With jobs at risk, Newsweek.com staffers state their case

Joe Pompeo

On Friday afternoon, while the media world was buzzing about the freshly inked union between Newsweek and the Daily Beast, a handful of Newsweek.com staffers headed over to the Ear Inn, a watering hole in Manhattan's West Village, and started drinking. The mood was grim, an insider told us at the time, because the future of Newsweek.com suddenly seemed uncertain now that the famed magazine would be merging with Barry Diller and Tina Brown's 2-year-old Web news start-up.

Sure enough, staffers woke up Saturday morning to Daily Beast Publisher Stephen Colvin's confirmation that Newsweek.com would be getting the ax under the new joint venture (which makes Brown editor-in-chief of both publications). So they decided to state their case on Tumblr--the preferred outlet for Newsweek to respond to its detractors.

"It's always nice to wake up and find out in the Times that your job is doomed," read the anonymous debut entry on the Save Newsweek.com blog, which went live Sunday afternoon on the popular micro-blogging platform. "Rather than going out and celebrating our merger after six months of uncertainty—and hopefully some stability after a year that saw four Newsweek.com editors-in-chief come and go—we're spending our weekend bombarded by a flurry of emails, wondering how this could have happened. And writing this."

UPDATE - Brown tweets: "Woah! Newsweek.com's superb content will live on under its own banner & in URLs on the new site. Not shutting down, combining."

UPDATE 2, 3:45 p.m. - Andrew Kirk, a spokesman for The Daily Beast clarifies via email: "To confirm, the [Newsweek] url will redirect to thedailybeast.com which will carry content from Newsweek married with Daily Beast content.

Newsweek.com has been in a particularly precarious position throughout the sale process, which began in May and ended in early October when former stereo magnate Sidney Harman closed a deal to purchase the money-bleeding magazine for $1, while taking on its outstanding debt liabilities. Its most recent redesign failed to impress, and its leadership -- editors Mark Miller and Gabe Snyder, and digital general manager Geoff Reiss --  was swept up in the same staff exodus that claimed high-profile bylines like Fareed Zakaria, Dan Gross (now at Yahoo! Finance) and former editor-in-chief Jon Meacham.

Now that Newsweek has joined forces with the Daily Beast, the idea of maintaining two separate Web properties between the brands seems redundant. But Newsweek's dot-com staffers have laid out a strong argument for why Newsweek.com should survive, touching on issues like search engine optimization, branding, existing partnerships--and, not least, its status as a consistently higher traffic draw than the Daily Beast.

"In the face of indifference, condescension and even outright hostility from its print counterpart; with little to no resources; with more high-level hires and fires over the past couple of years than anybody could possibly count—and a revolving door of editors—the small but tireless staff at Newsweek.com consistently created editorial work that made waves," reads the post.

There's another very good reason for Newsweek.com staffers to be touting their track record: Their jobs could well be at risk. Asked during a staff meeting Friday about whether there would be additional layoffs,  Harman tiptoed around the inevitable. "He said something along the lines of, 'Yes, you can be sure that we will and you can be unsure we won't.' He was being rhetorically cute," a staffer who was present at the meeting told Women's Wear Daily. And in the event of more layoffs, the rank-and-file of Newsweek.com would presumably be among the first to go.

In other Newsweek developments, the New York Times' David Carr has unearthed some additional names that can be added to the roster of people who reportedly "said no before Ms. Brown said yes." Those include Atlantic blogger and former New Republic Editor Andrew Sullivan; Businessweek Editor Josh Tyrangiel; and "Studio 360" host Kurt Andersen, the founder of Spy and former editor of New York magazine.

Carr also listed Peter Kaplan, now in charge of Women's Wear Daily and formerly editor of the New York Observer (where both of your Cutline bloggers worked for him at different points).

A Nov. 11 New York Observer item suggested that "Kaplan was also in the mix—until he and Dr. Harman crossed signals about a dinner meeting, leaving the impression that Dr. Harman had stood Mr. Kaplan up."

New York media insiders have been gossiping about the anecdote ever since, but sources familiar with the alleged dinner mixup say that the Observer's account is not entirely accurate, and that the talks with Harman ultimately didn't progress because Kaplan is committed to his new job as editorial director of Conde Nast's Fairchild Fashion Group.