The Media Today

The media today: An era ends for magazines, and the looks back begin

October 19, 2017

The obituary of an era is being written in real time. Recent weeks have seen the departure of several top editors from prestige magazine titles, the death of iconic figures like Hugh Hefner and Si Newhouse, and the announcement that Rolling Stone is on the block. Wednesday’s news that Michael Duffy, deputy managing editor of Time and editorial director of parent company Time Inc., is leaving the company is just the latest sign that the party is over. Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo, who broke the news, writes that if the departure of Time EIC Nancy Gibbs seemed to represent the end of an era, “Duffy’s exit is really the end.

As the curtain closes on a glamorous period of bloated expense accounts and conversation-starting features, there will be plenty of looking back at the figures who shaped it. The first entrant in that category is Joe Hagan’s new biography of Rolling Stone’s legendary cofounder, editor, and publisher Jann Wenner, and Wenner isn’t happy about it. As The New York Times’s Joe Coscarelli and Sydney Ember reported on Wednesday, Hagan and Wenner are no longer on speaking terms after Wenner read a copy of Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.

Hagan’s book, out next week, chronicles the concurrent rise of Wenner and his magazine to the heights of the publishing and cultural worlds, but Coscarelli and Ember write that it also “excavates Mr. Wenner’s personal life, including his complicated homosexuality, drug use, sexual escapades, familial friction and frequent feuds.” By Wenner’s own account, it’s the latter area that has caused the fracture with the writer, who spent four years telling his story.

There’s nothing like a contentious feud to drive PR for a new book. Wenner’s life, filled with the sort of sex, drugs, and rock and roll his magazine glamorized, already promised to make for fascinating reading. Falling out with his biographer only adds to the anticipation.

Over at CJR, Elon Green dives into that writer-subject relationship, and more, in an in-depth interview with Hagan about the process of reporting and writing the book. Hagan talks about interviewing legendary figures from Wenner’s life like Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, and Paul McCartney, his struggle to get Wenner to open up, and how his subject came to hate the finished product. “If you’re in the magazine business, what are the associations of Jann Wenner? Mercurial,” Hagan says. “That’s the word everybody uses about him and he’s known as kind of a pirate; a guy that threw a few people overboard in his time.”

Below, more on Wenner, the future of Rolling Stone, and changes in the magazine world.

  • “The modernization of our magazine”: Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported last month that a sales pitch by Wenner and his son Gus to investors consists of “an austere business plan that includes cutting the editorial budget by 30 percent and converting the biweekly magazine to a monthly.”
  • More consolidation: Publishing giant Hearst has agreed to buy Rodale, owner of magazines such as Runner’s World and Men’s Health. The Times’s Ember writes that the move is “another sign of consolidation in an industry struggling to offset declines in print.”
  • More bad jobs news: The New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly reports that layoffs are coming to Time Inc. Two-hundred people, half of them in editorial roles, are expected to be let go in November.
  • From 30,000 feet: Last month, Ember and her colleague Michael M. Grynbaum looked at the “not-so-glossy future” of magazines in a world turning away from print.
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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.