Tina Brown Loses Her Magic Spell

What happened to Tina Brown’s power over writers and editors? At The New Yorker and Vanity Fair , she was famous for tearing up the magazine at the last minute, creating more work for her staff–and most people didn’t say a word. It’s a lot different this time around, at Talk . Ms. Brown is the same, but the circumstances have changed, and her editors are walking out the door and writers are walking away from her entreaties.

Why? The No. 1 reason is this: She has less cash to throw at people than she did when S.I. (Si) Newhouse Jr., lord of Condé Nast, served as her sugar daddy. It seems that loyalty to Ms. Brown came as much from money as anything else.

Admittedly, Ms. Brown is doing something quite difficult: willing a general-interest monthly magazine into existence while on a budget, without even a bimonthly warm-up period. In her rush to stop being merely a very highly paid employee and gain “equity” (she’s not only “editor in chief” but “chairman” of Talk ), she signed up two tight-fisted media entities, the Walt Disney Company’s Miramax Films division and Hearst Magazines. In an attempt to justify her genius-proprietorship of the magazine, Talk created a set of contracts that were so unfavorable to writers–setting them up as lowly content providers at the funnel end of a multimedia grinding machine–that many agents steered clear.

In August, special editor George Hodgman got fed up and returned to being a freelance writer. By Oct. 20, managing editor Howard Lalli (a Tina veteran) and features editor Lisa Chase had decided they had had enough, after the close of the December-January double issue. Along the way, the magazine’s production director, David Randall White, fled to Mirabella . Amid the defections, editorial assistants at Talk , like disloyal servants working for a weak monarch, have been amusing their higher-ups by telling anecdotes about Ms. Brown’s personal habits and oddities. Meanwhile, the editor has been furiously trying to hire new editors–but those she approaches have not been falling for her as easily as they did back when her purse was stuffed with Newhouse money.

“There’s something great and terrible about Tina,” said one editor who has worked with her. “She wants it all: She wants it as timely as possible. She wants to keep her options open as long as possible.”

The result? “She puts everybody else through hell–but she puts herself through more,” said a Talk source.

Talk people have said that Ms. Brown has not mellowed. She is still screamingly, impossibly, unyieldingly demanding, a management style that seems not to work so well given her new diminished circumstances.

“People would burn out at Vanity Fair and she would send them to a spa for a week,” remembered one person who worked with her there. “You could work people till 2 A.M. at Vanity Fair and they were being paid for it.”

And at the well-staffed New Yorker ? “There were so many people you could burn through a lot of them,” said the same source.

Believing that the ideas that come up in the heat of the days close to deadline are worthier than those from the slack days when the next issue is in its planning stages, Ms. Brown has presided over three hairy closes at Talk . For the first issue, she had her staff of five editors closing about 100 pages in 10 days. “She doesn’t quite realize what goes into this stuff,” said another source. “When you say to someone, ‘I want this done,’ you forget that someone’s got to work really hard for 12 hours to do it. And then you come back in six hours and say, ‘I told you to do that , and now do this .’”

Ms. Brown likes to have several different lengths of a given article to choose from, which creates more busy work. In short, she doesn’t know exactly what she wants until she sees it, and she wants to see a lot of stuff.

And at Talk , there’s little of the office glamour that sustained people over at The New Yorker and Vanity Fair . There’s just that “being-next-to-her” glamour, and that can only take you so far if the magazine is perceived as not working. And after the decidedly deflated second issue, and the ho-hum third issue, what else is a Tina slave to think?

Perhaps Ms. Brown worked best shaking up something that was already in place. At The New Yorker , she could do something simple–add photos; hire Art Spiegelman or Henry Louis Gates–and be applauded as a maverick. At Vanity Fair , she had to set things right–fast–before the magazine tanked. Now, as a part-owner and creator of Talk , she has nothing to react against.

And so her little quirks and oddities, her workaholism and networking at lunch, no longer seem so charming. Instead of veterans like Dominick Dunne and Kurt Andersen talking up her genius, lowly assistants are whispering about her in the halls of Miramax, and her editors are spilling their complaints to the proprietor of their favorite newsstand.

Talk staff members at the magazine are hoping that the departure of the “stable and aware” Mr. Lalli will wake her up to her plight.

Not helping matters is the fact that Harvey Weinstein, the “suit” behind Talk , is no Si Newhouse. Mr. Newhouse was content to give money to Ms. Brown and to let himself be charmed by her; Mr. Weinstein certainly respects the editor he hired, but he isn’t above giving her an order, just as he isn’t above taking control of a movie that’s not working out of the hands of its producer or director.

Ms. Brown was not available for comment.

Senator-turned-fixer Alfonse D’Amato has been thinking about taking his George magazine advice column, “Ask Alfonse,” to another magazine.

The column, which debuted this past May with much attempted fanfare on the part of George , is a kind of microcosm of the magazine as a whole. It brings together the personal and the political in a dimwitted and painful-to-read fashion.

The October issue introduces the column with, “Baffled by domestic policy? Bemoaning your private life? Our resident guru tells you how to survive bad boyfriends, bad debts and being the worst player on the team.” The former Senator goes on to explain how he still needed money to pay off his campaign debts; how he opposed term limits and so would the Founding Fathers; how the Electoral College was a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”; how Congressional pay raises are justified (“I know $141,300 sounds like a lot of money, but we expect an awful lot from members of Congress. After all, you have baseball players getting $6 million a year. I certainly don’t think the amount we pay our elected officials is out of line. If anything, they deserve more. It would take a Congressman 42.5 years to earn as much as a ballplayer. Think about that”). And on and on.

So far, Mr. D’Amato has shopped the column to Vanity Fair and New York magazine. New York editor Caroline Miller had lunch with Mr. D’Amato the week of Oct. 4. “He is indeed a very amusing lunch date,” she said. As for the column, she said: “We discussed it, but the lunch hasn’t gotten any farther than that.” Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter also had lunch with Mr. D’Amato, according to that magazine’s spokesman. A call over to George found that nobody there realized their advice columnist was thinking of abandoning ship.

Randall Rothenberg has landed a new job as editor in chief of Strategy & Business , a business quarterly owned by the management consulting firm Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Mr. Rothenberg has been an advertising writer at The New York Times , the acting editor of Esquire (between the regimes of Ed Kosner and David Granger) and the New York editor for Wired magazine. He’ll also be editorial director of its book imprint and run its Web site. During his time at Wired , Mr. Rothenberg arranged to excerpt Booz-Allen senior partner Michael Wolf’s book, The Entertainment Economy .

So what’s it like to be working in the offices of a management consulting firm? “It’s not that different from Time Inc.,” Mr. Rothenberg said.

From the annals of improved magazine photography: In its Oct. 4 issue, Time magazine crested the wave of Bill Bradley’s rise with a cover story and a meticulously spotlit photo that somehow makes the former Senator look more Presidential by blacking out that turkey neck of his. Arthur Hochstein, the magazine’s art director, said the only thing they did to the candidate’s visage was decrease the intensity of his green eyes, which he said was correcting for problems when they digitally scanned the image.

Then there’s W , which hired apparently au courant fashion photographer Juergen Teller to shoot Kate Moss for its October issue. The shoot, set in Monte Carlo, tries to be informal–Ms. Moss is seen leaning on tires, passed out on the deck of a boat in a strapless silk dress, eating an ice cream cone, etc. And then there is the picture showing Ms. Moss curled up naked on an armchair, revealing her derrière, which, somehow, has been rendered crackless.

Through an underling, W editorial director Patrick McCarthy refused to comment on the missing cleavage, though he did say: “Kate’s butt is one of the most beautiful butts I’ve ever seen.” When asked if the magazine has a policy against female butt cleavage, another staff member commented, “If that’s true, I didn’t get the memo.”