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“Not forgetting our sisters. Essentially, that really is what ‘Women In The World’ is all about,” says Tina Brown, perched on a stool in a contemporary office space on 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.
Media mogul Brown founded the ‘Women In The World‘ summit and live journalism platform in 2010 and has overseen its growth over the past decade. She notes that a key differentiator from other ‘women’s conferences’ is that ‘Women In The World’ is globally focused, featuring champions of change that may not ordinarily be in the spotlight.
“The drive behind it is deeply journalistic,” says Brown of the annual summit. “It’s not what I call a sort of woman’s empowerment, a lean-in situation, it really involves telling global stories.”
This year’s sold-out event is at the Lincoln Center in New York City and is anchored around the question ‘Can Women Save The World?’ Oprah Winfrey gave the rousing live keynote address to more than 2,000 attendees on opening night, emploring them to seek purpose and “channel their inner Jacinda Ardern.“
Industry luminaries Anna Wintour and Indra Nooyi will take the stage over the next two days, as will political figures Stacey Abrams and Susan Rice, and actors Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Brie Larsen.
Attendees will also hear from Maria Ressa, a Filipino journalist who has consistently challenged President Rodrigo Duterte; Saudi Arabian activists defending women imprisoned under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS); and an LGBTQ couple fighting oppression, violence and ‘corrective rape’ in Uganda.
“There are countries where women are oppressed still and we don’t spend any time thinking about them, and we must,” says Brown.
The British-born, Oxford-educated Brown is a legendary figure in the publishing world, having sat at the helm of ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine from 1984 to 1992. During her tenure, she orchestrated iconic covers with a blindfolded Daryl Hannah, heavily pregnant Demi Moore and debonair First Lady and President Reagan, and increased readership four-fold. She left ‘Vanity Fair’ to take the reins of the venerable publication ‘The New Yorker,’ also owned by Conde Nast, and transformed that weekly magazine from staid to arresting by refining its coverage of business, celebrity, and politics.
After leaving Conde Nast in 1998, Brown created multimedia media company ‘The Talk’ with Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and later ‘The Daily Beast’ with Barry Diller, the billionaire Chairman of IAC. She left her position as editor-in-chief of ‘The Daily Beast’ in 2014 to focus on running the ‘Women In The World’ conference that she had launched four-years prior.
“These stories were going untold from Africa, India and the Middle East. All these extraordinary, fiery, courageous women,” says Brown, discernibly invigorated while recalling the early days of curating the guests and topics that would be covered at the summit.
“At the beginning, it was things like the Arab Spring,” says Brown reflecting on the summit of 2010. “We were so ahead of that, we kept featuring amazing women who were innovators and rebels from that period. Women who were fighting forced marriage, honor killings, FGM, I think those subjects were extraordinarily under-explored.”
As a long-lead magazine editor and journalist, Brown notes that she has long needed to both assess and forecast cultural changes in order to stay relevant. She is energized that there is now an eruption of women moving into positions of power in the U.S. and that women are speaking up and pushing forward.
“Even before the Women’s March, there was a sense of rising aggravation,” says Brown. “I got a boiling sense that women were feeling stalled, angry. As we come into the 10th anniversary, you see the needle moving. With the Trump win and the Hillary loss, and Me Too and all of these incredible seismic things, we have an explosion of feminism here.”
And it is a cultural shift she believes is here to stay.
“It’s not going away,” says Brown. “Women have been very, very dormant about this, really for too long. That’s what is finally being understood in corporations and government and everywhere, this is not just a moment. We are pushing through that.”
Having spent the last ten years developing a community of passionate feminist participants, Brown says she is now looking to expand the ‘Women In The World’ brand from live events, a newsletter and a website, into other media genres including video content.
“We are a very powerful live brand and one of the things that we see is that the more people are addicted to their screens, the more they want to be in live places,” says Brown. “The community we have grown is a really powerful community, so what we do with that community? Do we give them more live content? Do we give them more digital content? We’re in workshop mode about all of that right now.”
I ask Brown if she would consider going back to her roots and pursue a print-publishing strategy. She replies emphatically.
“No, not to print. Screens have won,” says Brown. “I’ll always miss the joy of print because there’s something deeply satisfying about print. It’s also limiting. When I did ‘The Daily Beast’ I became excited by what you could do digitally. I like the speed, I like the instant gratification of seeing something you’ve done out there, I like the response.”
Though she has no plans to return to editing a print publication herself, Brown speaks highly of the new editor of ‘Vanity Fair,’ Radhika Jones. Jones was appointed to the role in 2017, succeeding Graydon Carter who was editor-in-chief of ‘Vanity Fair’ for 25-years after Brown stepped away.
“I like her, I think she’s a good editor,” says Brown of Jones. “In the ’80s when I was doing it, celebrity was the zeitgeist. That’s not true now, now it’s politics. I think she really took the right pivot when she put Beto (O’Rourke) on the cover. I would have put MBS (Mohammad bin Salman) on the cover. I’d have AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) on the cover, these are the stories that people are really interested in.”
Brown attributes the shifting zeitgeist and diminishing power of celebrity magazine covers at the newsstand to the digital revolution. Indeed, in an age where celebrities have direct and consistent contact with their audience through social media which is free, readers have less incentive to pay to purchase a publication with a celebrity on the cover.
“It is a dilemma for magazine editors,” says Brown. “The content gets posted online, which would have made me crazy. So by the time you see the magazine you’ve seen all the content. Newsstand has been essentially holed out.”
Rather than resent the digital age that has altered the publishing industry so significantly, Brown has instead chosen to keep busy evolving with it. She now hosts a weekly podcast called ‘TBD‘ interviewing newsmakers. Her 2017 book ‘The Vanity Fair Diaries’ was optioned by the executive producer of ‘Big Little Lies’ to make into a TV series. And she is speaking out as a thought-leader on the changing face of Leadership, recently publishing a powerful op-ed in the New York Times titled ‘What Happens When Women Stop Leading Like Men’.
“I’m this multi-platform chick and will continue in that vein,” Brown says candidly in the English accent that she has retained since leaving her homeland 35-years ago.
And with that, the earnest 65-year old announces she has to scoot, and steps off the stool in the chic glass-walled conference room we have been occupying. She takes out her smart-phone and starts tapping away while walking toward the ‘Women In The World’ newsroom. She shows me around the modern space that houses a dozen people clicking away on their computers, next to large windows that give a birds-eye-view over bustling Midtown Manhattan. A poster is framed on the wall bearing the signatures of speakers from the 2017 conference.
“I’m a storyteller,” Brown sums up as we shake hands goodbye. “And I’ll be telling stories until I drop off a tree.”
April 10, 2019 at 11:50PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs