WENNER EYEING A SALE?: It’s looking more and more like Wenner Media is not going to find a replacement for Kent Brownridge — not just one, anyway. According to Wenner Media sources, it is all but decided that, when Brownridge steps down as vice chairman and general manager at the end of the year, his duties will be divided among several executives, likely including chief marketing officer Gary Armstrong and chief financial officer John Gruber.

There is, however, an external search going on, and the direction it’s taking has sparked furious speculation about Wenner’s future. According to two knowledgeable sources, Wenner is planning to hire a chief operating officer to oversee the company’s finances, above Gruber. The recruiting firm handling the search specializes in placing candidates on Wall Street, not in the media industry, and at least one executive who has been contacted about the position does not have a publishing background. To several Wenner insiders, all this suggests strongly that Jann Wenner intends to explore a sale of Wenner Media in the near future.

A Wenner spokesman denied it even as a possibility, stating: “Wenner Media is not for sale.” Several former top Wenner employees said they were inclined to believe that. “Would he sell Rolling Stone, which is his complete and utter identity?” said one longtime underling. “Without that, he’s just another rich guy with bad manners.”

But Rolling Stone isn’t keeping the lights on at Wenner anymore — Us Weekly is. And Wenner’s recent decision to suspend development of a second celebrity weekly perhaps indicates he believes the gossip market may have maxed itself out. While industry sources believe Wenner Media would now fetch $500 million or more in a sale, the price would fall quickly if Us were to stop posting circulation gains.

Moreover, Jann Wenner would not be making the decision on his own; his ex-wife, Jane Schindelheim, owns a 51 percent stake in Wenner Media. And while Wenner may regard Rolling Stone and Us as his lifeline to cultural relevance, Schindelheim is thought to have a less sentimental notion of the company’s worth.
Jeff Bercovici

This story first appeared in the December 6, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

MAGAZINE MERRYMAKING: How does the magazine industry celebrate the holidays? With frog-leg lollipops and drunken renditions of “The Final Countdown.” Here, how various magazines are rewarding their staffs at the end of another year.

Teen Vogue editors will kick off festivities tonight at La Esquina (the magazine’s business side is having its own event at Employees Only on Dec. 12), also the venue of big Vogue’s party next week. Completing the trifecta, GQ’s holiday party is at La Esquina on Dec. 15.

Also tonight, Lucky will be at Hotel QT. Glamour’s edit staff will party at Aspen on Dec. 12, and its ad staff will roller disco at the Roxy on Dec. 15, the same night Allure goes to Paladar. W’s staff party is on Dec. 19 at Astra, and Jane’s staff will sing heavy metal karaoke the following night at R&R.

While it’s not quite the Grotto, Playboy’s party is at the Triumph Room Wednesday; FHM celebrates on Dec. 19 at Gypsy Tea, and Cargo will hold a joint business and edit lunch at Centrico on Dec. 15.

Also on the 15th, New York magazine’s staff will be at Encore, the same night Wenner Media will have its annual staff event at N/A, with DJ Mark Ronson. The New Yorker celebrates two days later at Pastis.

About 1,100 people are expected at Tavern on the Green Thursday for Hearst’s company-wide party, with cover band Wha and peppermint martinis. Next week, Hearst editors in chief and publishers will gather at Le Bernardin for an executive lunch.  

It’s a leaner holiday season for other companies this year. There will be no staff party or gifts for Time magazine, and instead of cards, Time is e-mailing tidings and contributing to Keep a Child Alive. In Style isn’t planning anything, either.

Gourmet’s editors, meanwhile, will go to Ruth Reichl‘s apartment on Dec. 15 for sumac-rubbed skirt steak with pomegranate molasses and morrell mushrooms filled with chanterelle mousse in porcini gelée. On Dec. 14 at Hotel Rivington, Gourmet’s sales staff and publisher Giulio Capua will celebrate “past” with an “olde-tyme” photographer, and “future” with a tarot card reader.

Bon Appétit already had its holiday cocktail party on Dec. 1 at Daniel, where the staff feasted on frog-leg lollipops, barbajuan of snail persillade and a paté station.

As for Food & Wine, publisher Julie McGowan is taking her team to Club Pegu, while editor in chief Dana Cowin will take her group to the Spotted Pig. Departures also will have two parties — one at the Modern and one at Double Seven hosted by editor in chief Richard Story — as will Travel + Leisure. (Edit staff will gather at 60 Thompson, and sales staff will go to publisher Ellen Asmodeo Giglio‘s apartment to drink Ellentinis.)

Finally, Budget Living will have a sing-along and a $10 gift exchange on Dec. 15 (clearly the day most of magazine world will be celebrating), and Fast Company and Inc. will have a joint holiday party with an open bar and dancing at Blondies on Dec. 13.
Sara James

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