Tina Brown, who announced that she is leaving The Daily Beast and the publishing world, has experienced one of the most complex journalism careers of any editor in recent memory. Cate Blanchett would have a field day playing the many layers of Tina in a Hollywood biopic.
Her highs and lows were so iconoclastic that it’s hard to reach a clear conclusion on whether she should be forever lionized or criticized as she exits the media swirl.
It’s easy to throw dirt now on her journalistic grave. But that would be unfair and not quite right.
Yes, Brown merits applause for her stewardship of Vanity Fair, in particular. Without her leading the way, it would not have become the sprawling magazine colossus that we see today elbowing competitors out of places in newsstands. She injected a lively, breezy editing style and led the way — for better or worse — as an early embracer of all-things celebrity in the U.S. Again, for better or worse.
At the New Yorker, she continued to break new ground and pushed to modernize the vaunted magazine. Brown didn’t take her self so seriously (in those days) and the magazine reflected her approach. It was a necessary evolution for the magazine, too.
I never really understood her Talk-magazine venture. I don’t know why she thought the world needed such a publication, and I remember thinking at the time that Talk was a bit of a lightweight and probably wasn’t all that well thought out. It didn’t leave much of an imprint, one way or another.
I strongly disapproved of a lot of her cover ideas for Newsweek — which seemed shrill and crass, if not offensive — particularly, for instance, her decision to bring Princess Diana back to life on a “controversial” cover (by controversial, I mean horrendous). Give her credit, though: Tina tried to be daring and shake up the conventional view of a news weekly. I simply didn’t like it. Maybe she was just ahead of her time.
The pity of her reign at The Daily Beast was her timing. The Beast — a great name — had to compete with Huffington Post and may other online magazines and blog centers. Now, with Buzzfeed and Business Insider shoving the Daily Beast aside and marginalizing its impact, critics will naturally suggest that the Beast was nothing more than a failure for Brown.
I disagree. I think Brown deserves some kudos for introducing an online operation that was always lively. Whatever was going on in politics or business or society, the Beast gave you something you wanted to inspect on a daily basis.
My revisionist view of Tina’s career has nothing to do with how I regarded her personally. I tried repeatedly (and unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to interview her — formally, while bumping into her at Michael’s, the New York media hangout, and even at one or two of the parties at her home that she invited me to attend. (She knew how to throw a good party!).
She was often dismissive and seemed to me to be downright snippety on occasion. That was her right. It’s too bad, though, because I would have liked to have an opportunity to find out what made this editor tick.
Tina Brown had her share of successes and failures. She made magazine journalism exciting, daring, even. I didn’t agree with her choices — especially at Newsweek. But she did more good than bad work.
Maybe, in the end, she was ahead of her time.