Turnover is probably a good thing for a magazine as sclerotic and outmoded as Newsweek, and there's been turnover aplenty in the weeks since audio equipment mogul Sidney Harman bought the failing title from the Washington Post Co. (WPO). But as the talent drain continues -- Michael Hirsh is the latest out the door, following top editor Jon Meacham, Fareed Zakaria, Evan Thomas and Mark Miller, among others -- the nagging question remains: Can anyone get this thing pointed in the right direction -- assuming there is a right direction?
Just how rooted Newsweek is in the last century is evident from the list of names that have been floated as potential successors to Meacham. Candidates proposed so far range from former Time editor Walter Isaacson, who says he's not interested, to Slate group editor Jacob Weisberg, to my own not-particularly-imaginative suggestion, New York editor and awards-magnet Adam Moss.
Recent Buzz: Tina Brown
The loudest buzz, not surprisingly, has centered on the Queen of Buzz herself, Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Talk. Brown "has thrown her hat into the ring," according to FishbowlNY, although she protests she has "no intention of leaving" the Daily Beast, the news website she started two years ago with Barry Diller's money. Brown's a dab hand at modernizing antique media brands, but she's less adept at pushing them from the red into the black, which is something Newsweek is going to need before long.
Taking the job would also involve a considerable climbdown from her considering how noisily she's been declaiming her relief at being out of the passe world of print publishing. "I have to say I would hate to have to be in the magazine world right now," she said in 2008, shortly after launching the Beast. "The massive apparatus of putting out a magazine is just so onerous...I think I'd be handicapped if I was linked to a magazine."
"I love print and I'm so sad to see it all kind of collapsing, but I do believe that things will regroup in a different shape," she told Daily Intel around the same time.
Assuming Brown is sincere about her desire to stay out of print, it's no loss. What Newsweek needs is new blood, not a retread. If and when they find the right person, you'll know it, because it'll be someone whose name you've never heard.
As Newsweek Staff Dwindles, Still No Savior In Sight