Tina Brown, legendary magazine editor, rules over the Daily Beast just like she did her magazines: arbitrary deadlines, grueling "closings" and reams of printed proofs. Her glossy approach to the Web is, naturally, driving staff insane.
There's no question Brown has had some trouble getting over the lost glory days of magazines. After all, they are also the lost glory days of Tina Brown. The former Tatler, Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor has eulogized the posh parties she used to attend; mourned the cushy sinecures she used to secure for friends; and wondered where all that dumb publishing money she used to grub went. Brown even conceived the Beast's content to match what she'd done in print: a mix of high and low culture and newsy and evergreen stories that would be right at home in her last print venture, Talk.
When Brown launched the Beast with Barry Diller's IAC in 2008, this all sounded perfectly reasonable. The Web's a big (if not always welcoming) place, and a glossy sensibility seemed perfectly suited to filling the obvious need for a mega-site a brow or two higher - and a few notches prettier - than the messy, search-engine-optimized op-ed-and-celebrity-dreck of user-generated content that is the Huffington Post.
Of course, Brown then had to actually run the damn thing. Sure, she's got some trusted lieutenants like longtime consigliera Gabé Doppelt and executive editor Edward Felsenthal, formerly of the Wall Street Journal. In fact, we're told the Beast hums along quite nicely in Brown's absence, whether she's away working on her Hillary Clinton book, going to parties or trying to get her kid into Harvard.
But then there are Brown's regular swoop-ins to disrupt all that, we've been told. If you're familiar with Brown's mode of operation at the Beast, we'd love to hear from you (email@example.com). In the meantime, here are a few of the specific terrors we've heard whispered by members of the Beast diaspora :
The dreaded Sunday Close: One of the inevitabilities of putting out a magazine like, say, one of Tina's old titles, is the regular deadline crush which make for a grueling, endless night at the office as Brown rips up the book, demands rewrites, punchier quotes from sources and sparklier display copy. One of the best — and worst — parts of working on the web is that publications are always and never on deadline: the editorial assembly churns ceaselessly but there are few college term paper-like all-nighters. Brown, however, has apparently found a way to take this magical part of the magazine world and transplant it to the internet.
Since Brown conceives of the Beast as something like a weekly magazine, Sunday nights are typically a marathon frenzy of to close stories which can go on well past midnight. We're not exactly clear on why this has to happen — we've heard that she considers, for reasons we can't fathom, Monday to be the most important day on the web — but apparently Sunday night is the last chance for Brown to tweak, recast or completely overhaul stories for all-important Monday. Update: Felsenthal comments: "Sundays are especially busy because we like to give as much of our staff as possible Sunday off and because we like to post a lot of good, fresh content first thing Mondays, since like every news site our heaviest traffic is weekdays."
This magazine-like effort, however, does not appear to ensure magazine-like results. The Daily Beast recently had to dismiss one of its recent marquee names, Tiger Woods scoop-generator Gerald Posner, for run-of-the-mill plagiarism. Blaming the "warp speed of the net," he says he inadvertently copy and pasted newspaper copy into his stories, something magazine fact-checkers are expected to catch.
But the weekly deadline crash does have one familiar magazine-world effect: shattering staff morale. Unhappy editors and writers are often asked to track down last-minute quotes or bits of information when basically no one, except for the savviest of media whores, is available for an interview. And late nights in Diller's shimmering Frank Gehry-designed IAC Building are particularly unpleasant in the summer when the air conditioning is turned off because, hey, who would possibly work so late on Sunday nights?
But the printing press waits for no one. Or rather it would wait for no one if such a machine had anything to do with publishing the Daily Beast.
Printing the book: Except, and this really is our favorite, there is one crucial role for paper and printers to play in the Daily Beast's daily operation: Apparently, each day, someone is tasked with printing up all of the stories published that day, so that Brown might have some way of reading them, and delivering them to her by hand. And if she's, say, visiting her old London stomping grounds? Then this sheaf would need to be faxed to wherever she's staying, probably her fave hotel, Ian Schraeger's Sanderson House. It would really be wonderful if someone someday invented an easier way to transmit words and images across the Atlantic. Update: Felsenthal says that Brown also reads the site online: "Tina reads the site online or on blackberry. I stole her printer." Last month, a Los Angeles Times profile of Brown and the Beast includes this scene of the editrix showing a reporter her site:
"Lena! Why is the site not coming up on my screen!" Brown raises her voice, not unpleasantly, for help. "Why is it my video screen has disappeared? Is it all right if I work on yours?"
Lena Jensen, a young assistant, hurries in and fiddles to no avail. Brown, in black stiletto boots and a violet cashmere sweater over a belted gray wool jumper, leaves her office and plops down at Jensen's computer, where the Daily Beast home page includes the embedded video mysteriously missing from Brown's screen.
The reality show: This isn't so much a staff horror as a bit of gossip, albeit one that betrays a bit of Brown's lingering envy for the magazine world's glamor. Rumor has it that test footage was shot last summer for a reality show about the Daily Beast and/or Tina Brown. It must burn Brown up that her old nemesis Anna Wintour inspired a semi-fictional Hollywood blockbuster as well as has starred in a documentary (Brown's certainly noticed). Heck, even magazine B-players like Andre Leon Talley and Nina Garcia have TV deals of their own these days.
Shortly after the Daily Beast — named after the fake newspaper in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop — launched in the fall of 2008 and magazines were crumbling around her, Brown started making pronouncements like "The massive apparatus of putting out a magazine is just so onerous." She began telling anyone who would listen that she was loving working on the web and would never go back to print. It all sounded a bit forced, and the truth is probably that she's never really wanted to abandon the perks of print.
The power and privilege of being a star editor like Brown was the ability to lord over an army of underlings who could be directed hither and thither according to their master's whim until a perfect editorial product emerged. It was demoralizing, but at least those jobs paid well.