Is Tina Brown sinking Newsweek?
That’s what media reporter John Koblin seems to ask in his Women’s Wear Daily story about Newsweek-Daily Beast’s continued struggles.
Sure, there is the poor financial news – the year-old joint publication lost $30 million last year – but more disconcerting are the complaints of Newsweek staffers about the work environment and Brown, the joint venture’s editor-in-chief.
According to Koblin, some staffers think Brown has "lost her fastball" and that "the one thing that has long guided her — her gut, her knack at spotting the zeitgeist — has faded." Others blamed the pressure of reviving a flagging magazine.
Brown has not denied that this is a great challenge, but insists she is the right person for the job. She told WWD that she knows "a thing or two about turnarounds and they are not for the faint of heart."
Newsweek declined further comment on the story to TheWrap. A spokesman reiterated Brown's remarks to WWD, which included the turnaround line and the statement, "Luckily there are plenty of people at Newsweek and The Beast who find the journey as exciting as I do."
Koblin paints a different story.
He quotes one staffer complaining about Regis Philbin being on the cover, and then offers a behind-the-scenes tale about how that enraged former New Yorker writer Peter Boyer. Boyer thought his story on Congress would be on the cover, but Philbin pushed it aside. Boyer than chewed out recently departed managing editor Tom Weber.
Then there’s a Newsweek source saying “People are completely exhausted. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who thinks the magazine is great.”
Koblin identifies certain signs of progress – more ad pages and newsstand sales, increases in subscription renewals – but for the most part he paints a picture of a publication in turmoil.
While that may not be news – two senior editors and the publisher did leave on Monday – some of the stories are those that no publication wants to get out. Like a leaked staff memo on story pitching protocol that “read like something one might find in Journalism 101.”
Koblin says that the memo was intended "to bring order to Tina Brown’s Newsweek" and "curb Brown’s impulsiveness," and institute "a system that might make it a little easier to work there."
Brown may ultimately succeed, but some of the complaints are likely to leave her seeing red. And not just in terms of losses.