What the Times Magazine Could Have Learned from Tina Brown

By Jack Limpert

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Tina Brown learned the hard way the danger of too much hype. Photograph courtesy of Flickr.

Fifteen years ago, the New York Times wrote about a party hosted by Tina Brown to launch Talk magazine: “The party on Liberty Island last night was as eclectic as the magazine it introduced: Models rubbed elbows with politicians, movie moguls chatted with authors, and all of them gathered at the behest of a celebrity editor. Tina Brown, the former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines, was the host of a party for more than 800 guests at the Statue of Liberty to introduce Talk magazine, a title that arrives on newsstands today.”

When readers picked up the first issue of Talk, most said it was okay but just another magazine, nothing special. It lasted two years.

Four years ago, Tina Brown took over Newsweek. This time, according to the New York Times, it was a quieter and more humble Tina. The Times story said, “There will be no celebrity-studded gala with fireworks over New York Harbor this time. No brash predictions of upending the magazine business. The debut of Tina Brown’s Newsweek will, in fact, look nothing like the opening of her magazine, Talk, in 1999, an extravagant exercise in self-promotion and impossibly high expectations that came back to haunt her.”

The Times went on to say, “It’s easy to see why Mrs. Brown, 57, is eager to avoid any hoopla or hype surrounding her plan to turn Newsweek around.”

Over the past six months as I read stories about the February 22 debut of the new New York Times Magazine, I kept thinking that the Times should remember its stories about Tina Brown. A November headline in Ad Age: “New York Times Invests Millions in Sunday Magazine to Lure Advertisers.” The story said “Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine, and Andy Wright, its publisher, have visited 10 cities in the last two months to tell CMOs and agency execs about the changes they’re bringing to the magazine….

“The buddy routine between Messrs. Silverstein and Wright comes as the New York Times Co. invests millions of dollars in its Sunday magazine, a nearly 120-year-old bastion of long-form journalism. A redesign of the print magazine, including a thicker paper stock, is scheduled for Feb. 22. Mr. Silverstein declined to describe the new look in detail, but said, ‘There will be more change than continuity.’ Already, he’s rearranged portions of the magazine and killed two sections….A year from now, I want to see it as an unquestioned must-read for everybody,” Mr. Silverstein said. “If you’re going to have a successful conversation with your friends that week, you’ll have to have read it.”

Silverstein, 39, edited Texas Monthly before going to the Times last year and all the hype for the new Sunday magazine likely was driven by the newspaper’s business side. But you have to wonder if at some point during the nationwide tour the editor remembered the Times’ stories about Tina Brown and the “no brash predictions” lesson she learned.
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A post last week had some background on newspaper Sunday magazines and reaction from editors to the new Times Magazine. The post noted that the March 1 issue of the Times Magazine was back to its usual size—66 total pages with 11 pages of ads, compared to 252 total pages and 121 ad pages in the debut issue. Yesterday’s March 8 magazine was 74 pages, with 14 pages of ads plus three house ads and a public service ad for the American Indian College Fund on its inside back cover.

Comments

  1. Seth Langson says

    The first week of the “new” magazine was unreadable. The discussion by three “ethicists”, whose only qualifications appeared to be that they were educated adults, on the ethics of a tenant complaining to a neighbor about making too much noise was laughable. All they needed to say was complain if it really bothers you and buy a white noise machine. After reading a few other articles, I thought the magazine was edited by Gwenyth Paltrow.

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