Tina Brown Interview: The Daily Beast Turns 2

To mark our site’s second birthday, we sent some questions to Tina Brown about traffic, far-flung datelines, and those rumors out there.

On October 6, 2008, The Daily Beast was born. We celebrated by getting the editor and founder, Tina Brown, to answer some impertinent questions. Today, as our ravenous offspring turns 2, Ms. Brown sits down and subjects herself to another grilling.

You’re still in business? I read you were going to blow through Barry Diller’s millions and be offline in 18 months.

You heard wrong, pal. The skeptics gave us six months. And two years later, we’re a booming business.

Our traffic is now averaging nearly 5 million uniques a month—more than half of which bookmark us in some fashion, and over 50 percent of which visit the site at least once a day. We’re well ahead of projections on advertising, thanks to our new President Stephen Colvin and his A-Team.

What is The Daily Beast now as you see it?

A romping, vibrant, 2-year-old animal bursting with rude health. I love the variety and intelligence of Beast commenters arguing with each other. And it’s a joy to come to work with such a brilliant, committed staff who all have so many great ideas and the energy to make them happen. It was Barry Diller's idea to start The Daily Beast, and he has turned out to be the best partner I’ve ever had. There’s no one better to go into the jungle with. Combine that with my wonderful Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal and with Steve Colvin and it adds up to one of the best media experiences I have ever had.

We hear something is going on with Newsweek.

How clever of you to notice! Yes, there have been some interesting discussions going on, as we have with potential partners large and small all the time.

The Daily Beast started as an aggregator with some original reporting as a side dish. But the site seems to be cranking out its own articles and now the aggregation is complementary.

Correct. The natural creativity of the staff morphed The Daily Beast very fast into what has become a newsroom. Aggregation lives on the Cheat Sheet, the video player, and in the breaking news slot in the first big box. The rest is all original, generated by Beast writers and editors. And it has been thrilling to see the quality stuff that comes to us from A-list writers who have plenty of choice where they write. Howard Kurtz joining us from The Washington Post, as we announced yesterday, is just an example of how we can attract talent from the hallowed halls of the MSM as much as from the frisky byways of the blogosphere.

I notice far-flung datelines and news from Pakistan and China. Is this a British thing?

Yes. The sun never sets on The Beast empire. We have terrific correspondents now from Pakistan and China all the way to London and the Italian Alps. I love to go to literary festivals in Jaipur and Hay and come back with a clutch of new bylines.

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Name something you set out to cram into The Daily Beast and haven’t managed to cram in yet.

So much! It’s all about finding the writers with passions that communicate and start to define an area. For instance, take Phil Shenon, manning our security beat on subjects ranging from WikiLeaks to North Korea. We also happen to have a wonderful commentator, Clive Irving, who is obsessed with aeronautics. I didn’t set out to have a plane-crash correspondent. I just love his stuff when it shows up at ungodly times in the morning before he goes to his day job. We just added the terrific David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect to write about tech. Shushannah Walshe came aboard as our Sarah Palin aficionado. Obama's strategic Af-Pak adviser Bruce Riedel posts brilliant informed analyses when there are any news breaks on terrorism. Then all of a sudden we added a crime correspondent simply because we found the terrific Los Angeles police reporter Christine Pelisek and loved her stuff. The Beast is passionate, not perfunctory.

Has America’s economic horror show curtailed your plans?

No, this economy is like the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Economics has become as riveting as politics. The Daily Beast has swiftly become a forum for argument and debate for how to dig ourselves out of the hole. More than 160 economists, five of them Nobelists, signed on to The Daily Beast manifesto “Get America Back to Work.” We’re hosting a live event in New Orleans on this very topic. The collision of money and politics is the biggest story of our times.

You have been accused of having your finger on the Zeitgeist. So where is it located right now? What do people want to read and consume?

Sexy brain food. Give us something to make us smarter, but for God’s sake don’t make it feel like work. People are in such a glum frame of mind they are looking for confidence, audacity, practicality, and FUN. They want to stop talking about problems and hear about solutions. Everyone loves The Social Network because the on-screen Zuckerberg is such an effective little son of a bitch, doing whatever it takes to get his idea done.

How’s the advertising?

Thinking beyond the banner ad is paying off great, thanks. We have a terrific looking suite of custom ads now that we have developed that’s attracted a healthy batch of the world’s best-known brands: Lexus, Cadillac, Siemens, HBO, Burberry, St. John, GE, American Express, Starbucks, HP, Bulgari, Credit Suisse, and Lacoste, to name a few. The list keeps growing. Not bad, we feel, for a two-year-old site.

Who are the site’s competitors?

The Daily Beast competes in the highly Darwinian media world filled with hyper-smart, highly adaptive, tool-using people with opposable thumbs.

What journalistic epoch does all the warring Web fiefdoms remind you of? Fleet Street in its cutthroat prime?

Nah, Fleet Street was much more visceral and carnivorous. Imagine the New York Post multiplied by 10 and on steroids.

What sites have you started reading more of since you became a Web journo?

I have become ever more insanely eclectic. The Economist’s More Intelligent Life, Ian Bremmer’s The Call, Ben Smith, Andrew Sullivan, Jezebel, The Wrap, Vulture, Hillicon Valley, Wonderwall, and on and on.

I read that you nuke The Daily Beast lineup late every Sunday night and keep your employees away from Boardwalk Empire. True?

I nuke the line up all the time, not just Sunday nights. I am a dawn riser, more prone to tormenting the early shift with headline changes than the late-nighters.

Where do you want to be a year from now with The Daily Beast?

Still romping along learning and adapting to our fast and furious world with a speed that stays smart, helped by the insights of our vibrant Beast community.