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Tina Brown: ‘Our speakers have taken on bigger misogynists than Trump’

The founder of the Daily Beast explains how her Women in the World summit is tackling sexism and the importance of pausing before pressing send

Seven years ago Tina Brown, the woman responsible for turning around some of the worlds biggest magazine brands and the founder of the Daily Beast, moved from the written to the spoken word with the launch of the Women in the World summit. The annual three-day event brings together women who, as Brown puts it, want to speak the truth to power and previous speakers include Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie Pitt and Meryl Streep. We speak the morning before the conference and Brown is clearly excited about whats taking place this year.

As well as Rula Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan, and Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor who scared Donald Trump two women Brown is particularly looking forward to hearing speak the summit features documentary makers, activists and celebrities. Theyre all linked by one common thread: theyre all women who have refused to back down in the face of blatant sexism.

Brown describes Kellys encounter with Trump as a test case of misogyny on wheels. The level of anti-women rhetoric is one of the key topics that shes hoping the conference will debate. By bringing together women from all over the world she wants the audience to experience the different levels of sexism women face but also the strength of spirit that unites those who stand up to it.

Whether thats the women waging peace in Africa, such as Bring Back Our Girls co-founder Obiageli Ezekwesili, or Zahra Langhi, founder of the Libyan Womens Platform for Peace, through to Mindy Kaling talking about her experiences in Hollywood and Mary Beard discussing her experiences at the hands of the media. All these women, as Brown puts it, have faced far bigger misogynists than Trump.

To gather together a lineup as diverse and powerful as this you need a very well stuffed little black book, and Brown definitely has that. Her career began in the UK where she turned around the then failing Tatler magazine, before she moved to the US to the do the same for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. She launched The Daily Beast, an online-only news platform, in 2008 and oversaw the merger with Newsweek in 2010. Her current company, Tina Brown Live Media, feeds into the current popularity of live events, although for Brown the leap from publishing to events was a natural one.

I call this experiential publishing, she says. We programme it like we would a magazine. For us the critical thing is the rhythm and pace. We have no introduction, its not a conference. I think people are looking for that community experience, the sense that theyre sharing in something.

The more people are addicted to their screens, the more they want to escape them, so were now growing a global community from India to London to New York. [Theres a need for diverse, curated content] because screens make us so insular. We can read but we self-select stuff that we want to read, what we want to hear about.

It is an event that is powered by women who live behind the lines of the news, she says, so we are looking for stories. Im looking at it as I would a magazine. For instance, we have a panel on women in Turkey and the free speech issue in Turkey is becoming a crisis so we have some great women coming from there who are refusing to be pushed down. Its a new topic for America.

Being able to understand what an audience wants is one of the things that made Brown such a successful editor. She knows that every audience wants good stories; but she also knows that how you present these is the thing that makes your publication (or event) unique.

On turning around the ailing but revered titles Vanity Fair and the New Yorker she says: I love to be able to find the DNA of something thats been obscured, and the excitement of a great title is thrilling. Its good to deep-dive into something, go back to the first issue and see what this thing was before it became a sacred jewel. What got it off the ground?

One topic that Brown thinks were not talking about enough is the opportunity that the current economic environment presents for women. For decades women have been trying to fight their way to the top of structures that were created by men, for men. However, the move to what she calls the gig economy presents an opportunity for women who want to work differently.

Women have been trying to stuff themselves into these old dead structures. [Were] very well attuned to the way the world is now, much more attuned than men whove been working in traditional structures are. I think were going to see more and more of women starting their own companies and getting ahead.

She adds: Starting something from scratch, you assemble your own team. When I started the Daily Beast it was a joy to have a bunch of kids with nothing to lose. It was a great group of Young Turks just saying what the hell. We launched and it took off like a bucking bronco. With Women in the World we saw something very early. Seven years ago I saw the rise of a global womens movement, they were the new feminist icons as far as I was concerned and I wanted to put them on the stage. Ive done the same thing with the launch of the American Justice Summit because I could see that criminal justice reform was the next big issue.

So what advice would she offer these future women leaders?

Dont send the email right away, think about it till tomorrow. As someone whose life has been rendered chaotic by reply all, learning to wait has been a big lesson.

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