Tina Brown's Newsweek redesign: not so hot.

Media criticism.
March 7 2011 5:13 PM

What's Not Hot? Newsweek.

Editor Tina Brown lays an egg in her redesign.

(Continued from Page 1)

Perhaps that was true when we connected to the Web with 56 kbps modems, counting the minutes as pages loaded on our 14-inch monochrome cathode-ray-tube monitors and printing out long articles for reading later. But as the editor of TheDailyBeast.com for the last two and one-half years, Brown knows better. The speedy Web, smartphones, and iPads have erased (if it ever existed) any special "path to understanding" that magazines may have once delivered. There's nothing in this issue of Newsweek, or any other magazine on my local newsstand, that couldn't be put on the Web. Unless Brown is pretending otherwise for the benefit of a certain Newsweek subscriber in Keokuk, Iowa, who has never seen the World Wide Web, I don't know why she'd write such silliness.

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Perhaps the target of Brown's nutty sentence is the 92-year-old Sidney Harman, whose millions rescued Newsweek from the magazine graveyard last fall. But Harman, who made his millions in tech, must see through Brownian bunk like, "There is a time for the quick zap of news on the Web" and "the Web has no time to explain." Brown seems to see through her own bunk when she writes in the same introduction, "Our front section NewsBeast reflects the fast tempo of Web culture."

Anybody who knows how to formulate a Google search can quickly find the reason why the Daily Beast has hooked up with Newsweek—and why Tina Brown is editing it. Barry Diller, whose company, IAC, owns the Daily Beast, wants it that way. In an Oct. 27, 2010, IAC earnings conference call with analysts transcribed by Nexis, Diller said:

And I think, as I said, that one way or the other, I expect we'll either find something or will create, somehow, as Politico did very successfully, a print product to go along with The Beast. Because for advertisers, I think that makes sense.

Recast as a business play, the redesigned Newsweek isn't quite the disaster I've portrayed it as above. There is no more imaginative, talented, ambitious, and relentless editor working in journalism today than Brown, with the exception of New Yorkmagazine's Adam Moss. So I'm hoping that Brown was rushed into redesigning Newsweek to make Barry Bigbucks happy and to make the deadline for her up-with-women conference. I'm hoping that we should regard today's redesign as equivalent to the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark previews. By Newsweek's true opening night, I trust that Brown will have rerigged the wires, that nobody will fall to his death from the masthead, and that we'll be envious of her skill once again.

***

If you're not reading New York, the second-bestweekly magazine in the universe, you're some sort of knucklehead. The Bernie Madoff cover story last week was the Coupe de Ville. What a wonderful bunch of writers in that issue: Steve Fishman, Joe Hagan, Dan Kois, John Heilemann, David Edelstein, Adam Platt, Ben Ryder Howe, et al. Has Frank Rich got the stuff to play with this gang? Send your New Yorkassessment to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. Watch me fly without wires on my Twitter feed. (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.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slateruns a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Spider-Man in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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