Magazines in the Digital Age, and Artist Documentaries

THERE’S a long, vivid and often fascinating story in Politico magazine about Tina Brown, Newsweek and The Daily Beast. The article includes a memorable scene: “It was right around this time that Brown, forever in high heels, stood to make her way to the bathroom. As she crossed Diller’s marble floor, she wiped out and smacked her face on the ground, according to a source who was not involved in the negotiations but who knows the Harman family.” Scribe Luke O’Brien continues:

It was the type of mishap that Brown, weaned on British tabloids, would never omit from a story about the tribulations of the elite. And neither shall we, for no omen is more fitting. Three years later, Brown will have tumbled completely out of journalism, Diller will have lost north of $100 million ($70 million alone of it as a result of the Newsweek merger, he recently told me), and Harman will be dead. The NewsBeast experiment will be ruled a historic failure, perhaps the last great magazine flameout. This is the after-action report.

There have been a number of high-profile stories on the future of journalism lately, including one by the formidable Michael Kinsley, in Vanity Fair, that left me unconvinced. (I’ve seen too many lives and careers damaged over the last few years to concede, as he writes that, “the ongoing crisis of newspapers—going bankrupt, being sold for peanuts, firing staff, cutting foreign bureaus, and so on—will all work out, somehow.”)

The Politico story is more about journalism’s recent past than its future, but it makes, if only fleetingly, a comparison I’d like to see explored more fully: Why did flashy, headstrong emigre Tina Brown flame out while flashy, headstrong emigre Arianna Huffington made enormous riches with her online news source?

Brown’s slick sensibility elevated the Beast above most online fare, including the site of her longtime frenemy, Arianna Huffington, but she couldn’t compete with the Huffington Post’s massive audience and burgeoning revenue. Huffington and her co-founders had realized early that the Internet is more low-low than high-low, something Brown, a lifelong salon mistress, never appeared to grasp. Huffington was well on her way to more than 25 million unique visitors a month—and to selling Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million off an initial investment of $5 million. Brown, meanwhile, was struggling to demonstrate what she wanted the Beast to do and be.

There’s clearly more to if than this, but the different vision of what the web is capable of supporting seems like a start.

ALSO: Oddly, there seems to be not one but two new documentaries on American artists about to open. A.O. Scott reviews the first, on conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, with this description:

LeWitt, who died in 2007, believed that an artist’s work was primarily done not with the hands, but with the mind. “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,” he wrote in his manifesto-ish “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” and a large part of his oeuvre consists of instructions, at once precise and enigmatic, for making sculptures, paintings and drawings that are geometrically complex and visually powerful in ways that surpass understanding.

LeWitt lived not far from me in Connecticut, where I had my first newspaper job, though we only spoke once or twice; he dodged my request to write a profile on him. A major figure and the doc sounds smart.

A very different artist and man is Llyn Foulkes, an ornery Los Angeles extrovert whose recent show at the Hammer Museum impressed me.  His film, Llyn Foulkes One Man Band, reviewed here.

FINALLY: Britain’s Tate has just announced the finalists for the Turner Prize. “The artists are Duncan Campbell, Ciara Phillips, James Richards and Tris Vonna-Michell, who all work in non-traditional media, including film, video and the spoken-word,” reports the Art Newspaper. Go, Glasgow!

Sol LeWitt's Untitled, 1992

Sol LeWitt’s Untitled, 1992

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