November 12, 2013

Tina Brown is sick of reading, just wants to talk with people


In a talk last Satruday for THiNK 2013 — an increasingly interesting conference run annually by India’s leading news magazine, Tehelka Tina Brown spoke about her move away from the written word. She doesn’t read magazines anymore, she said; “the habit has gone.” After a career at Tatler, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast, she is leaving print in January 2014 to begin a “Women in the World” conference series, discussing foreign affairs through a female perspective with women like Meryl Streep.

I tend to recoil from any claim that print is dead, but if someone was going to make a case that there’s no sense in reading, either, Brown is a surprising candidate. She’s won dozens of awards for her magazine work including a CBE for overseas journalism, and she’s in the Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame. She currently runs a must-read series for NPR.

“I think you can have more satisfaction from live conversations,” Brown said according to the Hindustan Times. She believes the world is “going back to oral culture where the written word will be less relevant.”

And what will they talk about, if not what they read? Brown doesn’t think much of television, either.

“TV is dead and now they are chasing a demographic they are never going to find,” said Brown. “We’ve reached a moment… ‘my god, the television is an ugly piece of furniture.'”

These points aren’t so far from the interviews she gave when her memoir with Henry Holt was announced: “In the world of screens, we’re all tired of screens… That’s why I think that live events have become so popular. Because I think people actually want to get away from these [screens]. They actually want to go out and have some human warm bodies.” This time she took her comments about the digital world further.

“The digital explosion has been so explosive,” said Brown during the THiNK conference. “There isn’t a single place where the digital thing is a profit thing. The disruption hasn’t brought a business model.”

She was also critical of the world of journalism, declaring “editorial outfits are now advertising agencies,” and blaming the journalists themselves for this change. “Journalists have not been aggressive enough about fighting back; it’s a very, very pathetic moment in journalism.”

On Jeff Bezos, she added, “Owning news makes you important; it gives you a seat at the table. The number one way of becoming powerful in Washington is by becoming the Washington Post.”

Way to get a conference in Goa into American headlines, Tina.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.