Special Edition: The Top Twenty-five New Yorker Stories of 2023

Thanks to Michael Luo, here is a direct link to the articles in The New Yorker in 2023 that sustained the longest hold on readers during a year when many avoided the news.

Illustration Credit: Bryce Wymer

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News exhaustion is a miasma that has afflicted almost all of us for some time now. We’re drained by the physical and mental exertion that comes with following current events. The state of alarm––over American democracy, the pandemic, the climate, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and myriad smaller crises––has been near-constant. Our cortisol levels have been elevated for far too long. A recent report by the Pew Research Center traced news-consumption levels back to the months preceding the Trump Presidency. In March, 2016, fifty-one per cent of adults in the United States said that they followed the news “all or most of the time.” That share fell to thirty-eight per cent in August, 2022, the last time the center collected responses. During the same period, the number of people who said that they hardly ever follow the news nearly doubled, to nine per cent.

I’ve been the editor of newyorker.com since early 2017 and have, naturally, paid close attention to our readers’ habits. The list of the most popular New Yorker stories of 2023, as measured by “engaged minutes”—the total amount of time readers spent on them—is striking to me for what is missing. No war in Gaza. No Trump. No politics. The top story is a true-crime tale by James Lasdun, about the Murdaugh murders in South Carolina. Some other stories that made the top ten: an investigation by Heidi Blake into the fugitive princesses of Dubai; a quirky argument against travel by the philosopher Agnes Callard; and an exploration, by Nathan Heller, of the declining enrollment in the humanities at colleges across the country.

Certainly, there were stories on the list that were tied to major news events. Take Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Elon Musk, or Ben Taub’s meticulous examination of the Titan submersible implosion, or Luke Mogelson’s harrowing dispatch from the Donbas region, in Ukraine. The fiction writer Ted Chiang’s essay comparing ChatGPT to a “blurry JPEG of all the text on the Web” illuminated one of the year’s biggest stories in tech news. More typical of this year’s list, however, was Margaret Talbot’s riveting account of a middle-aged photojournalist’s quest to uncover what happened to her as a child, when she was confined in a mysterious villa in Austria and subjected to disturbing experiments, or D. T. Max’s probing of the web of deceit woven by the acclaimed late novelist H. G. Carrillo. These were the kinds of stories that broke through the relentlessly dire headlines. They yanked readers in and refused to let go.

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