THE EDITOR WHO CHANGED THE NEWS
She can gather Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, Christine Lagarde, Meryl Streep and Sheryl Sandberg at the same table without the risk of being overshadowed.
In many ways, that alone is all you need to know about Tina Brown.
She may have held some of the most influential magazine publishing roles in the world but it is as her – Tina – that she is memorable, not just as former editor of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Tatler and, most recently, Newsweek. Perhaps more than any other magazine editor alive, Vogue’s Anna Wintour included, Tina understands the making of a journalism brand and how to give it a unique, compelling identity.
When she took over as editor of the then-insignificant British magazine Tatler at age 25, she was relatively unknown – a term that would never again be used to describe her. She gave the magazine what it lacked, individuality, introducing to it writers from her eclectic circle and reinventing it to become glossier, sexier, more opinionated. Anticipating the interest in Diana in the run-up to the Charles-Diana wedding, she turnedTatler into the go-to for information on the princess-to-be, a strategy that paid off when she was invited to be on The Today Show for live commentary during the royal wedding.
The word opinionated has always been seen as a disqualification, especially for women, but Tina has used the epithet to her advantage. When she was invited to move across the Atlantic to take on Vanity Fair, she proved her Tatler stint was no accident, using a clever mix of literary writing, personality-based content and her knack for developing useful relationships – in this case with photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton – to turn it into a magazine at once glamorous, arty and intellectual.
She is, in many ways, credited with creating celebrity culture – a tag others might find offensive but one Tina dismisses with a laugh. “I didn’t create celebrity culture. A good magazine is the mirror of its times. What I did was to recognise celebrity culture and invite it in for scrutiny in our pages. The catnip of Vanity Fair was to treat movie stars like intellectuals and make intellectuals look like movie stars (easier when you have Annie Leibovitz to help),” she said in an interview to New York magazine last year.
From creating celebrity to being one – and emerging at the forefront of print’s digital dilemma – seems pretty natural when you look at Tina’s knack for being in the right place at the right time. When Vanity Fair led to a stint at The New Yorker, she was entering hallowed territory: despite its formidable losses, it was an American institution, and institutions invariably come with self-appointed protectors. She blew through the opposition, replacing almost 80 writers and introducing 50 others – including current editor David Remnick and Malcolm Gladwell – as she imprinted the magazine with a distinctly Tina stamp. “The most important thing, I think, has been (Tina’s) effort to bring together the intellectual material and the streets. When she was in charge, despite all the complaints from the old New Yorker crowd, one got a much stronger sense of the variousness of American society than one did under the editorship of perhaps the rightfully sainted Mr Shawn,” New Yorker writer Stanley Crouch said later.
Saintly is a term no-one – friends included – are likely to use for Tina, and that’s okay. Notoriously outspoken, she has been a vociferous patron of woman power in journalism, not merely on her team but as a content focus.
When she took on the ailing Newsweek three years ago, accepting the challenge to revive the declining giant, she was already running The Daily Beast, her ambitious online news vehicle that has become one of the most successful digital content providers today. Newsweek also launched the Women in the World summit, bringing together celebrated and obscure iconic women alike annually in New York for a super-charged celebration of female achievement. The proportion of women on the Newsweek cover went up from 7% pre-Tina to almost 50%, and her first issue as editor-in-chief honoured 150 women who shake the world.
Unquestionably, it has to be said, that list would be incomplete without her.
Less than two weeks ago, an announcement that Newsweek – which, at the start of 2013 discontinued its print edition and went wholly digital – was finally being put on the market brought Tina’s detractors out in full force yet again. They shouldn’t rush to write her epitaph yet, though. When Talk, her shortlived glossy-chat magazine launched in 1999 and shut two years later, she dismissed talk of failure. “My reputation rests on four magazines – three great successes, one that was a great experiment. I don’t feel in any way let down. No big career doesn’t have one flame out in it and there’s nobody more boring than the undefeated.”
Only the delusional would accuse her of the former.