What Would a Tina Brown–Helmed Daily Beast–Newsweek Hybrid Look Like?

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

This morning, to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Daily Beast, founding editor Tina Brown interviewed herself. As to the hot rumor of the moment, that she may become editor of Newsweek and bring the Beast along with her to form some sort of new hybrid, Tina had this to say:


Tina: We hear something is going on with Newsweek.
Tina: How clever of you to notice! Yes, there have been some interesting discussions going on, as we have with potential partners large and small all the time.

One of the oft-repeated components of the Daily Beast–Newsweek rumor is that IAC owner and Beast-funder Barry Diller is tired of the Beast's losses. "The most interesting thing about [a Newsweek-Beast deal] is that it suggests Diller is not endlessly patient. I thought he would give Tina more time and money," said Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, who has been watching the rumor with interest. He's right: In the world of Internet start-ups, two years is hardly enough time to reach profitability, and it's difficult to believe Brown wouldn't be allowed more time to execute her business plan — unless, of course, a more compelling opportunity presented itself.

Recent news suggests Diller hasn't run out of patience and money entirely: On Tuesday, Brown announced the hiring of longtime Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, a coup that must have cost her and Diller a pretty penny.

Like the Beast, Newsweek is currently a money loser, having come out nearly $30 million in the red in 2009. While a rep told us earlier this summer the site was on track to shrink those losses by cutting staff and ditching their new high-rent office space, it's hard to imagine ad sales weren't then ankled by the news that editor Jon Meacham was leaving and the Washington Post Company was selling the magazine after years of seemingly unconditional support.

Enter new owner Sidney Harman, who is focused on the magazine's balance sheet as he searches for a new editor. "My best guess is that Harman is considering nuking the Newsweek Digital operation and replacing it with the Beast," suggests one former high-level Newsweek employee. This could be relatively simple, observes another, because "most of the edit people at Newsweek Digital have left." That leaves room for the Beast's fully fleshed-out edit team. And a transition could be monitored by someone who knows both teams: Tom Watson, a longtime Newsweek Digital editor who left two years ago and is now at the Beast. "He knows those people pretty well," explained the source. "The website is pretty short on actual bodies to put out the thing; I'd imagine they'd keep most of them." The few dozen non-edit website employees at Newsweek, however, could face a massive cut.

Newsweek Digital could certainly benefit from a strong hand. Its management team has changed repeatedly over the past two years, going through more than four leaders in that short time. What was once a complex news portal has been stripped down into little more than a blog. Compare that to the Beast's aggressive growth, robust design, and carefully cultivated style, and it's easy to see how Harman might be seduced by Tina's recent work.

"The fact is that, among her great strengths in print are/were reinvigorating/reinventing an established but beleaguered brand [like Vanity Fair and the New Yorker], spotting and nurturing new talent, and seeing stories where others don't," says David Kuhn, the literary agent and media mover who worked with Brown through the launch of her ill-fated Talk Magazine. "And all these skills will still add value to Newsweek despite the obvious endemic challenges." The opportunity, he thinks, would in fact allow Tina to spread her wings. "Even a slimmed down Newsweek — in terms of staff and budget — will give her more to work with than she's working with at the Beast or at Talk, so I'd say she has a better shot than most anyone at making the magazine work, or work for a while. I don't know what Newsweek.com traffic is like but I bet she'd double it quickly by applying her same strategy of making the serious sexy and the sexy serious."

Amid all the gossip, meanwhile, Tina took a moment to gloat this morning — or maybe to tout her accomplishments to a future boss. "The skeptics gave us six months," she wrote this morning. "And two years later, we're a booming business."