The Media Today

A new moment for Time

September 17, 2018

Time has finally found a buyer. The 95-year-old magazine will be purchased by Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne. Meredith Corp., which acquired all of Time Inc. less than a year ago, will get $190 million for the iconic title.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg broke the news Sunday, reporting that the Benioffs are optimistic about the brand’s future, but noting that “the couple will be taking over a publication whose business has been hammered from ongoing declines in print advertising and newsstand sales.” The Benioffs are purchasing Time as individuals, meaning that it will have no connection to Salesforce.

By entering the media space, the Benioffs become the latest tech entrepreneurs to join a club of billionaire media moguls. That group includes Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post; Patrick Soon-Shiong, who recently purchased the Los Angeles Times; and Laurene Powell Jobs, whose Emerson Collective owns a controlling stake in The Atlantic. Like those owners, Marc Benioff is promising a hands-off approach, casting himself and his wife as “stewards” of the publication. “The power of Time has always been in its unique storytelling of the people & issues that affect us all & connect us all. A treasure trove of our history & culture. We have deep respect for their organization & honored to be stewards of this iconic brand,” he tweeted Sunday evening.

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Time Editor in Chief Edward Felsenthal will remain at his position, and he told staff that the Benioffs are challenging the magazine’s leadership to focus on the future. “One of the first challenges Marc and Lynne gave us is to think big, really big,” Felsenthal wrote in a memo. “Beyond the five-year plan, what will TIME look like in 2040? What will it mean to people decades from now?”

The iconic, red-bordered cover of Time has long been valuable media real estate, but the magazine has suffered from the same pressures that the rest of the news industry faces. Despite a growing online audience, print circulation has dropped precipitously—it was 2.3 million in June, down from 3 million at the same point a year previously, Trachtenberg noted.

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With Time finding a new home, the focus for media business watchers turns to the other titles Meredith is hoping to sell. Fortune, Money, and Sports Illustrated are all former Time Inc. brands that the Iowa-based Meredith has been trying to unload since it bought the stable of magazines last year. Benioff had been rumored to be interested in Fortune and Money, and Recode’s Peter Kafka writes that, with his name off the board, “it gets harder to imagine a billionaire/white knight scenario for any of the remaining properties.”

Below, more on Time, Meredith, and the future of some iconic magazines.

  • Benioff primer: The New York Times’s Amy Chozick and David Gelles call Marc Benioff, “an impassioned and eccentric billionaire, even by Silicon Valley standards.” They write that he does not expect Time to reflect “his own social or political views, which he is not shy about sharing.”
  • Hope from a past editor: “Here’s to the new owners being enlightened custodians of a great American and global brand whose voice still matters,” tweeted former Time managing editor Richard Stengel.
  • Does anybody want SI?: Meredith claims that it is close to selling Fortune, Money, and Sports Illustrated, but concrete names of prospective buyers are hard to come by. In July, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was floated as a possible buyer of Sports Illustrated. Earlier this year Michael MacCambridge lamented the “past and perilous future of Sports Illustrated” for The Ringer.
  • Meredith moves: Last week, Meredith cut 200 jobs and combined two of its cooking titles.


Other notable stories:

  • Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process has been upended by a report in The Washington Post. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in a letter to democratic lawmakers this summer, spoke to the Post’s Emma Brown about her memories of a night in 1982 when she and Kavanaugh were both high school students. Arizona Republican Jeff Flake told the Post’s Sean Sullivan, “For me, we can’t vote until we hear more.”
  • New York magazine is facing criticism for publishing a profile of Soon-Yi Previn, wife of Woody Allen, written by an author who has been friends with Allen for decades. Ronan Farrow, the son of Allen and Mia Farrow, issued a statement calling New York’s decision to run the piece “shameful.”
  • CJR’s Andrew McCormick explores the indispensable appeal of local weather reporters. The role of quirky, entertaining meteorologist has long been a tentpole of local news broadcast, and “it isn’t completely surprising that they would be in demand as storms loom,” McCormick writes. “But it is notable, in the age of Twitter and smartphones, that the broadcast TV weather person—analog, local, old-school—has stayed so viable.”
  • Last week saw two journalists accused of abuse and harassment make their return to the pages of major magazines. Former The Takeaway host John Hockenberry (in Harper’s) and former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi (in the New York Review of Books) wrote first-person pieces about their experiences after being accused of misconduct. More interesting than either of those pieces is the interview Slate’s Isaac Chotiner conducted with NYRB editor Ian Buruma about the decision to publish Ghomeshi.
  • $20 million is heading toward local news from the Lenfest Institute and Knight Foundation, reports NiemanLab’s Christine Schmidt. As part of the plan for the money, Philadelphia will serve as a laboratory for testing local news initiatives.
  • On Friday, The New York Times issued a major correction to a piece that suggested Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley spent more than $50,000 on new curtains for her residence. The story now carries an editors’ note making it clear that the purchase was approved during the Obama administration. “The article should not have focused on Ms. Haley, nor should a picture of her have been used,” the note reads, in part.
  • New this morning: The New Yorker’s Paige Williams has a profile of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose “greatest asset at the podium is her embodiment of the Trump voter.”

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.