During his tenure, Newsweek creative director Dirk Barnett oversaw many controversial covers that brought criticism but also bolstered newsstand sales, helping recharge a challenged newsweekly category. In a note to staff on Barnett's departure to The New Republic, Newsweek editor Tina Brown called him “brilliant” and credited him with helping make the weekly a “bold and seductive read and a world away from the Newsweek of old.”
But insiders spoke of constant conflict between the award-winning Barnett and the editor notorious for frequently ordering up last-minute changes to articles and covers. A recent Tumblr post by Barnett titled "82 cover ideas in 7 days" spoke to the often frenetic pace at the newsweekly.
“She was very engaged on the design front; she was constantly tinkering,” a former insider said. “So I can see a designer saying, ‘I don’t have any influence anymore.’”
The award-winning Barnett shepherded a major redesign of the magazine a little over a year ago, and it seemed to observers to have found its footing this year. But it was Brown who made a mark earlier this year, when Newsweek published a ’60s-style Mad Men issue in March celebrating the return of the AMC hit. Brown, apparently taken with the look, decided to make some of the design elements permanent.
Then, of course, there was the much-maligned "asparagate" that turned out to be a stock photo.
Barnett declined to give his opinion on the changes post-Mad Men or comment on the asparagus cover. But he said this: "I took this role fully knowing what I was getting into. When you're working with Tina Brown, you're working with Tina Brown. She's very involved with everything. Sure, as with any working relationship, sometimes that was frustrating, but more often than not, it produced better results."
Barnett will be working out of New York, overseeing the design of The New Republic, which Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes bought earlier this year. Lindsay Ballant, Newsweek’s art director, will be stepping into his role.