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One On 1: Editor Tina Brown Finds Buzz In Written Words

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British-born Tina Brown, an influential figure in the world of magazines and the internet, has spent almost half of her life as a New Yorker. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following "One On 1" report.

Tina Brown is famous for writing and editing magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. So being the editor-in-chief of the website TheDailyBeast.com seems like a natural progression.

But interestingly, when Brown describes the current work, she likens it to a lesser-known passion from her youth - writing plays.

"The instant response of a website is very similar to what you would get at the theater," says Brown. "It's probably the next most-live response to what you get in a live performance, because you can immediately see what's hitting, just as you can in the theater when the lines either gets a laugh or it doesn't get a laugh, or they clap, or they don't clap."

Brown brings thirty years of experience to TheDailyBeast.com, and a continuous desire to find stories with that magical quality - "buzz."

"Buzz is about creating something that is such an interesting article that you'll want to talk about it. That's what they're doing, they're buzzing about it," says Brown. "I'm not interested in the 'okay.' I'm interested in the exciting, the intriguing, the deeply interesting, the counterintuitive piece that goes against the grain. That's what really turns me on."

It's not uncommon for Brown to entertain at her Sutton Place home, but there is an interesting dichotomy.

"Like a lot of sort of people who are thought to be intensely social, I'm actually fairly reserved, personally, which is in some ways is why I like to entertain," says Brown. "Because very often I can create a lot of action going around and I'm not necessarily in the forefront of it."

When she's not editing other's words, she's writing her own.
Brown was on the presidential campaign trail last year, researching a new book on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton. She admits to an admiration for her subjects.

"A deep empathy with the subject in the end gives you a truthful portrait," says Brown. "You know, I'm not really interested in writing about people that I don't like. I think it's very important for a biographer to have a hero or a heroine that they believe in. It doesn't mean that they don't have flaws."

That was eminently clear in her previous book, "The Diana Chronicles." Brown was friends with the late former princess of Wales, and says she wrote the book as an "insider/outsider."

"You do know their world, their people and their friends and how they interact. And what is right in terms of what they feel and think but you're not handicapped by being such an insider that you're sort of unable to be objective," says Brown.

After three months at the computer, Brown realized that she was writing a conventional biography and hadn't found her own voice. So she did the inconceivable, and threw out her 50,000-word manuscript.

"I don't regard those three months as wasted time," says Brown. "I realized I had to recast it from a completely different perspective, which was my relationship to the story as opposed to just, here are the facts of the story. And once I'd cracked that, I wrote it like the wind."

Her work on TheDailyBeast.com and the Clintons' book comes at a time she calls "unconflicted," in that her two children with her husband, writer-editor Sir Harold Evans, are now grown and out of the house. With them left the dilemma felt by every working mother in new york.

"I constantly worried about, you know, 'Am I too much at work, do I need to be with the kids?' But then when I'm with the kids, it's like, 'My God, look what got undone at work,'" says Brown. "So that constant juggle was a fairly conflicting and tormenting thing for many years."

Her kids are there when their very public mother gets criticized on the internet, and using pseudonyms to hit back, 21st-century style.

"I never really talk about it, but either my son or my daughter will say, 'By the way, I saw that piece online and I wrote some comments, some really rude comments,' which I love," says Brown. "So they sort of protect my back in that sense."

Brown inherited her love of bringing different types of interesting people together from the parties her parents threw at their home outside London. She liked that atmosphere, but disliked the atmosphere in school, and was asked to leave a few of them.

"I wasn't someone who took drugs or drank or anything, I was just very unwilling to buckle down to authority. But I think that, you know, journalists tend to have that in common," says Brown. "If you are a questioning mind, you tend to look at authority with a skeptical eye, which is fine when you're a journalist but not when you're 12."

She graduated from Oxford, enjoyed some success as a young playwright, but turned to journalism for the more consistent paycheck and never looked back.

"When I took over Tatler Magazine, I was 25 years old, and I was like a kid in a sandbox," says Brown.

At around the same time, she gained some renown for her private life. At age 25, Brown married Evans, who was 50, and they soon felt the sting of Britain's needling wit.

"We were like the big targets. And this [pamphlet] is a really hilarious kind of parody of our marriage, as if we were the royal wedding, as if we were [Prince] Charles and Di," says Brown. "[The headline reads:] 'The romance of the century. At last it's legal!'"

Brown came to New York for three months in the mid-1970s, using the money she'd won in a journalism prize. A decade later she was back for good, first becoming editor of Vanity Fair and then the New Yorker.

In her home hangs the cover of Brown's first New Yorker in 1992, satirizing the storm over her revamping of the venerated magazine. It shows a punk being driven by a driver in a fancy carriage.

"The stuffy driver and this kind of slouching punk, and he's saying, 'Here comes the renegade young editor, as it were, who's come into this ivy tower.' And this is how the world views her, which was very funny, I thought," says Brown.

Critics charged Brown with bringing too much celebrity culture into journalism. She saw it as a process of rejuvenating the New Yorker.

Brown now says a long career has given her "a learned optimism about bad times," but at the time she was worried.

"When you are very negatively covered a lot, it can get in the way of perception. So suddenly, advertisers or readers can think something bad is going on, when in fact all you're doing is a job," she says.

Brown saw sexism at work in the coverage.

"I used to always, sort of be kind of amazed that something I did was held to a kind of a higher standard of judgement that frequently male colleagues doing the exact sort of thing got no coverage for doing," she says.

But the coverage created a lot of attention. When Brown started Talk Magazine in 1999, the publication launched with a huge, celebrity-filled opening party on Liberty Island.

Yet a little more than two years later, the magazine quietly closed.

"David Brown, the famous producer, once said, 'Never have an opening that's better than the movie,' and I think it set us up for a lot of hype that then wasn't very helpful," says Brown.

For much of her career, Brown's been associated with the word "buzz," and says the best articles are well-written and create interest.

She does not view the two elements as mutually exclusive. For example, in the 1989 Vanity Fair piece "Darkness Visible," author William Styron wrote for the first time about his depression.

"It was an extraordinarily powerful piece. It got a lot of attention. And he turned it into a book that later became a bestseller with the same title," says Brown. "I just regard it as a fascinating piece of writing."

Brown hosted a show on CNBC for two years, but now at the helm of TheDailyBeast.com, she's returned to a more familiar realm - the written word.

She says she likes working with young people, which is good news, because many on her staff were kids when Brown first made her bones in the magazine world.

"I still think that working with a team on a magazine or a website, or whatever it is, is the most fun you could ever have," says Brown. "And I will love it until the day I croak."

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