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In Conversation: Tina Brown

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What’s your take on Savile?

Jimmy Savile was a disgusting, sexually incontinent gargoyle. I always loathed him, and there is something about feeling up kids in hospital wards that is especially nauseating. I wish he was alive to feel the hysteria of all the national contempt.

How badly did the BBC screw up in dealing with the fallout, do you think? And what should Arthur Sulzberger do with Thompson, having hired him away?

The BBC has become too big to manage. The director-general should not also be the editor-in-chief. The roles should be split. I am sure Thompson believed it when he was told the BBC’s Savile exposé was killed on journalistic grounds. It may have been, actually, and was just a cock-up and a bit of corporate timidity, combined with a failure of communication all around—which is what most “cover-ups” tend to be. I see no reason why Thompson shouldn’t go ahead with his Times role, though there are so many self-righteous moralists at the Times they may well keep baying for his exit.

Tell me about your daily reading list.

My media diet?

Yeah.

Oh, gosh. It’s very eclectic, as you would imagine. First I do my New York Times and Wall Street Journal—I still read the New York Post like a ransom note. I like going to the Guardian. And for my sheer hit of trash, I’ll go to the Daily Mail Online, which is so great. It’s just got the best human-interest garbage.

I believe it’s the biggest news site. Can that be right?

I’m sure it is. Every story is something you can’t resist. It’s about, you know, how your kids will get ADD if they eat, I don’t know, saffron rice. It’s just irresistible. So I read that. And then I go to the Sutton Cafe diner with Harry, and we sit and read our papers.

On paper?

On paper. Although Harry—he was the ultimate newspaper man, but he’s begun to take his iPad, which is a real sign of habits changing. I still like my newspapers with my coffee. Then I come back, and I go to the office, and I start surfing around. I’ll read HuffPo, Politico, sometimes Buzzfeed, bit of Washington Post.

There's another media property that's having troubles. What would you suggest to them?

Well, I think their whole decision to be a local paper was not the right decision. I mean, I think that they destroyed their influence and brand by becoming so local. They had some of the world’s best writers on that paper. But they’ve somehow shrunk—the more local they’ve become, the more they’ve shrunk their whole footprint.

That was a conscious decision.

I know it was. I think it was the wrong decision.

In ten years, will we still have newspapers on paper?

“No” is the short answer, unless printed at home via the web.

Will the current corporate structure ­survive—Time Warner, News Corp., the New York Times?

It’s really, really difficult for the old behemoths to stay nimble in an era of such disruptive innovation. Elephants can’t tap dance. New empires can be built so fast, as we saw with Facebook and Google. I very much doubt by mid-century most of the major-brand media companies will still be dominant.

What about Time?

I think Time is upheld by being part of a huge corporation with all these other titles. It has People magazine and Sports Illustrated. It’s in the umbrella of so much support, so it’s got a longer life. But I personally think that within two or three years, you’re going to be seeing the same story.

I think a lot of magazines are going to have to go online. There will be magazines, but a lot of magazines are going to decide that with basic, inherent costs, the fact that advertisers want to now be in digital, combined with the reading habits of all of us—they’ll decide that print doesn’t make any sense.

What legacy media has gotten it right?

I think Forbes has done quite well. And I love the new Journal. I think Murdoch’s done a brilliant job with the Journal.

I agree with you. Through gritted teeth.

You know, it’s just so much more readable. It’s very good online. I think the Saturday paper’s great. And I think it’s just a cracklingly good paper.

Let’s talk briefly about Graydon Carter and Vanity Fair. What do you think of Vanity Fair still using a template that you created?


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