EDITORIAL JUDGMENT SEPTEMBER 18, 2013
John Gapper of The Financial Times has a story on Tina Brown which gives new meaning to the term "puff piece." The title, "Tina Brown Leaves Journalism in Her Wake," does an adequate job of summarizing the flavor of Gapper's article, which essentially views journalism as a once-noble profession that will now be without its leading light. (Brown announced last week that she would step down as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast; she instead plans to run a "conference business" which will consist of (in her words), "summits, salons, and flash-debates.") As a public service, I am providing quotes from Gapper's article (in bold) alongside quotes from other news stories about Brown's business sense and management style.
For anyone else but Tina Brown, this would have been a humiliating week.
From a New York Times report on her resignation: "Dan Lyons, Newsweek's former technology editor, wrote on Facebook Wednesday: 'At rows of desks, reporters and editors pretend to stare at screens, while fighting the urge to jump and start dancing and cheering.'"
In these straitened times, it is harder for a brilliant, capricious, high-spending, old-school editor to thrive.
From another New York Times report, this one on her spending habits: "Even longtime reporters were shocked at Ms. Brown's extravagance in making assignments — one former editor called them 'fishing expeditions' — that seemed to belong to an earlier, more flush era of publishing. The magazine sent Mr. Boyer to Japan hoping he would get an interview with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., even though he had been warned in advance that it was very unlikely (and indeed it never happened). With several days’ notice, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer Robin Givhan was sent to Paris to track down the Vogue editor Anna Wintour, even though Ms. Wintour had declined to speak."
Fans say her restlessness stems from perfectionism — her unending search for the best interview, the glossiest cover.
The New York Times, again: "Ms. Brown also ordered high-priced photography and investment in time and money for articles that were killed or relegated to small spaces. Newsweek's former creative director, Dirk Barnett, posted on his Tumblr a montage of the 82 different cover ideas Ms. Brown asked him to design in seven days, while also employing six other agencies and illustrators to come up with ideas. In a June 27, 2012, post on Newsweek’s Tumblr, the magazine called it 'our favorite Newsweek-related post of all time.' During the interview, at first, Ms. Brown made light of the criticism: 'Only 82?' she laughed. 'How hard is it to take a picture and slap a headline on it?' Then she flatly denied having ordered so many covers."
"She is a fierce perfectionist, an editorial taskmistress, almost a dominatrix of smart journalism,"… says Tunku Varadarajan, a former editor of Newsweek Global.
From a Michael Wolff column in The Guardian: "Her final Newsweek covers, of which heaven being real was one, were a desperate attempt to revive the buzz she was once famous for." [Italics mine]
"I've always loved to create a sexy brain food,"...Brown stated.
From an Atlantic story on one particularly infamous Brown cover: "The image of Princess Diana walking alongside Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, in the shadow of the Newsweek logo is an attention-getter. Surely, that was the intention of Newsweek's editor Tina Brown, who's penned the latest issue's cover story on what Diana would be like if she'd lived to see her 50th birthday on Friday. But the Photoshopped, looking-you-straight-in-the-eye picture of Diana at 50 seems about half as controversial as the entire cover package which includes not only Tina's brief article, the obvious side-by-side slideshow of Diana and Kate's fashion sense, an update on Diana's causes, a fake Facebook page for Diana, and one doctored photograph of Diana clutching a white iPhone."
Tina Brown is still big. It is the media that got small.
From New York magazine: "Now that Tina Brown is on her way out as editor of the Daily Beast, staffers are getting more comfortable with publicizing their complaints about their soon-to-be former boss. Unnamed sources told the New York Post that Brown frequently asked Newsweek and Daily Beast staffers to create content for the website of her nonprofit, the Women in the World Foundation. 'It was as if the non-profit was a third component of the editorial effort, even though it was supposed to be a separate entity,' said one person. '"Ask'"' is a polite way of saying it. It was more a directive.'"
Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.