PROFILE: Weine positions Newsweek as driver of US discussion

Ken Weine, communications director for Newsweek, works closely with the editorial team to build enough buzz to keep the title top-of-mind with the media - and on pace with the competition.

Ken Weine, communications director for Newsweek, works closely with the editorial team to build enough buzz to keep the title top-of-mind with the media - and on pace with the competition.

At 10am on most weekdays, it's pretty easy to find Ken Weine. He's sitting in a conference room on the 16th floor of Newsweek's offices in Manhattan among the magazine's editors. As they discuss the stories for that week's issue and mull over cover possibilities, Weine observes quietly. His time to speak comes at the end of the meeting, when he gives a briefing on where Newsweek has been picked up in the media, providing the editorial team with an unexpected dose of morale in the process. "I think that makes people feel good when they hear the amount of attention we get," says Mark Whitaker, editor-in-chief of Newsweek. "Not everyone on staff is aware of the kind of buzz and ripple effect that everything we do gets." Helping produce that ripple effect is a major part of Weine's job as communications director. And it very often involves running between the title's editorial and business sides. "I sometimes describe my day-to-day life as bipolar," he says with a laugh. "That took a little getting used to." But much of what he and his team of three publicists do, Weine says, is editorial promotion. "PR is our means to tell people about our brand," he says, adding that Newsweek doesn't have a big consumer marketing practice. And so his daily gig is ensuring that Newsweek always drives the nation's conversation. "We live in an era where you can't just publish a magazine and turn out the lights and wait until next week's issue," he says. "In our era, you need to publish the magazine and then tell people what you've published in the magazine." Working as the head of PR for a respected news magazine is certainly not the place Weine, 38, pictured himself 10 years ago. Bitten by the political bug during his days at the University of Michigan, Weine worked on a "few losing Democratic campaigns" for several years following his graduation. Traces of his political past are still evident today in his office, where a poster featuring Weine as the head of a student activist group hangs prominently on the wall among celebrated covers of Newsweek and framed articles about the magazine. Eventually law school called his name. Soon after, Weine landed a job with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. As a staff attorney involved in policy litigation like campaign-finance reform, Weine often wrote op-eds and worked closely with reporters. When it came time to hire a communications director, Weine was put in charge of the search. "As I was interviewing people and describing the job, I realized that I wanted to do that," he says matter-of-factly. "I didn't realize that what I was already doing was PR." Weine's transition from lawyer to PR pro at the center was one that fit his personality, says Deborah Goldberg, director of the center's democracy program. "He's very upbeat, he's very committed, and he likes to stay at the level of the fundamental issues," she says. "It made perfect sense." But in 1999, Weine decided he needed a change. He wanted to find a corporate PR role that would fully complement his background in politics and law. Someone suggested that he would be a good fit for a newsweekly. Coincidently, the following Sunday's New York Times ran an ad for assistant director of communications at Newsweek. With no previous experience in the private sector, Weine says that during the interview, he used the upcoming 2000 presidential election to play up his political background, celebrated his "news junkie" status, and promised that he could figure out the mechanics of corporate PR on his own. "That worked for them," he quips. Two years into the job, he was promoted to director. Almost five years after he took that leap into private-sector PR, Weine's comfort level with his position comes across loud and clear. Despite the pressure of promoting and defending one of the most respected news brands in the country, his attitude is put-your-feet-up-on-the-desk laid back, something he attributes to having a hard-working and dedicated team. "They are doing the real muscle of the work," he says. His rapport with some reporters is familiar, sometimes throwing in a "yo" or "what's happenin'" into his greetings to them. "I'm casual," he says. "It's a very social, interactive gig." While his approach might be casual, Weine is all business when it comes to pitching stories about Newsweek, something that has improved during his tenure. "He's gotten even more strategic over time," Whitaker says. "He's only going to pitch our stories and our people when he thinks we really have something to offer. "I think PR people can be great, but what makes them so is when they understand the value of what they're pitching along with the interest or need you might have for it. They're not just doing it mindlessly," he adds. "Ken very much takes that approach." Being included in the daily editorial meeting certainly hasn't hurt. "It has immensely helped my pitching," Weine says. "I really benefit as a PR person sitting in the editorial meeting, watching how they are fielding PR requests." And for someone who came into the corporate PR scene fairly late in the game, Weine has adjusted nicely. "I love the competitive environment," he says. "We have a great, decades-long rivalry with our friends at Sixth Avenue," Weine adds, referring to Time. "I love the energy that comes from that." That competitive spirit even strikes Weine on weekends, when he calls in to check on whichever of his team members is on duty, a necessity because Newsweek officially comes out on Sundays. He says, "My first call Sunday morning is, 'How are you? What's the competition's cover?'" Indeed, it seems as though the political activist turned lawyer turned PR guy is right where he's supposed to be. ------ Ken Weine January 2002-present Communications director, Newsweek January 2000-December 2001 Assistant director of communications, Newsweek January 1998-December 1999 Communications director, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law September 1996-December 1997 Staff attorney, Brennan Center for Justice August 1995-September 1996 Writer/researcher for author Phillip Howard 1994-1998 Field organizer and fundraiser for various political campaigns

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