Unsolicited Advice for Tina Brown
On becoming editor-in-chief of Newsweek.
I'd have her study the blueprint Jann Wenner used to transform US Weekly from a People clone to a celebrity-fixated dynamo. Wenner has that shamelessness thing going for him, too. While I'm not suggesting that Brown turn Newsweek into the Journal of Brangelina Studies, I'd encourage her to rely on the high-low culture mix that made TheNew Yorker so damnably interesting during her run—and take it even lower. Readers will follow, even if Time won't.
Speaking of Time, which competes in Newsweek's space, Brown should never aspire to be like it, or the other newsweeklies, the Economist and the Week. We don't need another Time, Economist,or the Week because we already have one of each. Let Newsweek separate itself from the pack by becoming more combative, more outrageous, more judgmental, and more wicked than the others. Violate the orthodoxy! Totally de-Meachamize it! On Week 1, piss off the White House. Week 2, the Pentagon. Week 3, Wall Street. Then the unions, Harvard, religion, life-insurance agents, the green movement, and so on until the bottom is reached with an exposé of Little League baseball. Then repeat. According to H.L. Mencken, "The liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries. …" I want, very much, for Tina Brown to be that sort of cat-slinger.
Of course, Brown is going to be the top in the relationship between Newsweek and the Beast. But which of those journalism brands is going to dominate the other? Brown should preserve Newsweek as the über-brand—if only because hundreds of millions of people are already familiar with it and not with the Beast. But make sure to infuse the best of the Beast culture (and I don't mean Meghan McCain) into the magazine. Go ahead and use the Beast logo, writers, and ethos in the front of the book in the magazine. On the Web side, kill the Beast URL but integrate its timeliness and attitude into the Newsweek address.
Can Brown's Newsweek end its slide and make money? Obviously it can't if nobody is reading it, and say what you will about Brown, she is a showy, stunt-crazy talent who knows everything about the seeding, nurturing, and harvesting of great stories. The industry that Brown re-enters this week may be dying, but I'm betting on her zombie powers to eat the still-living parts of the business and succeed.
I hope her zombie powers don't get the best of her and cause her to eat the dead before she heaves it. What's so inherently appealing about tossing dead cats, anyway? Throw an explanation at email@example.com and listen to my Twitter purr. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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Correction, Nov. 13, 2010: The original version of this article misspelled Andre Laguerre's last name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)