, in the character of Romney’s wife, Ann. “And if there’s one thing I know about Mitt, it’s this: He’s going to keep on respirating, no matter what. He’s incorrigible.”
I can’t help but think newspapers, once again, have missed the boat. After all, political cartoons were created at American newspapers, and political satire of all kinds has a long and storied history in their inky gray pages.
While newspaper companies have largely cut their humor writers and political cartoonists as competition for advertising revenue became fierce, anyone with a Facebook account knows how popular humor and satire is online.
The reasons newspapers have shied away aren’t due solely to budget cuts or a retrenching into core avenues of journalism, although there is certainly some of that. Thompson said he thinks newspapers by and large still seem to have great difficulty leveraging their brands in the modern world of social networking.
“We can post Borowitz’s pieces on the homepage, and they do OK. But most of the traffic comes from social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, because humor is such a viral and social phenomena,” Thompson said. “For humor to be a financial success, media companies need to work on and develop a deep integration with social media, something that the New Yorker has excelled with.”
Borowitz had previously syndicated his columns to newspapers through Creator’s Syndicate. But once he decided to sever ties and make his website the main destination for the Borowitz Report, traffic grew explosively, which eventually led to the New Yorker deal.
“This was a case of me stumbling my way to a happy result,” Borowitz said. “The Internet has got newspapers beat in terms of velocity. I can tweet a fake headline, write the story in 10 minutes, and publish that story in 15 minutes. It’s hard to compete with that in print.”
The timing of the deal couldn’t have been better for Borowitz. After digging his teeth into the Olympics, the stage is now set for the national political conventions and the 2012 presidential election.
Despite media predictions in 2008 that proclaimed the end of political humor due to the election of President Obama, Borowitz has thrived.
“What surprised me about the Obama White House was how his enemies — and they are legion — provided such great fodder,” Borowitz said. “Fox News, John Boehner, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, the birthers, the tea party … I could go on. I don’t think there’s ever a shortage of material when you’re writing about politics.”
So, would Borowitz be happy if a certain Massachusetts Republican were elected president?
“Mitt Romney seems like comedy gold to me,” Borowitz said. “I’m not sure that’s a reason to let him run the country, though.”
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor & Publisher and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.