Can Tina Brown Save Newsweek?

The formidable editor takes up the challenge of a lifetime

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"Some weddings take longer to plan than others," announced Tina Brown in a blog post late last night. The famed reviver of Vanity Fair and (to some extent) The New Yorker will now try her hand at Newsweek, which lost $20 million last year and was sold to audio manufacturer tycoon Sidney Harman for a measly $1. Her high-velocity news site The Daily Beast has merged with Newsweek in a 50/50 joint venture, making her the editor-in-chief of both publications.

It's been no secret that The Daily Beast's financier Barry Diller has wanted a print publication of his own. But when initial talks fell apart between Harman and Diller in October, most assumed that was the end of it. Now Brown will re-enter the print world with a formidable task at hand: Can she revive Newsweek?

Diller has played this one shrewdly; he walked from the table when he didn't get what he wanted... The initial talks broke down over editorial control... It now appears Harman -- who reportedly did not want to cede that kind of control of Newsweek to IAC -- has softened on that point as his search for a permanent editor for the struggling newsweekly recently entered its third month, making the allure of Brown at the helm much more appealing... For Diller, the partnership would give him the print product he desperately wants, and Brown the kind of national magazine platform from which she used to preach.

It looks to be a triumph for Brown. She will wear the trousers in the marriage by being editor-in-chief of the joint venture. As with all marriages, there will need to some compromises. Will there be harmony between old and new media? Or will the tensions over what to put where and when cause rifts? It will undoubtedly raise the profile of the Beast, at least initially.

  • Could Work Out Well for Everyone, writes Jeremy Peters at The New York Times:

The arrangement is in many ways a win-win for both sides, with Mr. Harman getting a respected editor who will generate buzz around a magazine that many in the publishing world had left for dead, and Ms. Brown gaining an editing job back in a well-known publication.

It also gives Mr. Diller, a member of the board of The Washington Post Company, the longtime former owner of Newsweek, a print magazine. That has the potential for far more revenue than The Daily Beast, a digital news and aggregation enterprise that has been neither fish nor fowl.

Newsweek is a valuable brand, and Brown is capable editor who once ran the New Yorker. But why make a bet on a dying, debt-laden print magazines now? And online it might make more economic sense to combine the two sites and gain broader reach. Comscore estimates that the Daily Beast is pulling in 2.9 million unique visitors a month, while is attracting 5.4 million. But those are two very different audiences looking for different things. Also, that name, the Newsweek Daily Beast. It just hurts my eyes.

The merger may be a marriage of two wounded media operations. Newsweek has lost staff since it was sold by The Post. It currently has no editor. The Daily Beast has been losing readership. Research firm Compete says the number of unique visitors to the has dropped from 2.18 million in June to 1.55 million in September -- a fall of nearly 30%. Rival Huffington Post has 12.2 million unique visitors. Newsweek relies heavily on for online traffic; it is not certain whether that will continue after the merger.

In short, the two businesses are so troubled that the merger may be a case of 1+1=0.
  • Here's Why It Makes Sense, explains Colby Hall at Mediaite:

The truth is that The Daily Beast seems to churn out an issue’s worth of content for a print version each day, so the costs of Newsweek’s operations (which some insiders have claimed to be still stuck in a pre-digital construct) should dissipate rather dramatically. Sadly, for many editorial staffers at Newsweek, that doesn’t spell great news. Further, despite the hand-wringing of the death of traditional publishing, advertisers in print still pay dollars to the comparative online penny. This means that, even in the leanest of times, the ad revenue for Newsweek is far more robust than that of The Daily Beast (or any online property for that matter.) Further, Ms. Brown is well regarded as someone capable of re-energizing troubled titles. She is considered to be that good.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.