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TRYING TO FOIL ‘THE HATERS': “That last redesign was proof that a bad redesign can kill a magazine,” said Newsweek creative director Dirk Barnett, the man hired in November by Tina Brown to rethink the look and feel of her new magazine. “I don’t think this redesign will do that,” he said confidently. He was sitting over breakfast (granola, plain yogurt, bananas) at Cafe Cluny, one block from his apartment in Manhattan’s West Village, early Monday morning while the first real issue of his and Brown’s Newsweek was hitting newsstands.
Barnett didn’t mince words when it came to his opinions of the Newsweek they inherited from former editor Jon Meacham and his designer, Bonnie Siegler. Their redesign, he contended, “hurt the editorial mission of the magazine.”
This story first appeared in the March 8, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I didn’t look at it at all because what it had become was something that I wouldn’t even want to be close to and that Tina Brown wouldn’t even want to be close to,” he continued. “We just set out to kind of reinvent the magazine in a way by definitely staying true to the core principles of what Newsweek used to be. If you look at it five years ago, it was an amazing magazine.”
So what does Barnett bring to the table?
“My job is to dazzle,” he said. For one thing, he is restoring the magazine’s emphasis on photography.
“The mantra that Tina kept saying was, ‘I want this to be a monthly on a weekly basis,’ so we definitely made it feel a little more lush,” he said. “The typefaces definitely help to do that.” There is also a new logo — a slightly brighter red box with the magazine’s name, now in sans serif type. “It’s gonna say to readers: ‘This is new,’” Barnett said.
But the biggest disappointment in the new design has to be the lack of imagination. Flipping through Brown and Barnett’s first issue after all the anticipation leaves one wanting more and broader changes. One wants to see a new newsweekly, not a new Newsweek.
“I want to keep the 65-year-old dude in Ohio that loves Newsweek, but I also want to attract the younger audience in New York that might be interested in it, as well,” he explained in response to such criticisms.
Brown hired Barnett, 39, from Lucky, where he was brought on by then-freshly minted editor in chief Brandon Holley to execute her own redesign. He left Lucky after only five days on the job. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally,” he said about having to turn his back on the Condé Nast title.
Barnett’s background was at magazines such as Maxim, Blender, Travel + Leisure Golf and Popular Science, where he won an ASME for general excellence in 2004. In 2006, he launched Key: The New York Times Real Estate Magazine and Play: The New York Times Sports Magazine. Brown’s biggest hang-up about putting the magazine in Barnett’s hands was his lack of experience with news. “My pitch was, ‘I’ll make your magazine look like no other magazine,’” Barnett explained.
One thing that Barnett said he will be prepared for in his new job: “The haters.”
“The second I took this job I was like, the one thing people are going to destroy is the design,” he said. “They’re just gonna rip it to shreds. No one’s going to be happy with it. Because it’s Tina Brown. Anything Tina Brown does, there’s haters.”
Later, he added, “I think it’s kind of hilarious. I think we’re going to do a great job. I think we’re going to succeed. And there’s going to be haters. There’s haters for everything.”