So, what happens to Newsweek now?
Sidney Harman, the 92-year-old who owned Newsweek for all of seven months, died on Tuesday night after being diagnosed with leukemia only a few weeks earlier. The 50 percent ownership stake in Newsweek and The Daily Beast that Harman owned will be transferred to his estate, a Newsweek spokesman said.
“The Harman family is totally committed to Newsweek,” e-mailed Bob Barnett, Harman’s lawyer. “They want to carry forward Sidney’s commitment and vision and honor his memory in that respect.”
Likewise, IAC chairman and Harman’s partner in the Newsweek-The Daily Beast Barry Diller said Harman and “his family wanted to continue as partners in Newsweek-Beast in all events. We will carry on, though, we will greatly miss his passionate enthusiasm and belief in the venture.”
But who exactly in his family will be part of it? And how long will they be committed?
Harman told The Wall Street Journal before his death that his wife, former congresswoman Jane Harman, will not be involved with Newsweek “before or after his death.” Two family members — his daughter Barbara, who is the head of his foundation, and his son Daniel, a Columbia Business School student who Harman told friends that he hoped would have a future with working with the magazine — did not respond to requests for comment. Harman has six children, two stepchildren and 10 grandchildren, according to his New York Times obituary.
The last time a major media outfit’s ownership situation was thrown into sudden doubt was when New York Magazine owner Bruce Wasserstein died in October 2009. The magazine was transferred to his children, who still own the magazine. By all accounts, it’s an arrangement that has worked out very well for the publication.
“Even in the midst of their grief, the Wassersteins made sure we all understood that their commitment to New York was unwavering,” e-mailed editor Adam Moss. “All of us who knew Bruce felt great sorrow, but no one was allowed more than a moment to feel anxiety. The Newsweek situation is different than ours (theirs is a joint ownership, for one; ours was a more straightforward family ownership), but for a magazine to lose an owner is an awful thing and I wish them the best getting through it.”
The Harmans will need to exercise a great deal of unwavering support considering Newsweek’s recent losses in the tens of millions over the last few years in order to keep the magazine afloat. In the first quarter of this year, Newsweek was down more than 30 percent in ad pages (Business Insider reported that it only had six ad pages in this past week’s issue). Harman told people privately that he was willing to give Newsweek until the end of this year to start becoming a business, said a person familiar with the magazine. And a month ago, when co-owner Diller was asked about the Newsweek-Daily Beast merger at a South by Southwest panel, he gave a tepid vote of confidence.
“I don’t know if this experiment to fuse these two things together is going to work,” Diller said. “We’ll see in six or eight months.”