Sour, Indifferent Responses to Tina Brown's Newsweek

But maybe expectations were just too high?

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The first issue of Newsweek under Tina Brown's stewardship hit stands yesterday, and the response has been... not great. Brown has one of the longest résumés in New York media, having served as editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Talk, and The Daily Beast, and spectators were itching to see what she'd do with the foundering general-interest mag. Now the reviews are in, and one imagines they're not what Brown was hoping for.

"This is a meal that a homeless person would walk away from," writes Slate's Jack Shafer, in one of the most acerbic critiques. "Where's the gusto? Where's the transgression?" he wonders--and where, he adds, is the timeliness? In a week that featured "the Arab world spinning apart, political insurrection visiting Capitol Hill and the state houses, and the NFL going on sabbatical," Brown instead devotes 16 pages to a feature, "150 Women Who Shake the World," that synergizes nicely with the "Women in the World" summit Brown is spearheading in New York this week. "I expected a lot more from her," Shafer writes ruefully.

Maybe that's the problem--the curse of high expectations. Most critics eschew Shafer's slash-and-burn approach, but among many there's still a sense of being underwhelmed. Brown's debut comes "with remarkably little fanfare," writes James Covert at the New York Post, and the long-awaited issue "looks like a rushed-out work in progress." At The New York Times, Jeremy Peters writes that "what landed on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes on Monday is a magazine that looks and feels little like the old Newsweek but preserves enough of the familiar weekly news magazine format that it will probably not offend Newsweek’s more purist readers." Choire Sicha at The Awl jokes that "it's like soaking in a nice warm bath of a comfortable yesterday--a happy, mature place of sort-of kind-of powerful people (the kind of people who have 'power' at Michael's restaurant, or certain overpriced bistros in D.C.)."

On the other hand, Caroline Shin and Glynnis MacNicol at Business Insider counsel patience, pointing out that "it's early days" and "if there is one person in media it doesn't pay to underestimate [it's] Tina Brown." Hamilton Nolan at Gawker notes that, whether Newsweek lives or dies, Brown is essentially bulletproof: "I doubt that Tina Brown ever aspired to edit Newsweek. But it fell in her lap, so why not? If it doesn't work out, she can go on to something more interesting. If it does work out somehow, she'll look like a genius. And she can go on to something more interesting."

Probably the most bizarre feedback comes from Mickey Kaus at The Daily Caller, who admits that he "couldn’t get hold of a copy" of the issue, then proceeds to review it anyway. He gets a "general impression" of "staleness" from the cover, because it features a picture of Hillary Clinton and bylines from Kathleen Parker and Harvey Weinstein. "Readers could be forgiven for checking for dust to make sure the magazine didn’t drop from the attic where they stored it around 1999," Kaus writes. But lest you think he's being hasty, he adds that "maybe the inside of the book is a multi-hued festival of delights," and acknowledges that "it’s unfair to judge any publication by its first issue." Yes--especially without reading it, Mickey.

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