Tina Brown's 'Talk' silenced

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The recession claimed its most glamorous victim to date last week as the tumultuous run of Talk-the glitzy co-venture and synergy center of Hearst Magazines and Miramax Films' Talk Media-was abruptly halted Jan. 18. Staffers were notified that day via memo of a 5 p.m. meeting with Talk Media Chairman Tina Brown and President Ron Galotti, which ended the 28-month-old title.

A Talk staffer said, unsurprisingly, the tone of the meeting was sad but not shocked, with weeping staffers and both Mr. Galotti and Ms. Brown tearful while delivering the news. "She really was crying," the staffer said. "She's not the ice queen. Kicking her is unfair."

Talk Miramax Books, of which Ms. Brown is also chairman, is unaffected by the monthly magazine's shutdown.

"I don't need to tell you how bad the [ad] environment is out there," said Mr. Galotti late Jan. 18, and added the decision to close had been reached "in the last 24 hours."

Late last year, Mr. Galotti told his staff he was searching for investors. But as far back as June, strains could be detected among its partners. Back then, Cathleen Black, president of Hearst Magazines, told Advertising Age Ms. Brown "has got the right kind of reader. She just needs to find more of them." And Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films, said, "I am always interested in a partner who can bring power to the company. Not money, but someone who can take us from 600,000 [circulation] to 1 million."

Last summer Ad Age learned two top-level publishing executives looked at Talk as potential investors before September. The title's total losses hover around $50 million, said persons familiar with it.

Talk-improbably conjoining glitz and street-smart aggression; legendarily blunt executives Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Galotti with Ms. Brown's cool-Britannia intellectual glamour and the risk-averse Hearst Corp.-launched on unsteady legs following a legendary opening bash in August 1999.

But following strong ad response to its first four issues-which were sold as a package-advertiser interest waned. Talk ended 2001 with 656.8 ad pages, up slightly from 2000, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Audit Bureau of Circulations figures show circulation for the first half of 2001 was 650,660, up 22.5% but with a sharp newsstand drop of 27.9%. (Newsstand sales for 2000 did not even make it halfway to Mr. Galotti's stated goal of 247,000.)

schadenfreude

The title's travails prompted serious schadenfreude in Manhattan's posh media circles. In early January, Mr. Galotti lunched at a prominent table at Manhattan media bistro Michael's, prompting one sharp-tongued observer to comment, "There's the most desperate man in publishing." At a party for Hearst's Harper's Bazaar held Jan. 14, the first question on many media-savvy lips was "How long do you give Talk?"

Lost was how Talk had substantially righted its editorial product, thanks to new editorial director Maer Roshan, plucked from New York last summer.

But a stream of buzz-worthy features was not enough. "Our timing was absolutely the worst," said Ms. Brown, referring to the ad slowdown of '01. "If you're a young startup, it's a body blow that can't be sucked up."

And even before the 20-minute meeting with Talk staffers concluded, chatter ricocheted around Conde Nast's hallways Mr. Galotti would be returning. (A Conde Nast spokeswoman declined to comment.) Mr. Galotti, who remains president of Talk Media, said, "I don't know exactly what my future is going to hold."

"I'll go away for a weekend and come back and decide how I'm going to move forward."

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