Now that IAC/Interactive has sold off Newsweek, can Tina Brown’s act be nearing its end?
The experiment to combine Newsweek and The Daily Beast was an acknowledged failure. Brown was the founding editor of the Beast before she added editorial oversight for Newsweek when the two merged; it’s conceivable she’ll go back to just editing the Beast. But it's not hard to imagine her moving on. The question is, to where?
Brown has had a storied magazine career, at Vanity Fair and then The New Yorker (and then the short-lived Talk). But those were flusher times for print, and Brown worked for rich and powerful bosses who were willing to indulge her famously lavish spending habits. Clearly, those habits were ill-suited to today's media economy, the NewsBeast included. After losing millions for years, Newsweek was eventually downgraded to an online presence and then sold, likely for less than the price of a newsstand copy.
Even before Tina Brown took over Newsweek, her best days seemed long behind her. Admittedly, the Newsweek she inherited was already in terrible financial shape, a shadow of the iconic news magazine that it once was. But her efforts to revive it included a string of sensational Newsweek covers (including those that came to be known as crazy-eyes Bachmann and dead Princess Diana) that came across as desperate. A series of articles, including this New York Times opus, portraying her as an extravagant spender and chaotic manager, hasn’t helped her image.
A rep for The Daily Beast said ad revenue at the site is up nearly 23 percent year over year, with average traffic for the past six months up 28 percent to about 17 million versus a year ago, citing internal Omniture numbers (comScore's are much lower, however). After a dramatic face-lift earlier this year, the site is slated for a refresh in September.
Despite those positive signs, the Beast is believed to be on track to lose as much as $12 million this year, per knowledgeable sources, and IAC chief Barry Diller’s goodwill may be running out. He already publicly showed he’s losing patience for losses, infamously saying it was a “mistake” to buy Newsweek.
Brown is reportedly nearing the end of her contract in January. (Reps for the Beast and IAC wouldn't comment on contract talks or losses.) If she leaves, one possibility is that she’ll devote herself to the Beast’s Women in the World Summit. Brown is said to be strongly committed to that event, which has spawned a foundation and drew 2,500 people to its Lincoln Center venue this year—including heavy hitters like Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.
If Brown's looking to get back to print, there’s always the Hillary Clinton book she was writing but put to the side.
Brown still has her supporters in medialand, perhaps none bigger than The New Yorker editor David Remnick, who maintained Brown has “huge” talent. "As Howie Kurtz just found out, Tina is not defenseless,” Remnick emailed, referring to a Twitter fight between the two. “In fact, her talent is huge. I don't know what she will end up doing—stick solely with the Beast, write a book on Hillary Clinton, or all that and more—but she is hardly the type to go sit under a tree and count the leaves. I'm always rooting for her."
Gawker’s Nick Denton suggested Brown’s undoing wasn’t all her own. “I've always wanted to see what Tina Brown could do on the Internet—without the millstone of a dying magazine around her neck or an erratic billionaire pulling her strings," he said.
Whether someone will give her that chance is another question.