Andrew Keen: Brown’s online Beast begins to roar ahead

New media
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The Independent Online

It’s taken some time, but finally Tina Brown, the grande dame of the Anglo-American media, has gone digital. On 6 October, Brown – the former editor of the New Yorker, Tatler and Vanity Fair magazines and the author of last year’s best-selling The Diana Chronicles – launched a new web-only publication called the Daily Beast (www.dailybeast.com), after the Fleet Street newspaper in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop.

Unlike William Boot,the inept victim in Scoop who is accidentally dispatched to Africa as a foreign correspondent by the editor of the Daily Beast, there appears nothing accidental or inept about Brown’s involvement with TheDailyBeast.com. Bankrolled by the New York City-based media mogul and chief executive officer/chairman of Inter- ActiveCorp (IAC), Barry Diller, Brown’s website is designed to combine her own editorial and design sensibility and what she described as her “wide Rolodex” of distinguished writers (such as the satirist Christopher Buckley and historian Sean Wilentz) with all the virtues of fastpaced, interactive, multimedia internet publications.

The internet, it would seem, has swept Brown off her feet. “I didn’t expect to love it as much as I have,” she confessed when we spoke last week on the telephone. What Brown particularly adores about the net is its immediacy; a story can be commissioned in the afternoon and published the next morning, she said, citing the example of a piece about David Cameron by the Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne, which she published in immediate response to an op-ed article about the Tories the day before in The New York Times by the conservative columnist David Brooks. Brown, of course, is far from being the first traditional publisher to fall in love with the online medium.

Given the millions of publications that already clutter up the internet, I asked her, is there really a need for yet another glossy content and aggregation website publishing up-to-the-minute current affairs, gossip and cultural commentary? The new site, Brown explained, is her attempt to tidy up all that online clutter.

Designed as a daily guide, source and aggregator of the best online content, the Daily Beast is a trademark Tina Brown publication mixing highbrow commentary and unpredictable yet non-partisan opinion with irreverent entertainment and mischief. “I’m equally interested in Carla Bruni’s new record and who is going to be the next Secretary of State,” she said. It’s the internet according to Tina and her wide Rolodex – an attempt to create an online version of what she calls a “raucous dinner party”. Six weeks in, and Brown is thrilled with the Daily Beast’s progress, particularly the clarity of its design. She’s also delighted with the website’s traffic which, according to the web analytics company Omniture, had a very promising 2.3 million visitors and 11.4 million page views in its first month, with a 40 per cent of traffic representing repeat visitors.

“Can you imagine doing this for another five or 10 years?” I asked Brown. “Yes, I can,” she said. Her task now is to build out the website, a task she can see herself doing “for many years”. Then, of course, there’s the money – and that’s where Diller comes in. Brown, whose Daily Beast editorial offices are in IAC’s New York City headquarters, is relying on Diller’s business experience, which she summarised as “strong vision, strong nerve”, to turn the Daily Beast into a profitable venture through advertising sales. Given the attrition in the print business, she expects more advertisers to commit their dollars to the kind of focused, niche online audience she’s building at the Daily Beast.

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