Tina Brown, 1953 – 2013

Publications from the Guardian to USA Today ran premature obituaries for the still-living Tina Brown, who will be 60 this November, on the last day of Scorpio—not long before her contract at The Daily Beast ends.

In the obituaries, she predeceases the publication she founded, the future of which is currently hazy, if not actually smoky. Backer Barry Diller may or may not have a plan for it. There is a great case to be made for keeping the old Beast! Without Tina, after all, it can make money.

Though there have been some glitches. The site will be five years old this October. The Beast had 19 million uniques in October 2012, trumpeted Tina! And then yesterday, the site announced that traffic was “up 22 percent year to date to nearly 16 million unique visitors in August.” Fun gap.

But while Diller may have cared about traffic—and he also may not have!—Tina Brown died as Beast honcho because she treated it like a 90s magazine. She still lived to tear up “covers,” despite that she was not actually running a magazine with covers, except for the brief Newsweek interlude, which actually should have had most of its covers torn-up and trashed. She lived to over-pay semi-star writers who didn’t deserve it. (Gerald Posner! Howard Kurtz! Many more!) Most of all, she lived to send an unbelievable stream of garbled, hilarious, ridiculous late-night and early morning emails to executive staffers from her mobile. Tina Brown never got a manicure that served her well in the digital age.

These are among the more coherent ones, from a former staffer who adores Tina and enjoyed working there, it should be said.

These are the charming and endearing ones. The rest of the emails are enough to drive anyone crazy. They are lunatic, incessant, and I have seen a few (unfortunately, their recipients refuse to release them for public consumption) where either autocorrect or flights of fancy rendered her BlackBerrying into something for which most of us would have been institutionalized, a salad of nouns.

Tina’s primary eulogizer has been, of course, her fellow gig economy expert Michael Wolff, who is paid well by everyone to do many little things. It’s fitting: he’s the survivor’s survivor.

Here’s Michael Wolff in February of this year:

She has fired so much of her staff, and so many others have quit in disgust, that everybody left is so full of self-loathing and uncertainty that, really, she is the only one who can be trusted to represent the enterprise without breaking down in tears. It is down to her.

In her singular insistence, she has become quite a bellwether figure of the media apocalypse, causing many people in our business (at least, of a certain age and New York-centricity) great anxiety and existential dread. In one sense, hers is a cautionary tale. Tina Brown has gone from perhaps the most popular person – popular in a high-school sense – in the journalism business, to a lonely figure.

Here’s Michael Wolff in May of this year: “I can’t imagine there is anyone who would bet on the Daily Beast’s long-term future, or, at least, on Brown’s.”

And here’s Wolff today:

Brown once dominated the New York media world. Even as she lost influence, she tenaciously held on to a series of always much-talked-about positions in it, and was lovingly, cattily covered by several generations of media reporters. Now, she has lost her most recent and, likely, last perch…. Magazines – knowing, insidery, cruel, fawning, beautiful, upscale (remember that word?) magazines – died, leaving her without a profession. The rich and clever who were the subjects of her magazines became strangely equivocal figures. New York itself moved to Brooklyn.

Michael Wolff, incidentally, turned 60 a few weeks ago. He’s a Virgo.

Thirteen years ago—thirteen years ago, while Talk existed!—Frank DiGiacomo wrote about Tina Brown being a target.

“Certainly, in my next incarnation,” she spoke into my ear, “whatever that may be, in my fifth act, I’m going to be a really irresponsible writing journalist. A totally iconoclastic, absolutely fuck ‘em-you-print-it-because-I say-so-Joe Eszterhas kind of a writer. Some editor’s burden. I won’t give a shit. I will write what the hell I want to write. And let ‘em publish it as far as I’m concerned, because I’ve spent the last 10 years or 15 years deciding whether something is right to run or not and I would think it’s my time to break out of the box.”

For heaven’s sake, a fifth act—and this should technically be Tina Brown’s sixth or seventh act: Tatler, Vanity Fair, New Yorker, Talk, The Daily Beast, and one really should count the Diana book—is not producing conferences. Conferences are terrible. Arianna Huffington has a conference. So dreary. If we feel entitled to Tina because we’ve had her to entertain us for decades now, then it’s reasonable that we demand something more magical.

But I understand, it’s quite exhausting to keep up.



Photo by Rex Sorgatz.