The Beast In Me*
I’m still enjoying that special lassitude that comes from trying to persuade my bone marrow to pump out enough red blood cells to deal with the oxygen pressure at 2,600 meters — Hello Bogota!….
…but I’ve been watching this blog go ape over the last few days (in a good way) and feel the need to see if I can’t contribute something to the show.
So here’s a bit of meta-media snark I worked on a bit ago, only to see it vanish into the end-of term swamp:
I know that the party-strewn resume of Tina Brown is of little moment (very little) compared with all the examples of GOP folly and malice chronicled there, everywhere, and here, today and everyday. Even so I just can’t quite get past the astonishingly inadvertant MSM self-revelation in the Times Sunday Magazine profile of Brown — that once and present editor, now running both her upper-middle-brow web project, The Daily Beast, and that moss-covered perpetual second sister, Newsweek.
This paragraph was the first to set me off:
The Beast, as Brown calls it, is a long way from profitability, it’s an impressive achievement whose relatively few visitors (just under four million uniques per month) belie its cultural influence.
Its cultural influence? I mean, I know I’m out of it, but except for some mild fun at Meghan McCain’s expense, and a kind of genteel averting of eyes at some of the more vacuously embarrassing conventional wisdom retreads that showed up there early on, I can’t recall any real engagement with yon wee beastie.
Rather, what it actually seems to be, as the Times can’t quite avoid saying, is an expensive but mediocre performer by the metric that matters in the infotainment business: people ain’t coming and the dollars aren’t following its diminuitive audience. Losses last year, according to the article, reached a cool ten million.
Now I know that both Brown and her Boswell are trying to suggest that the place is still somehow influential, a shaper of minds and ideas. But again, unless I’ve just completely missed it, no.
Hell, just to do due diligence I’ve been and come back to this post in the last five minutes to see what’s up there. [This visit took place more than a week ago. Too lazy to repeat.] Retreads of info about Bin Laden that is everywhere else on the web, including much more straight-news branded sites, a review of advice from Mika Brzezinski about how to ask for a raise, (Mika Brzinski!), complete with a description of the book party at which Morning Joe folks told the author how wonderful Mika is (scoop!…up to a point, Lady Evans) , a piece I refused to click on Osama Bin Laden and Michael Douglas as Viagra brothers…and you get the idea.
What a huge, holy hillock of who cares.
And then there is the searing instinct for the new, the zeitgeist of modern media and those who can bend it into new forms of making meaning. As old friend Hendrick Hertzberg says, “Tina’s a revolutionary leader,” Hertzberg says. Or not:
Brown’s early issues have been strewn with standbys from her Rolodex: Hillary Clinton, Harvey Weinstein, Judith Regan, James Carville, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Yup, when I think of media revolutionaries, Ahhhnold and Regan (she of the O. J. Simpson “confession“) are names that pop right to top of mind.
And then there are her plans to remake Newsweek. I can’t say I have had any interest in the magazine for decades, which is a symptom of the problem Brown was hired to address, of course. But I’m not sure this is going to help:
A new section called Omnivore: Want has featured $2,100 Chanel shoes, a $6,500 Audi bicycle and a $10,000 Burberry “Python” trench, items that would not be within reach of your average newsmagazine reader but that would feel right at home in, say, Vanity Fair.
So the salvation of the newsweekly business is to turn them into smaller, more cheaply produced versions of the aspirational titles? Apparently yes:
“There’s a great kind of high-low, newsy, sexy thing that the European newsmagazines have,” Brown said. “They have this great sort of slightly freewheeling pagination, where they go from a great sexy picture of an expensive watch to Libya or something. So I’d like to have more of that feeling in Newsweek. I think that’s a great thing for a magazine, because that’s where we all sort of are now, we’re all multiplatformed, everything’s messed up with everything else.”
Ahh, the smell of word salad in the morning. It’s not just that I have no desire to go from pictures of a fancy watch, say, or even of the good Bruni — Carla, of course — to the sight of wrecked lives…it’s that there are already folks who do this better, and Brown seems to be putting Newsweek into a familiar second banana kind of place: chasing somebody else’s editorial vision and formula.
The multiplatform blather at the end of the quote is a subject for another day; here I’ll just say that the fact that this sounds exactly like traditional media spouting of about a decade ago, when the great idea was to dump print onto a web page and call it multimedia.
OK — that’s enough sideswipes at Tina Brown. There’s a bigger (to me) point here: All of this appeared in the Times Magazine.
The real howlers here are not Brown’s — for all of the crass money-as-pheramone, Sully-chasing inanity attending this merger, she’s pursuing a recognizable strategy to pull a lazarus on Newsweek. I’m not sure Dr. House himself could save that patient, but full marks for trying.
No, what really got me about this piece was what it confirms (again) about how the Village sees itself. What does it say that a writer could write and an editor could pass with straight faces all that heavy breathing about the cultural significance of a place that provides a soft-landing for Judy Regan?
It tells me that it’s same-old, same-old over there. There is an information cartel at the center of our national media, struggling to maintain its hold on the bytestream. And, just to connect all this to the themes of this blog over the last few days, I’d say that the fact that the Times could produce such hagiography over the fact that Tina Brown is ruling a new roost for conventional, right-leaning hacktitutde tells us all a lot about why the mainstream media has found it so hard to cover even the basics about things that might actually interest the broad middle class audience the newsweeklies used to own.
*Couldn’t resist the title, not least because this title lets me post this:
Images: Poster for the Adam Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Great Shows Combined c. 1897.
Eduoard Manet, Running at Longchamp, 1864