WENNER IN HONCHO HUNT?: The high rate of top-level turnover at Wenner Media is proving a boon to the executive recruitment industry. As headhunter Beth Peelle continues to canvass the magazine world for a new Rolling Stone publisher, another search, for a much larger job, has quietly gotten under way. According to several sources, owner and chairman Jann Wenner has told a small number of people that he is considering creating a position for a president and chief executive officer. Bentley & Farrell, a New Canaan, Conn., recruitment firm, is believed to be handling the search, which, so far, has been limited in scope. Two sources said Mary Berner, who stepped down as ceo of Fairchild Publications in January, has been approached about the job. Berner declined to confirm those claims, but she had been courted before for an executive role at Wenner: In 1998, when she was publisher of Glamour, the company sought unsuccessfully to hire her as group publisher of its three titles. Moreover, she recently had lunch with Wenner, who is more apt to socialize with movie stars than magazine executives.
A Wenner spokesman denied the company had any plans to hire a president-ceo. Indeed, if it does come to pass, it will be a major reversal. Four months ago, when Kent Brownridge announced his retirement as vice chairman and general manager, it was with the understanding that Wenner himself would assume many of Brownridge’s responsibilities, which extended to virtually every aspect of the company’s operations. Now, however, Wenner — whose day-to-day involvement has always fluctuated with the ski seasons — is said to find his new portfolio too much for a single person since it also includes being editor in chief of Men’s Journal, a title he reassumed in November. Meanwhile, Brownridge, who had been coming into the office one day a week since retiring, is no longer doing so. “The post-Kent era is not off to a great start,” said one Wenner insider.
Certainly, the situation at Rolling Stone could be better. Wenner Media announced in February that it had declined to renew publisher Steve DeLuca‘s contract after two years. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, DeLuca had told Wenner that in order to increase ad pages — which were down 1.5 percent through February — it would be necessary to modernize the magazine and improve its demographics. That led to a falling out, said the source: “Jann’s attitude is, ‘I’m the editor, I’ll decide what the magazine is going to be.'” Those contacted about the job so far include Details publisher Chris Mitchell, New Yorker associate publisher Michael Hess and Giant founder and president Jamie Hooper, none of whom is said to have expressed interest.
Meanwhile, Wenner veterans wonder whether the notoriously hands-on-again, hands-off-again boss is truly ready to relinquish power to a president-ceo, however qualified. Even the prospect of a new baby — Wenner and his partner, Matt Nye, are reported to be expecting a child, via a surrogate, in August — won’t change that, they believe. Said one insider, “Whatever they call it, it’s going to be a group publisher job.”
— Jeff Bercovici
BLACK CUTS IN AT TANGO: Bloodless succession is a rarity in the magazine business, but it’s not unheard of. At Tango, the year-old relationships magazine, founding editor in chief Elise O’Shaugnessy is handing off the reins to Hilary Black, former entertainment director of More. O’Shaugnessy said she needed more time to devote to her other commitments, which include contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where she was formerly executive editor. Black, who started three weeks ago, was a founding member of More’s launch team. “I’m used to working for magazines that are starting from the ground up, and I know what it’s like trying to get out the word when you’re doing something different,” she said. Tango recently increased both its frequency, to bimonthly, and doubled its rate base, to 200,000.