In the latest update to the Newsweek Daily Beast saga, WWD's John Koblin doesn't have a lot of encouraging things to say about the state of affairs under editor Tina Brown. It's nothing we haven't heard before. Koblin casts Brown is the regular star in a "classic tale of impulsiveness" and writes how "Brown’s second-guessing of stuff happens all week, every week." Earlier this week, tension between senior NewsBeast staffers and Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker after moving from England, appeared at its breaking point with the prompt exit of the company's publisher and top two editors, including Edward Felsenthal who'd served as Brown's top lieutenant since the prelaunch days of The Daily Beast, three years ago. Koblin's several anonymous sources — unsurprisingly not a single staffer was willing to go on the record and criticize their boss — paint a gritty picture of what it's like to work under Brown. Koblin calls them "broken":
“You’re exposed relentlessly to the truth that we’re not putting out a good magazine,” said one staffer. “I mean, Regis Philbin is our cover this week.”
“People are completely exhausted,” said another Newsweek source. “I don’t think you’ll find anyone who thinks the magazine is great.”
“It can be a miserable place to work,” said yet another.
Brown comes of a bit miffed about the dissension amongst the ranks. "There are always going to be some moaners out there," she said. And at least one of the staffers who was willing to go on the record, Newsweek International editor Tunku Varadarajan, thinks Koblin is the moaner. "Why'd I bother talking to this young man?" Varadarajan tweeted on Friday morning. "He ignored everything that contradicted his 'thesis'.
That thesis unabashedly hinges on Brown's portrayal as the queen of chaos. (Yes, we're trying to make an unsubtle reference to the label that Brown's Newsweek slapped onto Michelle Bachman in a characteristically controversial cover package.) It's not an angle that's been unexplored by other journalists who've profiled Tina Brown. Heck, Brown even admits it. Earlier this spring, Peter Stevenson wrote in The New York Times Magazine that "Brown drives her staff at warp speed." She didn't think it was a big deal at the time. "People get used to that," she told The Times. "I like to have a structure of things that are in place, and then I constantly disrupt it with a new thing, an idea that’s just in the air."
There's perhaps no better example of the chaos than Koblin's closing scene, where she stops short of clarifying her vision for Newsweek:
In a phone interview, Brown, who was sitting in the Quiet Car on the Acela, was asked about that vision, and if she could talk a bit about her Newsweek. It was about 12 minutes into the conversation.
“I’d love to talk to you for 20 minutes but I really can’t do that anymore,” she said. “I’ve got a conference call.”
Her assistant suddenly came on the line and explained she really needed to get to her next call.
We can picture the grimaces on her fellow Amtrak riders' faces, grimaces that surely twisted with every passing minute of that conference call.