How Tina Brown is like quantitative easing
There will be layoffs as the two staffs merge. (The incentive is to make those cuts from the Newsweek side of things, as the Washington Post Co. has agreed to cover some of those costs for up to one year.)
The merger of The Daily Beast and Newsweek is a merger of a website and a print magazine. To have two web staffs would be redundant, and Brown has carefully built up her own; meanwhile, Newsweek‘s costs nothing to fire. Easy, right?
Of course, it’s much more complicated than that in practice — and Summers reports that Brown “gets tripped up a bit talking about the future of Newsweek.com”. But the clear impression one gets from Summers is that Brown has been thrust blinking into this merger, and that she’s going to do her best, but that she has no more idea than anybody else how this combination of two rocks is conceivably going to float.
Brown has a powerful reality distortion field; if Steve Jobs is a 10, Bill Clinton is a 9, and Arianna Huffington is an 8, then she’s a 7, roughly in line with Barack Obama. Reality distortion fields can be monetized: the way Summers puts it is that “Ms Brown’s name brings in print-ad dollars all by itself”. That might be true, but it didn’t save Talk. (Which, incidentally, would be a good name for both the magazine and the website, and would also give the whole enterprise an aura of ambition which can look unblinkingly in the face of failure.)
That said, Brown did resuscitate Vanity Fair, and her career shows that she’s maybe a better turnaround artist than founder. If anybody can save Newsweek, then she can: think of her as the desperate quantitative-easing measure to Sidney Harman’s Ben Bernanke. It probably won’t work, but it’s the best chance he’s got.