The storm after the storm: Returning to the office, champagne in hand, 'Newsweek' staff awaits the ax
Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, called her minions together in the newsroom yesterday for a 5 p.m. champagne toast.
It was, according to a source, meant as a token of appreciation for the hard work of the staff through Hurricane Sandy, the elections, and her publications' inaugural Hero Summit last week in D.C.—it had all been a slog.
Life in the newsroom had only just started to look normal again. It was only the day before that most employees of the sister titles, which merged in the beginning of 2011, had finally been able to return to their desks after being displaced for more than three weeks while their Frank Gehry-designed headquarters that loom over the West Side Highway like a spaceship recovered from flooding and electrical damage brought on by the storm.
But all the chaos had simply put off the next round of misery at NewsBeast. Before Sandy was even a wave rippling through the southwestern Caribbean, it had been announced there would be "staff reductions" as a result of Newsweek ceasing print operations at the end of the year, after which it will be reinvented as a digital-only title called Newsweek Global. It's a milestone that will mark the end of one of the most venerable print magazines in the history of American journalism still publishing. It's also a sober manifestation of the industry's troubles: a frigid print-advertising climate that has hastened the demise of once lucrative paper platforms while ushering in leaner online and mobile models that tend to be more difficult to monetize, yet require more time and effort on the parts of their content creators.
Practically, though, Newsweek's decision to go all digital means that a bunch of people are going to lose their jobs—a familiar scenario to anyone who's worked at a newspaper or magazine over the past five years, and one with which Newsweek staffers have already grappled twice since the magazine was sold by longtime owner The Washington Post Company a little more than two years ago.
"With Sandy and the election and the Hero Summit, everyone has been so distracted," said one insider. "But now that we're all back, everyone will start thinking" about the anticipated layoffs.
Several high-profile staffers have already jumped off the ship, including Rebecca Dana, Peter J. Boyer and Kate Aurthur. Those that remain are left wondering who will still be getting a paycheck in another month or so.
None of the current or former NewsBeast staffers Capital spoke with for this article had any knowledge of the scope or timing of the cuts, and a spokesperson for the Newsweek-Daily Beast Company declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing personnel matters. Barry Diller, chairman of NewsBeast's parent company, I.A.C., suggested on an earnings call several weeks ago that the reductions would be as "spare" as possible.
Sources did say however that some staffers have received assurances that their jobs are safe. And speculation holds that those affiliated primarily with The Daily Beast, which has a larger dedicated staff than Newsweek proper and is flying high on 18.9 million unique visitors during the month of October, have better odds of surviving the culling.
The total combined New York-based Newsweek-Daily Beast headcount is 270. About 100 of those are unionized members of the Newspaper Guild of New York, according to Guild president Bill O'Meara.
"We have not yet been given official notice of layoffs but some are obviously likely," said O'Meara.
Meanwhile, as current Newsweek staffers await word of their fate, old-school alumni are publishing recollections of the magazine's glory days.
A tribute website called Newsweek Memories popped up about a week ago. It was created by Washington Bureau veterans Rich Thomas, a longtime former chief economics correspondent who worked at the magazine from 1962 through 2006, and Bill Cook, who worked there into the 1980s after a long stint that included covering the Vietnam War and the 1960s civil rights movement.
Thomas told Capital that they were trying to get the word out about the website to Newsweek veterans young and old, far and wide, and that they've already received about 20 contributions, including pieces by Peter Goldman, Evan Thomas and Lynn Povich. He said they'd been promised a piece by Daniel Klaidman and that he expected one from Brown's predecessor, Jon Meacham, as well.
"Jon will come through. I know he will," said Thomas, who is 81. "I don't know Tina, but we certainly invite her comments." (Brown could not be reached for comment through a spokesperson.)
Thomas also said that news of the print edition's demise was not a surprise among members of Newsweek's old guard.
"Everyone saw the writing on the wall," he said. "Newsweek had a tremendous impact. We set the agenda for the country. ... But competitively, print is dead."