HEADING OUT: Newsweek’s revolving doors keep on spinning. Dirk Barnett, creative director, is leaving to join the greener pastures of The New Republic. Barnett is a big loss following what have been already brutal back-to-back weeks of bad press for the newsweekly. As creative director, he spearheaded a major redesign of the magazine over a year ago.
Barnett joined Newsweek after five days at Condé Nast’s Lucky on the strength of Tina Brown’s reputation and ambition.
“Tina’s pitch was simple: make Newsweek a strong, vibrant, living brand again,” Barnett told the Society of Publication Designers last March. “Plus, the opportunity to work alongside Tina was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Vibrant is not the word most observers would use to describe Newsweek in recent months. The latest troubles began in late July when the Harman family confirmed it stopped investing in the joint Newsweek-Daily Beast venture and left it in the hands of Barry Diller’s AC/InterActiveCorp.
Then there was Asparagate, when the magazine was caught recycling a stock photo of an asparagus, and this week, push back on an inaccurate cover story by Niall Ferguson. Bloomberg Businessweek also recently poached reporter Nick Summers, although Newsweek has recently revealed several new contributors, like Bob Shrum. Barnett leaving to join The New Republic also can be seen as a swap of sorts: Newsweek hired The New Republic’s editor, Richard Just, after he’d been replaced with Frank Foer.
Reached Wednesday, Barnett told WWD, “I came to do what I came to do. Like every magazine out there, Newsweek has a lot to do. We’ve done great work here, and they’ll continue to do great work.”
Barnett declined to comment on the asparagus cover. It was not the first cover to stir the wrong kind of controversy — before, there had been “Diana at 50” and “The First Gay President.”
But Barnett’s tenure also saw acclaim. As part of the redesign, he introduced a new logo, brought back heavy use of infographics and large photos, and helped revamp Newsweek’s iPad app. Some covers — after Steve Jobs’ death, on the anniversary of 9/11, and the return of “Mad Men” — were praised.
“We have all enjoyed working with Dirk at Newsweek and wish him all the best in his new challenge of redesigning The New Republic,” Brown said. The news was expected to be revealed this morning in a memo to staff.
Barnett says his departure has nothing to do with the recent spate of bad news.
“Newsweek is great. I have nothing but respect for everyone here,” he said.
He said he was again attracted to a strong pitch “to be able to create the new visual language of an old brand.” This time it came from a magazine that under new owner Chris Hughes has not been shy about spending money to lure talent.
Barnett said he and Foer have been talking on and off for two months. He is likely to begin toward the end of September. The New Republic has been preparing for a redesign for several months with the aid of design firm Pentagram, but its launch is likely to be delayed until January.
“This is a big deal for us,” Foer said. “He’s our first full time art director in 98 years and reflects our aspirations for the magazine. To compete as a general interest magazine, we need to look like a general interest magazine.” Foer has also brought on two contributors: Judith Shulevitz, a former Slate editor who will work on science stories, and Cass Sunstein, a former high-ranking Obama administration official.