12 November 2010

Weak Beast?

Despite sounding like the punchline to a joke, Newsweek magazine is going to be merging with the liberal website “The Daily Beast”, backed by Barry Diller.  This will be a 50%-50% merger with Tina Brown, formerly editor of Vanity Fair now of “The Daily Beast” as editor.   Officially, the enterprise will be called Newsweek Daily Beast Co.

This “merger” of Newsweek follows the August 2010 purchase of the 73 year old news weekly for $1 by Sidney Harman (who is married to Rep. Jane Harman D-CA 36th), which also assumed Newsweek’s $47 million in liabilities.

The business plan is to continue publishing Newsweek as a weekly print periodical but incorporating its internet operations with the two year old Daily Beast website.  Tina Brown effused about the synergy between the organizations:

I see Newsweek and the Beast as a marriage between Newsweek's journalistic depth and the vibrant versatility the Daily Beast has realized on the web. The metabolism of the Daily Beast will help power the resurgence of Newsweek and Newsweek amplifies the range of talent and audience the Daily Beast can reach. The two entities together offer writers, photographers and marketers a powerful dual platform.

Oh, I am sure that longtime Newsweek columnist George Will will revel at having equal billing with Daily Beast columnist Megan McCain.

The Daily Beast may have bought more goodwill than journalistic talent.  Since Harmon acquired Newsweek, Managing Editor Jon Meacham bolted along with Evan Thomas, Michael Isakoff and Fareed Zakaria. That was much of Newsweek’s journalistic star power.

Aside from the historical legacy, it makes one wonder why Newsweek continues to exist.  Newsweek had a $29 million operating loss in 2009 and was having trouble selling advertising. In 2009, Newsweek tried to reposition itself as a seminal commentary weekly akin to the Economist and intentionally shrank its subscriber base by 50% in one year.  Not surprisingly, that plan failed forcing the Washington Post to sell the newsweekly for a fire sale price.

Perhaps the major motivation is to splice Newsweek's 2.9 million monthly hits with the Daily Beast’s 5 million unique monthly visits.  But that is a lot of operating losses for goodwill and a money losing dead-tree edition.

This media merger may prove to be more of a weak beast.

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