Harman, close to Institute and Isaacson, buys Newsweek

by Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Sidney Harman, a member of the Aspen Institute’s board of trustees, has purchased a struggling Newsweek for a nominal sum and has pledged to keep most of the weekly magazine’s roughly 300 staffers working.

Harman, 91, is an active member of the Institute’s board and is frequently in Aspen. He serves on the board’s executive committee, is a “senior mentor” for various Institute programs, and is the co-founder of the Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence program.

Harman’s also is close with Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, who is a former editor of Time magazine. The pair have been talking about the potential purchase for about a month.

“I think Sidney is doing it for the right reasons,” Isaacson said. “It is probably not the best return on investment you could get if you wanted to put your money somewhere, but it is the best psychic and civic investment you could get, which is saving one of the world’s best magazines.

“Sidney is a perfect fit,” Isaacson added. “He’s civic minded, cares about world affairs and is not looking to make a quick buck. He’s got polymath sensibilities. He is interested in almost everything.”

Current Newsweek editor Jon Meacham is resigning and no replacement has been named, but Isaacson ruled out the job.

“I’ve already edited a news magazine,” he said.

Newsweek was first published in 1933 and was once a key weekly news source, along with Time magazine, for millions of Americans.

Now it has “tens of millions” worth of liabilities, according to Newsweek’s own report of the sale. And it’s on track to lose $20 million this year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The terms of the deal were not made public, but Newsweek reported that Harman gave the magazine’s owner, the Washington Post Co., only “a small amount of cash.”

Isaacson, who has written about the future of journalism, was bullish on Harman’s chances of turning the magazine around.

“He may have bought at the bottom of the market,” Isaacson said. “The ad recession is over and we’re starting to learn ways to create new revenue streams in the digital world.”

Harman is the founder and chairman emeritus of Harman International, which positions itself as “the worldwide leader in premium branded audio and best-in-class infotainment products for the automotive, consumer and professional markets.”

Harman is married to U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat from California, who also frequently participates in Institute events.

“The purpose of the investment is to provide fuel for the transition of the magazine in its current position into a thriving operation in the print, mobile, and digital worlds ... I’ll consider it a victory when it breaks even,” Harman said, according to a report on Newsweek’s website.

bgs@aspendailynews.com