Updated: Well, nevermind! Tina Brown says via Twitter that she's "not shutting down, combining." That combination is still good for Kurtz, Dana, and potentially the Beast's content partners, and perhaps slightly less bad for Newsweek.com staff.
Everyone expected that Daily Beast editor Tina Brown would bring changes to Newsweek, the venerable if troubled publication she took over last week. But it came as a surprise to press observers and the staff of Newsweek.com that among those changes would be shuttering Newsweek.com and replacing the site with a redirect to the Daily Beast's Web site. "The summary execution of Newsweek.com makes sense only as a power-grab by Brown," wrote Reuters columnist Felix Salmon, "and a sign that she somehow thought of it as a threat rather than a source of ideas and readers." It's also a sign that Brown truly understands her elevation as a mandate for a takeover, rather than a blending of the Beast and Newsweek's ideas, strengths, and staff. But the move doesn't just benefit Brown. Here are some other potential winners in the disbanding of Newsweek.com:
1. Howard Kurtz: When Kurtz announced he was leaving the Washington Post for the Daily Beast this fall, it came as something of a surprise—and a big get for the Beast. Now, the veteran media reporter both gets to be associated with a major, long-established journalism brand again while retaining the freedom of writing for the Web and being the big fish in the Beast's small Washington bureau. Suddenly, that jump looks less like Kurtz took a flyer and more like a strategic decision.
2. Ditto for Rebecca Dana: She has bounced around from the New York Observer, almost-but-not-quite to the New York Times, to the Wall Street Journal, and last summer to the Beast, which she told Gawker was a "dream job." In other words, she's another reporter who's making it back into the establishment via Brown's snarky startup. It's a win-win situation: Dana gives Newsweek another established, pop-savvy critical voice to match Seth Colter Walls' music criticism (Disclosure: I've done a Bloggingheads episode with Walls.)
3. The Daily Beast's content partners: As the Newsweek.com employees cogently explain in their plea to save the Web site, it's not clear how much of Newsweek.com's traffic will actually roll over to the Daily Beast. But if the Beast inherits even some of those 5 million unique visitors per month, it could translate into more clickthroughs for sites such as PopEater, Politics Daily, Wonderwall, EW.com, Eater, Slashfood, Chow.com, Epicurious, and Aol News, all of which have their latest headlines displayed in footers at the bottom of the Daily Beast's homepage and some section pages.
There are losers, of course, prominent among them the Newsweek.com staff, some of whom may be absorbed into the Daily Beast staff. But even if they keep their jobs, they'll lose ownership of the site they built.
If this move becomes a model for other publications, the long-term loser could be websites built as outgrowths of print media organizations. If Web staffers are just disposable when a smarter, slicker, more of-the-moment online property comes along—even as print staffers are valued and wooed to stay—that sets an uncomfortable double standard: Web sites aren't really part of media institutions that spawned them, and print remains king. Of course, Tina Brown being Tina Brown, nothing's certain for Newsweek's print staff either.