Tina Brown’s Daily Beast Starts With A Growl, Not A Roar

imageBy now, anyone who’s been paying attention knows that Tina Brown’s online project with Barry Diller’s backing is called The Daily Beast after the paper in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. Brown’s high-profile move to the web from glossy print is scheduled to go live Monday at 7 a.m. eastern, in the softest of launches, scant months after a team was assembled in the Gehry-designed IAC (NSDQ: IACI) headquarters. It’s meant as a smart one-stop news shop, an effort to break new ground in news aggregation by mixing lots of outbound links with heavy doses of curation and original content.

More, including a full-page screen shot, after the jump.

Don’t squint looking for advertising. There is none. Brown explains: “At this point, in this first phase, we’re only focusing on the content and building the audience.” But the business model is advertising and GM Caroline Marks stresses that it’s a business unit for IAC. Brown, Marks and Edward Felsenthal, the former WSJ deputy managing editor who has been working with Brown from the beginning, talked me through a front page of The Daily Beast as they prepared for the launch but the actual site wasn’t available for a preview. I can’t yet say whether the content measures up but at first look, The Daily Beast reflects Brown’s experience as editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Tatler and founder/editor of short-lived Talk: culture mixed with news of the day, quick hits and deeper dives, bold-faced names blended with writers known and not-so-known.

Why would The Daily Beast have a chance?: Brown: “The great thing about the web is that a sensibility is what people are really looking for as they’re choosing how they read things, There are obviously many, many places you can get news and many, many places you can get opinion and many, many places you can get cultural coverage. What I’ve always tried to do with the magazines I’ve edited is my sensibility responding to the zeitgeist out there and picking what I think’s interesting. I’ve come to feel word of mouth is reshaping media and culture and we’re building a site where the rationale is word of mouth, the word of mouth of people we feel are interesting and feel have something to say and offer and know something. … There are other places where you can get aggregation, sure, but ultimately this will work — or not — depending on whether you like the sensibility of the people choosing it.”

Original content: Roughly 30 percent of the content will be original, including daily posts by Brown, who is listed as a blogger. When I asked if she was really going to blog, she played it down: “I’m going to be writing regularly for the site. I’m not going to be writing all day every day … but I certainly will be coming into the site pretty much with something to say even if it’s not anything of great length.” She’s planning a weekly column and “commenting” throughout the week. One quick-hit way to get top names up there: the Buzz Board featuring what “smart people recommend” and led by Bill Clinton on launch day recommending “three bailout-related books.” Brown describes it as “really a great way of tapping into the word of mouth of some of the interesting minds out there so they in a way become part of our curation of what’s interesting.”

The look: Brown: “I’ve always loved the look of the European smart tabloids — La Republica., El Pais … There ‘s a lot to be said for the sex appeal of the tabloid flavor but then incorporating into that really terrific writing and good thinking. In some ways, it’s that high-low mix that I’ve liked to do at Vanity Fair and everywhere I’ve gone really, where the visual presentation is exciting and enticing and the content is smart and well-written and upscale.”

Soft launch: Development truly got underway in July and the plan all along has been to use the soft launch as another stage in that. Felsenthal: “We’ve designed it explicitly as a soft launch so we’re up. The future evolution of the site is, we hope, going to be informed by user experiences and user feedback and as we hopefully build out our content and our traffic we’ll hopefully move to the next phases.” In a way, it’s the web equivalent of the magazine prototype, only less expensive to produce and far more nimble. Marks puts it another way: “From a product perspective, we kind of treat ourselves more like software. We really plan to have an agile development process that reacts to the way our users use the content.”

Web over print: Brown: “I so much prefer it. There’s nothing like actually doing something to learning exactly how it should go. One of the great agonies of magazines is it takes so damn long. It just takes forever to get a magazine out and, once it is out, I remember with monthlies, you’d publish your first issue and almost within hours of getting it out and the first response, you knew exactly how you wanted to tweak it and do things and change it and make it different and better but you were already halfway to press with the next issue so it was really sort of three months before you could change it. What I’m loving about this is we’re actually able to build it fast and get the response and weave that into our evolution. It’s very exciting. It’s thrilling.”

Revenue and traffic: Marks: “We’re planning to syndicate all of our content. We’re looking at doing some aggressive traffic deals so that we can build an audience.” As for the advertising trajectory, “This is a business unit for IAC but it’s also nice to be a start-up within a corporate environment. There’s no question, notwithstanding the downturn, that online advertising is still growing faster than other media … ”

The name: It’s an inside joke for the lit set familiar with Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop . Do people get it? Brown: “Some people get it and some people don’t but that was the whole point. I realized when I chose it, it was a little bit of an in joke to the few members of the literary circle who would remember that novel ..,. but at the same time, it also has a lot of vigor and energy to it, which is what I liked,”