AN OLDIE BUT A GOODY: In the case of the winning bid for Newsweek, it clearly was age before beauty. Sidney Harman, the magazine’s 91-year-old new owner, met with its beleaguered staff on Monday and was described as “charming” by some on hand with a rah-rah attitude. He’ll need a lot more than that to turn around the newsweekly, which is set to lose north of $50 million this year alone, while ad pages are down almost 10 percent year to date, to 514, according to Media Industry Newsletter. For the moment, though, the stereo-equipment mogul is basking in acquiring what he described in a company statement as a “national treasure.”
The Washington Post Co. selected Harman, in part, for his commitment to keeping the title in print and for his pledge to keep a majority of the 350-person staff in place. “In seeking a buyer for Newsweek, we wanted someone who feels as strongly as we do about the importance of quality journalism. We found that person in Sidney Harman,” said Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Co. It also seemed to find the one person who was willing to pay at least something for the magazine — Harman’s bid beat Avenue Capital, owner of American Media Inc., and Fred Drasner, who are said to have offered only a token amount to take Newsweek off the Post’s hands.
As expected, the change in ownership also means a change at the top of the masthead, and longtime editor Jon Meacham confirmed his decision to step down on Monday. He added that he’ll stay at Newsweek during the editor transition.
This story first appeared in the August 3, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Washington Post Co. did not disclose terms of the deal, but noted it will retain pension assets and liabilities and “certain employee obligations” that came up before the sale. The company also reported that the “resulting gain or loss at closing is not expected to be material” to its financial position (official earnings will be released on Friday). One source said Harman’s offer was believed to be $70 million higher than the competition’s. And now the questions begin about how exactly Harman, with no media experience, plans to turn around the struggling magazine. Even though the near centenarian cut a spry figure at Monday’s meeting, staffers remain wary about the future. Said one: “Most people were very charmed by his speech, but we’re all still worried about our jobs.” — Amy Wicks and Matthew Lynch