As readers will know (and be bored of hearing by now), I believe the future of media is in intelligent aggregation of niche offerings within larger cross-platform organizations. I have always assumed that we would get to this model if big old media bought up smaller new media, or if small new media sites merged with one another to become big new media, of if big old media diversified by launching smaller new media platforms.
I had not considered however, the possibility that small new media might buy up big old media. That appears to be happening now, as Newsweek–just recently purchased by Sidney Harman–considers an offer from Tina Brown’s Daily Beast.
I am not a fan of the Daily Beast. There are one or two very smart people I know who write for them, but for the most part, I find the site tabloid-y. Its better writers are people whose work already had a platform at Slate or Salon or elsewhere. It’s unclear to me, more than a year after its launch, what the Daily Beast has added to the digital mediaverse that wasn’t there already. Given that I feel rather similarly about weekly news magazines, one would think I would be down on this merger.
But I’m not, entirely, because I still have a great deal of confidence in Tina Brown as an editor. As editor of Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992, then as editor of the New Yorker from 1992 to 1998, her mark on American journalism is undeniable. She gave Vanity Fair the combination of high fashion photography and deeply reported narrative that make it suo generis. She gave the New Yorker a batch of new writers–Jeffrey Toobin, Lawrence Wright and Adam Gopnik stand out–who made it fun to read again. And through their voices, their combination of rich narrative, beautiful prose and rigorous reporting, she had a tremendous impact on me and the kind of journalism I aspire to produce. If that Tina Brown–magazine editor Brown–is taking over Newsweek, only good things can come of it. But if Newsweek is going to become a print version of the Daily Beast, I’ll pass.
Updated, 10/18/2010: The merger talks have fallen apart, because Brown, Harman and Barry Diller (who owns a piece of the Beast) couldn’t agree on how to share control. Says Brown in today’s WSJ: “The engagement was fun, but the pre-nup got too complex.”
Updated, 11/12/2010: The merger is back on. Read the announcement here. And note, it’s clear what Newsweek gets from the deal (Tina and her readers!), but it’s not clear to me what the Beast is getting, or what its future is.