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In Conversation: Tina Brown

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Tina Brown in 1983, with covers and pages from Tatler, the British society magazine she revised in her twenties.  

Did the Harman family make any commitment to keep it going?

The commitment was made by Sidney, but Sidney died. Jane Harman loyally stuck by things for a while, but this was never her passion. She was supportive, I think, for a time, but no one had asked her whether she wanted to become a press baron. I mean, there’s no reason why she should—that was what her husband wanted to be. Had he stayed alive, I’m sure he would have invested more. But who knows?

And how long has Barry Diller given you?

Barry doesn’t talk in those terms. Barry backs things that he believes in, and he’s a huge believer in the Beast. He’s always been a huge believer in the Beast. He sees it as something, which it is. He sees it as growing in leaps and bounds and believes it is going to be a very valuable property. He’s very committed to the Beast. And he’s been very supportive of Newsweek, even though it was meant to be a joint venture and turned out not to be—the death of Sidney Harman was an enormous change.

Was it really losing $40 million a year?

I’m not supposed to reveal the exact numbers. But I will tell you it cost $42 million just to print Newsweek.

Wow.

Before you’ve even engaged one writer, or one copy editor, or one picture editor. Forty-two million dollars.

That’s sort of a good piece of evidence for the idea that magazines ought to go online.

That was the thing. We just looked at it in the spring, and everything, every trend, suggested this was never going to change. It’s not like you felt it was a temporary advertising situation.

That was exactly what I thought back in 1995, starting Slate. And then it didn’t happen.

No, but you were very prescient.

I was too prescient.

It took longer, but usually these things do take longer.

Newsweek, in its heyday, had correspondents all over the world.

Thirty bureaus.

Thirty bureaus.

You know, it was very funny—when I looked at the document of sale, it was like the vestiges of the great galleon it had been. It was like that wreck of the Titanic in the James Cameron film—they’re swimming through the rooms, and you see the chandeliers. Every so often, you would swim around a corner and see a chandelier—things like private dining. You suddenly realize, this was an era when there were things like private dining rooms.

Yes.

When [Washington Post publisher and Newsweek owner] Kay Graham arrived in a foreign city, she was really like the State Department—the Newsweek bureau would be there to greet her. And that Newsweek bureau would immediately get her an interview with, you know, Ferdinand Marcos.

She had a private chef at Newsweek. And when she wasn’t in town, I remember the editor at the time, Bill Broyles, got to use the chef.

I know.

How much of that is unnecessary?

It’s totally unnecessary.

But it did add to what made up Newsweek.

Absolutely. No, it did, listen—it was very grand.

So what’s going to happen? You’re not going to be able to do that.

No, we’re not. But Newsweek still has a great deal of access and power. You go to Brazil, you go to India—we have a hugely global footprint. You can get an interview with anyone overseas on the basis of being part of Newsweek. It still has a great deal of impact.

And I think we’ve done a very good magazine. I don’t know whether you’ve been reading it—probably not—but it’s very good. There was a lot of talent here. But it’s like having a refrigerator on each foot—to have this carapace of the print magazine and all its problems, and all its legacy of unsolved issues. Once we shed that, we’ll just be able to focus on the content. I find that very liberating, personally. I think many of the staff do, too.

And the plan is to charge?

Yes. We’re looking very strongly now at this metered-access model.

And that is?

When you charge for every fourth or fifth piece that you get. Did you ever consider doing that for Slate?

No. We said, ‘This is very interesting, we’ll go second.’ And then we didn’t. So the Daily Beast—

The Daily Beast is on fire. We hit 19,800,000 uniques in October.

Nineteen million.

Nineteen million, eight hundred thousand. The goal was fifteen by the end of this year, so we’re way past our goal. And we’re only in November.

And how many does Arianna Huffington have?

You know, I haven’t checked lately. I’m too excited about my 19,800,000.


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