New Yorker's Brown resigns Magazine: Greener pastures entice editor who shook up staid, beloved periodical. She says its financial problems played no part in decision.

July 09, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Tina Brown, the Oxford-educated and Fleet Street-trained magazine editor who for better or worse pulled the New Yorker into the late-20th century, announced yesterday that she will resign as editor to start a company affiliated with Miramax Films that will publish a new monthly magazine, publish books and produce films and television programming.

Brown's announcement came after months of rumors of growing tension between her and Conde Nast Publications, which owns the New Yorker, over the company's attempts to make the magazine less unprofitable.

Although it won nearly two dozen major awards during Brown's six-year tenure and newsstand sales rose 145 percent, it lost $11 million last year and Fortune magazine reported this week that it had lost $175 million in its years of ownership by Conde Nast.

In an interview yesterday, Harvey Weinstein, a co-chairman of Miramax, said he approached Brown about the new venture just one month ago after reading newspaper reports that her contract with Conde Nast was expiring. Brown then introduced Weinstein to Ronald Galotti, who is the publisher of Vogue magazine, who had worked with Brown at Vanity Fair.

Galotti will leave Vogue, which is also owned by Conde Nast, to be Brown's partner in the new venture.

A Conde Nast spokeswoman, Andrea Kaplan, said a successor would be named for both positions shortly.

With a flair for show business, Brown transformed the New Yorker from a venerated but antiquated museum piece into a kind of news magazine of the power elite. Her resignation, effective Aug. 1, offers S.I. Newhouse Jr., who owns Conde Nast, the chance once again to reshape the identity of the New Yorker, which more than most magazines has reflected the particular intelligence and idiosyncracies of its top editors, from Harold Ross and William Shawn to Brown. But it remains unclear whether it will ever be possible to make the New Yorker both a home for the kind of high-quality literary journalism and humor that made it famous and a "profit center" for Conde Nast.

The magazine has had only four editors in its nearly 75-year history. Members of the staff said they were stunned and upset by the news, which Brown delivered shortly after 10 a.m. to a small group of writers and editors she had summoned to a meeting that she had billed as a discussion of upcoming issues.

As for Brown, 44, she and Galotti will now embark upon the seemingly risky adventure of trying to create the kind of so-called synergy that has become a buzzword in media and entertainment circles -- in this case, inventing a magazine from scratch to dig up the kind of stories that might then be turned into movies and television specials that Miramax, which is owned by Disney, would have the capacity to help package, circulate and promote.

"She will be the guinea pig of synergy," said Peter Kaplan, editor of the New York Observer.

Brown, daughter of George Hambley Brown, the British producer of the first Agatha Christie mystery films, and Bettina Iris Mary Brown, Laurence Olivier's press agent who later became a gossip columnist, made her name in the early 1980s when she rejuvenated the stodgy British society monthly, the Tatler, making it slick and trendy and quadrupling its circulation.

She went from there to editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair in 1984, where again she nearly quadrupled its circulation in just five years, putting celebrities on the cover, hiring photographers like Richard Avedon and doubling or tripling what writers were paid. Over the past six years, she has introduced many of the same principles to the New Yorker, raising its circulation from 659,000 in late 1992 to 808,000 in the last half of 1997.

In the process, Brown revolutionized the image and the soul of the magazine. She turned its focus from New York City to the country's three power centers -- New York City, Washington and Los Angeles. She made it topical in ways it had seemed to pride itself on never being. Its covers became glitzy and willfully provocative; its voice became more than occasionally glib. People talked about it constantly, for better or worse.

"She went too far sometimes," said Michael Kinsley, editor of the online magazine Slate, who formerly edited the New Republic and who credited Brown yesterday with making the New Yorker what he called the most exciting magazine in America. "But if you're afraid of going too far, you don't go far enough. She takes risks. Sometimes they're embarrassments but they're a price worth paying."

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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