So now he knows.

Ron Charles, fiction editor for the Washington Post‘s Book World, heard from someone he’d identify as a “frequent contributor” to the New Yorker that the magazine was seriously considering a shift to biweekly or monthly publication. Wow! Monday morning he twittered what he’d heard.

About half an hour later, by his estimation, he twittered again. “A staff editor at the New Yorker assures me that TNY is not going bimonthly or monthly. The idea has not been discussed,” he announced, and deleted the original tweet from his file.

In the half hour or so between tweets, the New Yorker rumor had flashed across the country, anguishing New Yorker readers and appalling New Yorker staffers. Charles describes the the New Yorker editor who e-mailed him as someone who holds a “senior” position and was “civil but pissed.” And who pointed out to Charles how unlikely it was that a mere contributor would know such a thing in the first place.

To say the rumor spread virally would be to flatter viruses, which don’t move nearly so fast. Here’s an early retweet — a typical specimen.

When I asked Charles what time he’d originally reported the story he replied emphatically, “I wasn’t reporting.” No, he was merely passing along something he’d heard to some friends.

“This is my first week of twittering,” Charles said. He described himself as feeling “stupid and chastened. It’s all part of getting used to this stuff.”

Charles asked how I intended to handle the story. I said I’d be blogging it — and blogging suddenly felt old school. Charles said that naturally if he’d been blogging about the New Yorker he’d have checked it out first.

Before talking to Charles I sought comment from the New Yorker on the rumor and promptly got back an e-mail from spokesperson Alexa Cassanos. “It’s absolutely untrue, and frustrating that an unsubstantiated rumor is getting any pick-up at all.”

Times are tough.  Cassanos and I talked by phone, and I sent her a link from mourning that a recent 82-page issue of the New Yorker had just under ten pages of ads. But she noticed it was a January issue — the slowest part of the year — and she said that among Conde Nast magazines the New Yorker is in the middle in terms of ad losses. And on the other hand, circulation is up 20 percent since 2001 and the renewal rate is 85 percent and the magazine just led all others with ten nominations for National Magazine Awards.

Cassanos made me feel good when she said I was the first reporter who’d contacted her to find out if Charles’s rumor was true. (A few others have called or emailed the magazine since.)