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"The Stakes Were So High With The New Yorker": Tina Brown's Second Act

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MediaBistro’s smart series continues with Diane Clehane’s “So What Do You Do…?” interview with Tina Brown. A highlight from the section Emdashes readers will be jumping to anyway:
What do you consider your greatest success?
I do think The New Yorker was a very exciting success. As much as I loved Vanity Fair and still do, I still feel The New Yorker was the harder challenge. The stakes were so high with The New Yorker. I felt all the time I was doing it there wasn’t an option to fail. If the magazine not a viable proposition or set for closure — and it was really going down so badly when I took it over. It was so important to revitalize this magazine — the letters, narrative journalism, high standards and the writers that could take three weeks to six months on a story could still be allowed to do that work. What I did realize was that no one again ever was going to start up a magazine that would allow literary journalists to go off months at a time to study and write and do something, so if we failed it would be a horrible consequence.


Thanks for posting this. Slightly incoherent, but startlingly clear.

Last night, as I was perusing The Diana Chronicles in a bookstore, a friend asked me, “Why, exactly, didn’t Talk work?”

If you know, tell me and I’ll pass it on …

I have to admit to a fairly inexplicable Tina Brown crush. Is it wrong? If only she had stuck around long enough to reject me. And with all the drek that passes for content on television, why didn’t ‘Topic A’ hang on longer?

And, turnabout is fair play. Or whatever. What do you think about the argument, implied here, that Brown’s sensationalism saved serious journalism?

I’d also be interested in trying to graph TNY’s earnestness index over the years - Martin?

Boy, there’s grist for about six fat posts in this post/thread and the K.T. Meaney post, which overlap a great deal. (Both address the proper calibration of change that was needed between 1980 and today.)

Talk folded because most magazines fold. George folded, Brill’s Content folded, Lingua Franca folded. Plus 1998 was a terrible time to commence a projected ten-year run. If we want to get specific, Talk was just not quite the right mix of smart and trashy. Both the trashy and the smart have plenty of magazines that cater to them, we didn’t really need the mix as much as all that. Also, wasn’t it connected to Miramax somehow? It always felt as if it were only covering the people it liked or knew.

As far as sensationalism saving serious journalism, it’s not as far-fetched as all that. For years Hitchens wrote (relative) puff for Tina at VF while also writing more serious fare at the Nation. In some sense VF paid for those Nation articles. If you buy the logic that Tina saved the New Yorker, then by default she made possible all of those Sy Hersh articles, whether we approve of this or that choice she made in 1995.

But I’m answering all the questions except the one addressed to me. I don’t have a great deal to add to the general picture of, frivolous (“frothy”) before WWII, more “political” after Hersey and yet strangely aloof during the 1950s and 1960s (Warshaw is excellent on this), more invested in the personal and social during Vietnam while also peppering readers with endless and dry 6-part Shawn/McPhee articles on fiber, then a holding pattern with Gottleib, and “scandalous” Tina and then Remnick striking a fine, serious balance among all of these.

I’ll say this, though: however you characterize this or that era, serious or silly, it always contains a lot more of its supposed opposite than you expect. If the CNY is useful for anything, it’s establishing that.

Taking the long view, getting a little meta, revising the standard history. Martin, this is all so very exciting.

I might argue our cultural and intellectual zenith lived in the 60’s with William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal arguing the point, now you have Ann Coulter and Michael Moore. Keep moving the goal posts of discourse and the substance moves in unison.

I watched her chat show, sharp but overbearing, she’s an adroit manifestation of the media world that rules, but ironic, (?) that she might have been crowded out by the very fluff she allowed into the front door in the first place.

I have admiration, of course, but there’s too strong a whiff of Clair Booth Luce about her, the kind that Dawn Powell satirically put into fiction in A Time To Be Born.

Viva Dawn Powell!!!

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