A Tale of Two Owners

By Jack Limpert

Chris Hughes made almost a billion dollars by helping to create Facebook and now at age 28 he’s the owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic. He’s got the money to keep the struggling magazine going, maybe make it better as it approaches its 100th birthday. But he’s got no journalism experience. What kind of owner will he be? How’s he going to  handle the editors who actually put out the magazine?

Paul Farhi, in a good piece on Hughes in yesterday’s Washington Post, mentions Michael Bloomberg (Business Week) and Sidney Harmon (Newsweek) as other mega-wealthy guys who bought ailing magazines. But the two people who Hughes should talk to are David Bradley (The Atlantic) and Mort Zuckerman (U.S. News).

Bradley, who made his money helping businesses find what’s called best practices, bought The Atlantic in 1999. People who work with him say his favorite thing to do is look for talent, to talk with talented people, to hire talent. We once had him over to The Washingtonian for a small lunch with our key editors. The idea of these lunches was to invite outsiders in and ask them lots of questions about how they do things, what they think, what they’ve learned. After about a half hour with Bradley, we had a problem: He was asking almost all the questions, finding out what our editors knew. I finally said, “David, you’re here to answer questions,” and he graciously did that. I came away thinking that he’s successful because he’s smart, he asks good questions, and he actually listens. He attracts and keeps good editors and writers. And The Atlantic has been very successful.

Zuckerman made his money in the wheeling-and-dealing world of commercial real estate. He bought The Atlantic in 1980 (selllng it to Bradley in 1999) and he bought U.S. News in 1984. At U.S. News he ran through editor after editor. He loved to talk, to appear on political talk shows, to pontificate in a back-page column in the magazine. He once tried to hire one of New York’s brightest editors to edit U.S. News. The man knew of Zuckerman’s reputation with editors: He said he’d consider it only if one-year’s salary was safely put aside as severance. That big talent ended up saying no to Zuckerman, and U.S. News, once a very good magazine, is now just a website that focuses on best colleges, best hospitals.

If Hughes talks with Bradley and Zuckerman, and looks at what each has accomplished in publishing, it could be good for The New Republic and its editors.

Speak Your Mind