How Tina Brown Remixed Vanity Fair: “I Will Do a Good, Jazzy Job for You, Si”

Tina Brown: “Her gift is to feel the big story.”

Tina Brown was one of the hot magazine editors—she edited Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992 and the New Yorker from 1992 to 1998. Her new book, The Vanity Fair Diaries, was reviewed this week by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker. Here are some  insights into Tina the editor from the story “How Tina Brown Remixed the Magazine.”

Ed Kosner on Tina Brown: She Perfected That Magic Blend of High and Low

Tina Brown was one of the hot magazine editors—maybe the hottest—of recent years, reviving Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992 and then adding life and visual flair to the New Yorker from 1992 to 1998. Her new book, The Vanity Fair Diaries, was reviewed this week by Edward Kosner in the Wall Street Journal and by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker.

Kosner edited Newsweek, New York, and Esquire and once turned down the Vanity Fair job, saying, “I demurred, knowing that I could never do as good a job as Tina eventually did.” Here are some of his insights into Tina Brown the editor in his review, titled  “Tina Brown’s Me Decade”:

McPhee’s Two Categories of Writers

Editors are counselors and can do a good deal more for writers in the first-draft stage than at the end of the publishing process. Writers come in two principal categories—those who are overtly insecure and those who are covertly insecure—and they can all use help. The help is spoken and informal, and includes insight, encouragement, and reassurance with regard to the current project; if you have an editor like that, you are, among other things lucky; and, through time, the longer you two are talking, the more helpful the conversation will be.

A Video That Makes A-List Washingtonians Look Like They Need Some Rest

Partly because CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer has always seemed a little strange and partly because a 13-minute video posted today by Politico Playbook makes some of VIP Washington—including Hillary Clinton and Bob Woodward— look almost deranged, the video weirdly brought to mind the movie Apocalypse Now.

The 13-minute video was part of a 25th anniversary celebration  of Cafe Milano, an Italian restaurant in DC’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood. The restaurant boasts about its VIP patrons, who in the video praise Cafe Milano’s power atmosphere and wonderful food. Critics have never been impressed. Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post says “No one goes there for the food, that’s for sure,” and a Washingtonian critic calls the food “overpriced and boring.”  That didn’t stop the Washington insiders from lavishing praise, sometimes with a wink, on Cafe Milano owner Franco Nucschese as “the most interesting man in the world.”

Four Writers and an Editor Have Lunch

What happens, or at least what happened yesterday at a lunch of mostly retired journalists, is the telling of a lot of good stories.

The writers told the stories and the editor mostly listened, occasionally adding a comment or asking a question. It’s how we once did good journalism.

Rewriting History: Tom Hanks Wants to Play Ben Bradlee So Screw the Times We’ll Make the Movie About the Post

“A Star-Studded Drama About the Washington Post’s Decision to Publish the Pentagon Papers”

This Washington Post story about the new Tom Hanks-Meryl Streep movie, “The Post,” includes a two minute-thirty second trailer for the movie, which will be released in late December, in time for the Oscars. The story says, “This won’t be the first time a story about The Washington Post vies for awards glory. ‘All the President’s Men’ won four Oscars in 1977, though the movie lost the best picture prize to ‘Rocky.’ However, Jason Robards, who played Bradlee, won for best supporting actor.”

Was the Washington Post Right to Make Trump the Big Loser?

Today’s page one Washington Post headlines:

Top of  page one:

Victory for Northam in Va.—Democrats sweep statewide elections, seen as barometer on Trump

Secondary story:

Democrats jolt Trump’s party with firm message

Both stories focused on the election of a new governor of Virginia, with Democrat Ralph Northam defeating Republican Ed Gillespie by 232,000 votes.

Northam succeeds Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic incumbent. Was Democrat Northam winning the governor’s race a surprise? No, he consistently led in the polls. Is Virginia a Republican state? No, Hillary Clinton won the state in last year’s presidential election by 212,000 votes.

Another Question Editors Never Ask Writers

A post yesterday told of an editor neglecting to ask a prospective writer, “Do you know how to type?” That story was true, had a happy ending, and was mostly tongue in cheek and it inspired another editor to suggest, mostly in jest, that editors also should ask prospective writers, “Is English your native language?”

That editor recounts the time he commissioned a story from a writer who had written several well-reviewed books. After the assigned  story came into the magazine, the story editor worked away on it and was having a very hard time getting it to read well. The words were there but somehow didn’t move along in a pleasing and readable way. The frustrated editor finally went to the open door of the editor and, in a loud voice, said, “I’ve figured it out. English is not his native language!”

The Kind of Questions an Editor Never Thinks to Ask

As editor of the Washingtonian I mostly kept my office door open, happy to have anyone stop by to ask a question rather than write something for the in-box—it made things move faster for everyone. Two memorable questions asked at the open door:

Did you ask Ann if she could type?

The question was asked by the magazine’s managing editor, Margaret, about Ann, a new staff writer who was young and very attractive and had turned in her first story and it was written in longhand. This was back in the pre-computer days when stories came in written by typewriters on paper and no, I had not asked Ann if she could type when I had interviewed her.

Journalism and Unions: It’s Been a Rocky Road


For most of the day on Thursday, DNAinfo, Gothamist and DCist were all living, breathing publications, covering their home cities and neighborhoods with their characteristic granularity. On Thursday at 5 p.m., however, all these publications had disappeard from the Internet, their sites replaced by a letter from Joe Ricketts, their billionaire owner. The letter said: DNAInfo and Gothamist—and all the other sites within their networks of publications—were shutting down for good. According to the New York Times, the decision came a week after the employees of DNAInfo and Gothamist voted to unionize.

Washington Post on November  3, 2017
The Gothamist network of local news websites announced Thursday afternoon that it would be shutting down, including the DCist site in Washington. DNAinfo in New York will also shutter. The announcement comes about a week after its New York writers voted to unionize.

Washington Post on November 3, 2017
Ricketts pointed to his bank account when he announced the decision to close New York news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, along with sister sites in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Shanghai. Here’s an excerpt from his statement: