Skip to comments.The Tina Brown Turnaround (Dinosaur Media DeathWatch™)
Posted on 11/17/2010 6:30:53 AM PST by abb
Tina Brown was in a state. It was Tuesday morning, Nov. 9, and the Daily Beast editor was in Barry Diller's office at IAC headquarters on the West Side. Talks with Sidney Harman about merging the site with his recently acquired Newsweek were back on--big time--and to Ms. Brown, they teetered on the brink of inevitability. "Oh my God," she thought. "This is really going to happen."
"We don't want to do this!" Ms. Brown and Beast president Stephen Colvin told Mr. Diller. The IAC chairman, who wanted a deal, asked them to reconsider. Go off and sit in a room together, he said. Think about it. No pressure. Then come back in an hour.
Off Ms. Brown and Mr. Colvin went. They talked. They paced. They called Sir Harold Evans, Ms. Brown's husband. She downed a tuna sandwich and a Sprite Zero.
Finally, they began to come around, Ms. Brown recalled in an interview with The Observer. "Let's take overwork out of it," she said to Mr. Colvin. "Let's take a late night out of it." She felt the two-year strain of starting a Web site from scratch, and knew what their fatigue would be if they took on rescuing Newsweek, too. If they could put all that aside, did a deal with an ailing 77-year-old magazine make any sense?
We dont want to do this! Ms. Brown and Beast president Stephen Colvin told Mr. Diller. The IAC chairman, who wanted a deal, asked them to reconsider.
The thing was ... it did. The print-ad market was coming back. Newsweek's name would add credibility as the Beast grew. And the world of magazine pages, Ms. Brown's old stomping ground, beckoned. She was the first to give in--on the condition that Mr. Colvin, the former CEO of Dennis Publishing in the United States, had to be in as well. Soon their hour was up.
"Are we on or are we not?" she asked.
Editor and executive looked at each other. Then they shook hands.
Back in his office, Mr. Diller showed none of the emotion that presumably accompanies the imminent commingling of two money-hemorrhaging institutions. "Good," he said. "We'll see Sidney at 4 o'clock."
MR. HARMAN CAME to them that afternoon, the type of old-school gesture the Beast trio had come to expect from the 92-year-old throwback. But Mr. Harman also had no choice.
Since Newsweek was put on the block in May, it had lost its editor, the editor of its international editions, the editor-at-large, the senior Washington correspondent, the diplomatic correspondent, the executive editor, two editorial directors, two deputy editors, the economics editor, the economics correspondent, two lead investigative reporters, the White House reporter, an international editor and a spokesman; plus the Web site's editor, general manager, managing editor and three articles editors; and other staffers. (Disclosure: I am one of the departed. I worked at Newsweek until Oct. 29. For this piece, I relied on public information and reporting done after that date.) The CEO left last week, and the Washington bureau chief and two interim co-editors will depart at year's end. It has been a near-total bloodletting.
To save the magazine, Mr. Harman needed a star editor in chief--and during a long search process, none of the A-, B- or C-list candidates he and his small circle of advisers considered had the same voltage as Ms. Brown, the legendary editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Talk. When talks with the Daily Beast broke down for the first time in October and he appeared to have no backup plan, Mr. Harman took a beating in the press, memorably forgetting the word "dinosaur" in a New York profile. "This kind of glare is rare. I'm not quite used to it," Mr. Harman told the Newsweek staff on Friday, at a meeting announcing that the deal had gone through after all. (The Observer broke the news of the merger Thursday night.) In the end, the audio-gear magnate-turned-philanthropist got whom he wanted.
He'll have his hands full. At the same Newsweek meeting, Ms. Brown took the floor from Mr. Harman to address her new staff for the first time. When she noted that she was the first woman editor of the newsmagazine, everyone applauded. Mr. Harman reached out a hand and touched her shoulder; Ms. Brown, no stranger to the clutching of rich, older men who want her to edit their magazines, ever so skillfully reached up and plucked Mr. Harman's hand away.
So how will the whirlwind that is Ms. Brown fit into the culture of Newsweek? In the Daily Beast's short life, the staff has grown accustomed to her tics. For about 21 hours of every day, someone is on call to answer her late-night/early-morning email blasts on random topics (1:21 a.m., Jan. 22, to 30 or so people: "Can u tell me where exactly Bhutan is?"). In April 2009, 11 people were enlisted to help prepare Ms. Brown for a quartet of TV appearances. It is not a coincidence that her assistant, Lena Jensen, was a contestant on TV's The Amazing Race: To meet Tina Brown's every beck and call, it apparently helps to have experience sprinting across the globe, performing impossible tasks.
As hard as she drives her staff, there is the occasional grace note, too, like this message to the newsroom on the Beast's first birthday: "From raining London Happy Happy Anniversary to all Beasties. You have worked so hard and with such wonderful gusto all year. Every day you do things that surprise and thrill me. ... So full of raw beastly life and clever animal cunning!"
If Newsweek's staff finds her arrival jarring, the feeling will be mutual. The IAC building Ms. Brown works in today was designed by Frank Gehry and offers gorgeous Hudson River views, video installations in the lobby, and a nap room. On Monday, she, Mr. Colvin and others toured the Financial District property where the Beast will soon join Newsweek, and found a dark, dingy fifth-floor space with few offices and cheap cubicles. Not a single member of the Beast entourage was smiling.
MS. BROWN'S BEAST reportedly loses $10 million a year, and in 2009 Newsweek lost $28 million. The premise that together the two will somehow make money has struck more than a few people as insane--but the bleeding may be more stoppable than people realize. Ms. Brown's name brings in print-ad dollars all by itself. Newsweek's move from pricey West Village digs to the dodgy space at 7 Hanover Square will save $6.3 million in rent and operating costs alone. And there will be layoffs as the two staffs merge. (The incentive is to make those cuts from the Newsweek side of things, as the Washington Post Co. has agreed to cover some of those costs for up to one year.)
As the exchange with Mr. Diller shows, Ms. Brown opposed the merger as late as last Tuesday morning. Three weeks prior, she appeared visibly relieved in the Beast newsroom when negotiations broke down, even reaching a level of Zen when it was clear she would not have to deal with the daunting logistics of a merger.
Now she does. And she already works around the clock. The Observer asked: Where will she get the extra time?
"Well, my kids are grown up," Ms. Brown said softly. "And I've this theory that as you get older, you work harder." The absence of children creates a hole best filled by work, she said--"otherwise you'll just feel mournful."
Ms. Brown, who gets tripped up a bit talking about the future of Newsweek.com, speaks calmly and clearly about her plans for the print magazine. She wants to be carefully organized and not rush into hiring. There will be no gaudy "first Tina" issue. Things will improve gradually. "One is ready when one is ready," she said. "I know what it takes; I know what I'm able to do." To speak with her about what to do with a magazine, even one so battered as Newsweek, is to believe in the magic of dead trees and ink.
Oh my God. This is really going to happen.
firstname.lastname@example.org | @nicksumm
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Merger with a corpse.
Saw the harpy on CNBC yesterday. Despite frothing at the mouth while touting her new project, she gave zero factual reasons why her merger would sprout green shoots.
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That's always been been her modus operandi. Talk fast, throw up clouds of foo-foo dust, and then move on to another target of opportunity when the roof falls on the last project.
As an aside, she has had the worst forehead lift I’ve ever seen. Or are those things tattooed on??
Comingling is always a bad sign when ever it is brought up
Looks to me like Patsy has really made it.
It's absolutely fabulous.
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The industry will have to skill up, or it will have nothing left to sell.
Harmon, an old school, and old guy, bought Newsweek for a pittance. He probably thought he could make a go of it. A last fling vanity schtick..Also, being very, very wealthy, he can write off his losses..being a California resident, his effective combined tax rate is probably around 60%, thus the federal, state, and city governments will in effect pick up at least half his costs..
But soon after the purchase, it all came unglued..as the lead article mentions, everybody jumped ship and bailed out (sorry for the doubly redundant metaphor) Harmon is no dummy, he's a shrewd, very successful businessman, and he soon realized that'd he made a BIG, HUGE, mistake. He'd bought the proverbial blivet, albeit cheaply.
OK. but now, how to extricate himself from this mess, (that grew messier every day)?? Two options..
1. Sell it to someone else. Not gonna happen...and besides, that would mean admitting publicly that he'd made a big mistake..not the way to mark the end of his business career.
2. Give it away..again...no takers
3. Shut it down, and take the tax loss. Only available option, but he'd forever be known as the guy who killed Newsweek ( drumrolls and sobs from the rest of the remaining MSM, ad nauseum)..hell of a legacy, eh, Sidney?
So, being a smart guy, he decides to do ALL of the above, and in plain sight...and take the onus off of himself. Combining it with The Beast, another BIG money loser, he effectively gives it away/sells it..and by chosing a REALLY BIG NAME, it's no longer all about Sid, it's all about Tina.. Sid's name won't be mentioned in connection with Newsweek ever again, except in his obituary.
So, summing up..Brown's already killed off Newsweek.com...and probably before the end of 2012, she'll kill off the print magazine ( despite now saying all the "right things" about remaking and saving it) and since everyone in the MSM loves Tina..and she can do no wrong, she'll get a pass for whacking Newsweek..and Sidney gets off the hook...
Good analysis. I thank God every day for letting me live long enough to see these anti-American publications go away!
(Tina Brown) Love the Royals, Hate the Republicans
Thanks for the link..Who knew??? (g)