Brown: 'Hostile press and ad slump scuppered Talk'

Brown: admitted to mistakes

Talk magazine could have been a success if it had been given more time, editor Tina Brown told a gathering of magazine editors in London.

But the advertising downturn in the aftermath of September 11 and more than 400 mostly hostile columns in the press proved fatal.

"September 11 changed our business forecast entirely. Our partners would have had to take a big financial hit to ride it out and did not feel they could," she said.

Speaking at a British Society of Magazine Editors forum at London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Brown said Talk was "the favourite bloodsport of the press".

"I warned the staff that it would be bad but by the end of it we thought we had fought more wars than Kabul. And it was extremely destructive to the creative process," she said.

She acknowledged that she herself was a target saying: "I have killed a lot of pieces in my time. I’m not particularly bitter about it but if you continually get flak it scares off advertisers and makes writers nervous."

Brown said she had had four great editing opportunities in her life – Tatler, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and Talk – but she had learned more from "the one that didn’t work soon enough" because it reinforced everything she had learned before.

"What I learned from the Talk magazine flameout was twofold: First, the dynamics of a launch of any kind. No amount of experience and dedication can spare one the essential component of process. At the eureka moment of conception, it is easy to overlook the fact that everything will change… That what you are to be engaged in is dynamic, a collision of variables, especially if you are trying to do something new."

She admitted there had been mistakes, including printing the magazine on newsy paper stock. "Advertisers hated it. We had to admit defeat and go to the glossy paper that made them all safe and happy."

Also, too much time went into building the financial and operating structures rather than the creative process.

The magazine might have had a better chance by launching it out of town till they got the formula right. Instead they had had to reconceive the magazine "on the run, dodging bullets all the way".

"We did come out of the box unready although we got it right in the end. It takes five years to make a success and we only had two."

"Now that it has folded you can really see why Talk was necessary. There are all these great writers floating around doing bits and pieces freelancing and looking for their spiritual home. They are just lost now. There’s no place for them to be theatrical with their work."

Brown paid tribute to a team that "may have been among the most spirited and original people I have ever worked with. When I walk past the empty offices in the magazine division, I’m still haunted by the brief passion of my young colleagues who pused to work there," she said.

"But personal heroics on the part of a staff cannot defeat overwhelming market forces." She said that the book publishing company, Talk Miramax Books, was prospering and planned to publish the memoirs of Rudolph Giuliani and Queen Noor later this year.

Philippa Kennedy

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