The Not-So-Final Embarrassment of Tina Brown

The dessicated, online-only husk of what was once a big magazine called Newsweek has finally been sold off (despite our explicit instructions not to buy it). For editor Tina Brown, it marks the end of a humiliating career defeat. Newsweek's downfall exposed all of Tina Brown's weaknesses, and won't hurt her a bit.

The era in which Tina Brown could nimbly lead a shaky magazine to glory has passed. Tina Brown made her name at Tatler, and Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker— big magazines that sat squarely in the Big Magazine era, when expense accounts were bottomless and all that mattered was an editor's ability to achieve pre-internet "buzz." She excelled at that. Since she left the comforting Big Magazine nest, it has become apparent that the world is no longer hers. The magazine she founded in her own image, Talk, folded. She was incongruously hired to run The Daily Beast, and she ran it just as she would have run a Big Magazine, burning through tens of millions of dollars of Barry Diller's money. Unfortunately, it was not a Big Magazine; it was a website, and a wasteful one at that.

Merging The Daily Beast with Newsweek was a bad idea. Combining two money-losing operations does not often make for success. The alleged "synergies" between a dying newsweekly and an overfunded Slate competitor did not, in reality, exist. (Newsweek and Time have synergies. The Daily Beast and Slate have synergies. Newsweek and The Daily Beast do not have real synergies, except for the fact that TDB had younger and cheaper journalists, which Tina Brown neglected to utilize, choosing instead to go for old, established, expensive journalists, thereby circumventing one of the only "synergies" that actually existed.) Tina Brown's editorial leadership was an awful embarrassment of troll-like attempts at grasping buzz no matter how high the cost in credibility. There were no synergies. There was no financial success. There were good stories, and good writers, but no grand editorial glory. There was only failure. The Tina Brown NewsBeast era was, in short, a fiasco.

Now comes the New York Times with the chatty post-mortem to catalog exactly how ridiculous Brown's quirks were. Let's peek in! Here is an example of the vaunted editorial leadership that Barry Diller paid so dearly for:

One employee said that Ms. Brown ordered up a Newsweek feature on “Breaking Bad” well after an article on the show had appeared in The Beast. Ms. Brown does not accept the idea that she did not have her finger on the popular pulse. “I was the first person to do anything on ‘Breaking Bad.’ Nobody knew what ‘Breaking Bad’ was around here at all,” she said. “We were the first to write about ‘Borgen’; I have been watching it for a year,” referring to the Danish political series.

Tina Brown, the first person to do anything on Breaking Bad. In 2011. Surely no lesser editor could have managed that wondrous piece of journalistic guidance. And here is the sort of lean, mean financial management skills that Tina Brown brought to a money-losing publication from her days at Big Magazine:

But even longtime reporters were shocked at Ms. Brown’s extravagance in making assignments — one former editor called them “fishing expeditions” — that seemed to belong to an earlier, more flush era of publishing. The magazine sent Mr. Boyer to Japan hoping he would get an interview with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., even though he had been warned in advance that it was very unlikely (and indeed it never happened). With several days’ notice, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer Robin Givhan was sent to Paris to track down the Vogue editor Anna Wintour, even though Ms. Wintour had declined to speak.

Tina Brown is, like Keith Olbermann, a media star who has proved by now that they should probably not be hired, but who always will be hired again, probably at an even more prestigious post. They're like a pro athlete who showed flashes of brilliance before blowing out a knee, or killing someone in a DUI— there will always be one more team willing to roll the dice on them. And, most likely, they'll disappoint once again.

[NYT. Photo: Getty]