Newsweek-Daily Beast talks collapse

The anticipated marriage of Newsweek magazine and Tina Brown’s Daily Beast site failed over a dispute between the weekly’s 92-year-old owner and Brown’s camp, it has emerged.

This union of print and web, judged by some a potential saviour to both parties and by others the misadventure of doomed ventures, came apart last week.

According to New York magazine, hi-fi magnate Sidney Harman, who bought Newsweek in August for $1, balked at terms that denied him power to dismiss Brown while giving the British editor freedom to report to an independent board.

The magazine reported that when Harman read the management structure proposed by Brown’s backer, the media mogul Barry Diller, Harman pulled out of talks.

The decision was mutual, Brown said. “Barry and I decided it wasn’t the right fit. It was clear to us that it just wasn’t going to be a good fit, and therefore better to make that decision now than afterward.”

Diller confirmed the deal failed over governance: “We got 50-50 economically, but 50-50 in terms of governance and all of that was not obtainable,” he said.”Who, as George Bush said, is ‘the decider’ is a real murky area to navigate.”

New partners
The failed deal, which could have merged Brown’s editorial energy with Newsweek‘s establishment stature in a re-modelling role she already knows from Vanity Fair and New Yorker, now leaves both in the market for a new partners.

What is unclear is how long Diller will support a publication estimated to be losing $5-million a year as it tries to grow into a successful web brand on the lines of Politico or Huffington Post. Diller has a history of pulling the plug on money-losing ventures after the initial excitement has cooled, and may seek a deal with a more structured operation such as AOL or Yahoo!

Diller says however he is confident the Daily Beast will make it into print: “As much as digital is going to take more share, advertisers like to have a print representation of what they are trying to say.”

Meanwhile, the New York media mill grinds with rumour that Rupert Murdoch is going to announce the launch of a new national US newspaper late next month.

The open question is why Harman, a full 13 years senior to the News Corp chairperson, purchased Newsweek. “My wife, remarkable woman, was at first resistant,” he told the magazine. “She said, ‘You are naïve about this city. It waits for somebody like you to pratfall and then it jumps. I’m concerned that after a lifetime during which you’ve built a sterling reputation, if this fails, they’ll be all over you.’

Harman’s response is simple: “It keeps me alive and curious. It permits me to experience a more expanded, integrated, synthesised life.” –


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