Christine Haughney, David Carr

Ms. Tina Brown announced that Newsweek would cease print publication at the end of the year and move to an all-digital format.

… it is not fair to blame Ms. Brown for all of Newsweek’s problems. She fought a losing battle …

The decision to end the print edition “was always going to happen,” Ms. Brown said.
It really has not been a question of if,” she said. “It was a question of when.”

2 thoughts on “Christine Haughney, David Carr

  1. shinichi Post author

    From the start, it was an unwieldy melding of two newsrooms: a legacy print magazine, Newsweek, combined with an irreverent digital news site, The Daily Beast. It had high-profile ownership, first in Sidney Harman and then in Barry Diller, and it was held together by the experienced magazine editor Tina Brown, looking for one more big hit on her résumé.

    But on Thursday, Newsweek buckled under the pressure afflicting the magazine industry in general and newsweeklies in particular, with their outdated print cycles that have been overtaken by the Internet.

    In a message posted on The Daily Beast, Ms. Brown announced that Newsweek would cease print publication at the end of the year and move to an all-digital format. The transition, she wrote, would include layoffs, and at a staff meeting Thursday morning, she grew teary-eyed when she told employees that she didn’t know how many people would be let go.

    The staff remaining will publish a digital magazine called Newsweek Global. Readers will continue to pay for Newsweek, Ms. Brown said, and some Newsweek articles will appear on The Daily Beast, which will continue as a free Web site. The end of the print edition will help stem Newsweek’s estimated $40 million in annual losses.

    Founded in 1933, Newsweek established a venerable place in the American media landscape, competing ferociously with Time magazine week in and week out to bring the top news stories to several million readers.

    In the pre-Internet era, before a constant stream of real-time information was available, readers eagerly awaited the two magazines to see which cover stories they would feature — and whether they would be the same ones.

    Ms. Brown characterized the move as bowing to the inevitable digital future. “You cannot actually change an era of enormous disruptive innovation,” she said in a phone interview. “No one single person can reverse that trend. You can’t turn back what is an inexorable trend.”

    But behind the scenes, current and former employees say, there were tensions that led to an increasingly tumultuous newsroom, as financial losses mounted and Ms. Brown struggled to integrate the two operations and maintain Newsweek’s relevance.

    Despite her best efforts to take a flagging product and rejuvenate it, much of what she tried fell flat, and her attempts to create buzz with cover articles that discussed sex addiction and called President Obama “the first gay president’’ resulted mostly in puzzlement and, sometimes, ridicule.

    Ms. Brown would tear up long-planned issues at the last moment, according to a staff member involved in production, who declined to speak on the record because of the impending layoffs. That left the art department scrambling to come up with something to illustrate her next big idea.

    “That’s how we ended up with that asparagus cover from stock photos,” the employee said, referring to a cover showing a piece of asparagus dangling above a woman’s lips, which was widely derided by media commentators. “Though I have to say on her behalf, that cover did very well.”

    Ms. Brown defended her choice of covers.

    “The magazine was incredibly moribund when we came in,” she said on Thursday. “It had taken so many knocks. We have been able to bring Newsweek back to relevance. I have always felt that the covers are about a conversation. The covers become a conversation starter.”

    Many of the problems began in 2010 with the sale of Newsweek to Mr. Harman, a 92-year-old audio magnate who died last year. He bought the magazine from the Washington Post Company for a dollar and merged it with The Daily Beast, the Web site owned by Mr. Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp. But the blending of the two brands failed, in part because no real integration took place.

    “In spite of the rhetoric at the start, there never really was a merger between The Daily Beast and Newsweek,” said one person who worked on both. He and other current and former employees said the magazine had failed to absorb the energy and freshness of The Daily Beast.

    “No one works harder than Tina, and she paid as much attention to a cutline on a picture as she did with the cover, but I think she failed to rely on some of the people around her,” said a staff member who left recently but requested anonymity because he remains friendly with Ms. Brown. “With The Daily Beast, she was very open to input from everyone, but it was very much the opposite with the magazine.”

    In the print operation, he said, “many of the young people at The Daily Beast were shut out, and she went with writers and topics that seemed plucked from the 1980s.”

    Ms. Brown, first at Vanity Fair and then at The New Yorker, successfully blended politics and celebrity, high and low, into magazines that were talked about and read. But at Talk, the magazine began in a partnership between Miramax and Hearst, her mid-Atlantic sensibilities seemed out of tune, and Talk was forced to shut down. Her focus on Princess Diana — featured on a cover in a digitally aged, somewhat ghoulish rendering — and her tendency to treat the Clintons and the Kennedys as American royals seemed out of step with a public focused on politicians’ feet of clay.

    Magazine industry experts say it is not fair to blame Ms. Brown for all of Newsweek’s problems. She fought a losing battle for a magazine whose circulation peaked in 1991 at 3.3 million but was down to 1.5 million in June. While advertising pages and revenue grew modestly, it brought in a fraction of the money earned by rivals like Time. Also, Newsweek has not had the resources that benefit magazines like Time, which is part of a huge magazine empire that can withstand losses.

    “Newsweek has had two highly talented editors — Tina Brown and, before her, Jon Meacham — and it illustrates that it is not an editorial problem,” said Fareed Zakaria, a former editor of Newsweek International. “It is a larger business problem.”

    Many other magazines are likely to suffer Newsweek’s fate. Reed Phillips, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips, a media banking firm, said he was advising more publications to cut their print operations.

    “We’re finding publishers with three or four years of losses in a row. We’re telling them, ‘Stop losing money,’” Mr. Phillips said. “Make your cost structure what you’re bringing in revenues or just abandon the print.”

    Reached on a plane about to depart Mexico City, Mr. Diller said there was little choice but to end the print magazine once the Harman family decided this summer to withdraw financial support.

    “It was a mistake to take this one on,” Mr. Diller said. Newsweek will have about 500 pages in advertising this year, he said, “which was not sustainable. It became completely self-evident that we couldn’t print the magazine anymore.”

    He said of Ms. Brown, “She has done an amazing job, and I have every confidence in her.”

    Ms. Brown said the company did not shut down Newsweek entirely because it has an “enormously strong” brand. It still has foreign print licenses in Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland and South Korea, and is negotiating two new licenses in Asia.

    The decision to end the print edition “was always going to happen,” Ms. Brown said.

    “It really has not been a question of if,” she said. “It was a question of when.”


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