It was fun while it lasted Richard Ad­dis

RICHARD AD­DIS looks back on a heady eigh­teen months edit­ing a new in­car­na­tion of Newsweek

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

I WAS LURED out of semi-retirement to edit Newsweek. It was prob­a­bly a mis­take, but it might have worked.

In Novem­ber 2013 or there­abouts I was head­ing off to a game of ten­nis in Hol­land Park when I re­ceived a tele­phone call from some­one who, like me, was old enough to re­mem­ber the glory days of Fleet Street when the big cats of jour­nal­ism stalked the jun­gle with mighty tread. He was, it emerged, ‘sound­ing me out’ about be­com­ing the editor of Newsweek.

Like any old (I was 57 at the time) artiste called upon once again to don my cat­suit, I si­mul­ta­ne­ously heard the salt­caked, clang­ing bells of a warn­ing buoy lurch­ing drunk­enly above the jagged rocks of ac­tu­al­ity and the de­li­cious siren song of those comely maid­ens Ex­penses, Lunch, Power, Travel, Pa­tron­age and Awards. (I omit the maiden Lu­cre be­cause I do not give a fig for her.)

A few months later, their song still strong, it was the be­gin­ning. I was sit­ting in an of­fice in Ca­nary Wharf as editor-inchief of Newsweek’s Euro­pean edi­tion with a bud­get of £1 mil­lion a year. You’ll no­tice the slight change in my ti­tle: there was an editor of Newsweek al­ready in New York. He re­mains to this day a part-time rock drum­mer, keen ten­nis player and all­round good guy called Jim Im­poco. I was an in­de­pen­dent editor, though, with my own Lon­don pub­lisher who owned and ran his part of the busi­ness. My job was to pro­duce a brand-new edi­tion of the eightyyear-old ti­tle for Euro­peans, pri­mar­ily English speak­ers in Bri­tain, Ger­many, France, Italy and Spain who might be par­tial to some news pho­tos and re­portage as they hopped on and off busi­ness flights.

Eigh­teen months later in the high sum­mer of this year it was the end. I was or­gan­is­ing a ‘Newswake’ in a Lon­don gar­den. We bar­be­cued a Lidgate’s lamb and played a Spo­tify sound­track cre­ated by our own staff nov­el­ist and in-house ro­man­tic. Many gen­er­ous, fond words were spo­ken. And we went our sep­a­rate ways.

We felt gilded and spe­cial. Peo­ple can’t help but in­vest their lives with the unique and the sig­nif­i­cant, how­ever much they know that cer­tain rites and emo­tions have been lived and re­lived so of­ten by oth­ers as to re­duce their con­tri­bu­tion to the world’s store of value to less than a speck. We all live twice, in in­no­cence and ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially jour­nal­ists and ac­tors.

Be­tween the be­gin­ning and the end was the mid­dle, and the mid­dle had been mainly good. The pub­lisher, Dev Pra­gad, is a highly im­pres­sive young man with a PHD in mobile phones (or some­thing like that) from King’s Col­lege, Lon­don, whose grand­fa­ther had been lifted from poverty in In­dia’s deep south by Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies. In­spired partly by this, Dev is a de­vout Chris­tian and com­bines be­ing man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and owner of

Newsweek Europe with be­ing dean of a the­o­log­i­cal col­lege in San Fran­cisco named Olivet. He had al­ready made the be­gin­nings of a for­tune through run­ning the Euro­pean and Asian branch of a web­site called In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Times. Vainly un­vain, with neatly cropped hair and sur­gi­cally clean clothes and fin­ger­nails, in the evan­gel­i­cal style, he is mar­ried with a baby daugh­ter upon whom he dotes. Like many young men with a streak of ge­nius he is er­ratic: supremely con­fi­dent in some mat­ters, supremely out of his depth in oth­ers. A master of aloof, he com­bines vul­ner­a­bil­ity, gen­eros­ity and ruth­less­ness. I be­came aware af­ter about nine months that the same young man about whom I felt a fa­therly pro­tec­tive­ness would one day be my ex­e­cu­tioner. De­spite this I reck­oned we would prob­a­bly al­ways re­main friends since we liked each other and I am friends with sev­eral of my other ex­e­cu­tion­ers. This how­ever is tem­po­rar­ily not the case, though I ex­pect it to be re­paired over time.

Dur­ing the mid­dle I also re­alised that though the Lon­don op­er­a­tion was le­gally in­de­pen­dent of the US owner of Newsweek, it ac­tu­ally func­tioned as a fully owned sub­sidiary. This com­mer­cial obei­sance was en­tirely vol­un­tary. It was pos­si­ble only be­cause of the deep ties be­tween Dev, the dean of Olivet, and his Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts Eti­enne Uzac and Johnathan Davis, also Olivet lu­mi­nar­ies. All Dev’s Lon­don staff be­lieved they were work­ing for a cult. (A per­cep­tion re­in­forced by the co­in­ci­dence that both Dev’s ap­point­ments as ed­i­tors-in-chief of News

week and In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Times were ‘churchy’ – me, a former monk, and the other, Ge­orge Pitcher, an or­dained Angli­can). The staff view was that the re­la­tion­ship with Olivet was suf­fi­ciently arm’s length to pre­vent any ed­i­to­rial in­flu­ence (cor­rect) but that prof­its from our work would end up fi­nanc­ing Olivet Univer­sity and that losses might well be sup­ported by Olivet funds (un­known).

On the other hand, Bri­tish jour­nal­ists call every­thing a cult if they don’t un­der­stand it. In Amer­ica, Olivet is un­re­mark­able, a sort of the­o­log­i­cal busi­ness school. The Chris­tian­ity is fun­da­men­tal­ist. The cap­i­tal­ism is red-blooded. The fact that it comes with its own hand­some and mys­te­ri­ous mil­lion­aire Korean founder, the Rev David Jang, is par for the course. Dev says that he, Eti­enne and Johnathan had in the early days been ad­vised by Edelman PR never to talk about their reli­gious af­fil­i­a­tions. This has been one of their big mis­takes. Be­cause they never talk about it, ev­ery­one else does. And in the earthy world of jour­nal­ism, they are per­ceived as weirdos.

It was against this un­usual back­cloth that I edited Newsweek Europe. One day those eigh­teen months will make their own novel or mem­oir. What hap­pened, in short, was this. In record-break­ing time I hired a few su­per-bright peo­ple whom I liked. Then I sat and watched as they con­jured magic out of noth­ing in the plas­tic and glass waste­land of Ca­nary Wharf. Weekly con­fer­ence was set to mu­sic, and Mon­day nights at the Mayflower be­came an in­sti­tu­tion. A mer­rygo-round of ace re­porters and writ­ers flowed through our of­fice. For a while their sheer in­tel­li­gence packed into that cor­ner of the 32nd floor cre­ated a nu­clear shield against the dis­mal free­loaders, in­com­pe­tents and dead­beats who watched en­vi­ously from the out­side world. And we set about do­ing some­thing in jour­nal­ism that I have ab­so­lutely no doubt has a strong and prof­itable fu­ture. If only the right peo­ple would do it.

That some­thing is nar­ra­tive jour­nal­ism. That is to say: (i) giv­ing a writer the time and resources to ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand the most fas­ci­nat­ing events of our age and (ii) let­ting them write it at length with all the skill of the nov­el­ist to bring it alive. It used to be an im­por­tant sta­ple of Bri­tish and Euro­pean jour­nal­ism. And not only the posh ti­tles. We used to do it at the Mail with Ann Leslie, at the Mail on Sun­day with Rus­sell Miller and Robert Chalmers. Of course those pa­pers have tremen­dous resources and bril­liant pub­lish­ers. To­day the genre is alive at the Guardian un­der the ex­cel­lent Jonathan Shainin and at Granta un­der Si­grid Raus­ing. But it needs its own place and its own ti­tle truly to pros­per.

Our ad­ven­ture came to an end be­cause the money ran out. Ex­pe­ri­enced only in dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing, chiefly In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Times which is a mas­sive world­wide traf­fic-chas­ing con­tent farm that makes in­come out of ad­ver­tis­ing, Dev didn’t have deep enough pock­ets for print. Many wise heads warned him that any new print ven­ture takes at least two years of pure in­vest­ment be­fore rev­enues start to come in. He didn’t be­lieve them and hit the wall long be­fore the mag­a­zine had a chance to get lift-off.

Newsweek did plenty to show that nar­ra­tive jour­nal­ism can be done with a very small team at rea­son­able cost and that read­ers are ea­ger for it and ad­ver­tis­ers in­ter­ested in some­thing dif­fer­ent. The cir­cum­stances weren’t right this time. Maybe there will be an­other.

‘You had no idea th­ese gold coins were tin-foil-cov­ered choco­lates?’

‘You don’t think Mars has for­got­ten us do you?’

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