Ed Driscoll

All Hail Beastweek!

The saga of the Washington Post’s once staid but respected weekly news magazine has sure gotten strange in recent years. In retrospect, its infamous Koran in the Can fabulation in 2005 marked the beginning of the end, and the paper’s craziness only accelerated until its brand was so damaged that it was sold to entrepreneur Sidney Harmon, husband of liberal California Democrat Jane Harmon for one dollar — plus the massive debts that Harmon observed.

But wait — the madness continues, as Shira Ovide writes at the Wall Street Journal:

News-and-culture website Daily Beast and Newsweek magazine, which the 92-year-old Harman took off the Washington Post Co.’s hands this summer, are merging into a joint venture called Newsweek Daily Beast Company. Brown writes in a Daily Beast post that the three of them — the media-and-Internet mogul, the diva editor and the nonagenarian stereo magnate, respectively – agreed over a mug of coffee to mash together their businesses, after one aborted trip to the altar just weeks ago.

“The Daily Beast’s animal high spirits will now be teamed with a legendary, weekly print magazine,” said Brown, the former editor of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Tatler and Talk –- magazines largely known for their buzz rather than for their financial success, or lack thereof.

Let’s dub the venture “NewsBeast,” because it is bound to be a beast to run, and the inevitable infighting is sure to make news when it spills into public view. It says something about the media business that despite all the reasons below, the beast… oops, best …solution for the two sides may well be this flawed marriage.

Ovide dubs it “Newsbeast;” on Twitter last week, John Podhoretz called the marriage “BeastWeek.” But in any case, Ovide lists four reasons why the merger is a marriage made in media hell. This item is weirdly reminiscent of the train wreck that occurred in the late 1990s, when blue chip old media giant Time-Warner merged with what they thought was the hot new media of the era — AOL:

There apparently isn’t room for two sites at the Newsweek Daily Beast Company. The new joint venture will kill off Newsweek.com, even though its audience is larger than the Beast’s.

Newsweek.com, the offshoot of a 77-year-old brand, has 3.8 million monthly unique visitors to the two-year-old Beast’s 1.5 million, according to Compete.com.

The Beast is the survivor, said Stephen Colvin, the company’s new CEO, “Because the Daily Beast is a very credible and successful news and opinion Web site. And with great vitality and distinct voice.”

The site will publish Newsweek.com-branded content, and Newsweek.com traffic will be directed there.

As expected, Newsweek CEO Tom Ascheim (who, ironically, was brought on to pump up Newsweek digitally) is leaving the company.

The Newsweek, Newsweek.com and Daily Beast staffs will be combined under Tina Brown, the Beast founder who was named the company’s new chief editor. The combined staff will work out of the financial district, where Newsweek was already planning to relocate after its sale to Sidney Harman three months ago. The move is scheduled to take place in a few weeks.

Skepticism about Newsweek and The Daily Beast merger is running high, but Colvin said the two could make more money as a combined entity.

“We’re providing a much bigger platform and access to a very sought-after audience for marketers in the various platforms they want,” he said in a phone call a few hours after the merger was announced. “And that will definitely lead to all kinds of incremental revenue opportunities. And Tina Brown is a very talented editor. There’s no doubt that will lead to circulation growth.”

Given the hyper-politicized and increasingly far left direction Newsweek aimed for over the last five years (remember these classic stories?) and given Tina Brown’s inch-deep knowledge of American politics, what could go wrong?

Well, other than this, of course:

According to the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek looks likely to lose at least $20 million in 2010, while The Daily Beast is on track to lose about $10 million.

Does anybody else remember the enormous bankruptcy suffered by the Penn Central merger? Because the merger of the Daily Beast and Newsweek really sounds like the media equivalent of that massive late-1960s/early-1970s transportation clusterfark. With one key exception:  in contrast to the powerhouse railroad, which dominated the northeast corridor no matter how screwed its finances were, nobody has to read the Daily NewsBeastWeek — and of course, in recent years, nobody has, which led to all their woes in the first place.