Henry Luce's media empire is breaking up at last, undone by the digital economy.
Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynn, are purchasing Time magazine from the Meredith Corp. for $190 million. The size of the purchase is surprising; longtime rival Newsweek was sold for virtually nothing a few years ago.
The Benioff deal doesn't include former Luce jewels Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Money, which the midwestern company Meredith also wants to peddle.
Along with Time, Luce's Fortune and Sports Illustrated were stalwarts of a fabled company that dominated the national media landscape. Money magazine came in later, riding high on a new age of middle class wealth and consumerism. The Luce titles shared a corporate culture of elite journalism: superstar writers, immersive full-color coverage of events, huge expense accounts.
Rocked by the Internet and the disappearance of once bountiful print advertising, the famous titles struggled to find a new place in the digital world. At last, Meredith purchased the fading magazines, with plans to sell them off. The publisher of homespun publications loaded with family advice and inspiration, Meredith plans to keep still profitable Time brands Southern Living and celebrity-oriented People.
The billionaire Benioff plans to run Time as a separate entity from his Salesforce software company. As New York Times business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin pointed out Wednesday, the deal is another triumph of the new West Coast digital elite over the old East Coast establishment. Luce's Time invented the word tycoon, which has new meanings today.
If Time's aggressive reporting on the Trump administration continues under Benioff, the software billionaire is likely to draw the ire of Trump, as Sorkin said. Trump frequently blasts Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos for his ownership of the Washington Post. Benioff says he won't participate in Time editorial decisions.
The future appears especially dire for Sports Illustrated, whose weekly format proved out-of-date in the world of ESPN, itself now struggling to define its future. Fortune with its strong business coverage will still be a valuable brand, even as a standalone. But Sports Illustrated appears endangered in the Internet world.
A new identity for SI sportswriter
SI's questionable future might have played a part in SI senior writer Lee Jenkins' move to the Los Angeles Clippers as "executive director of research and identity," but the job's new-age title sounds more fascinating than writing profiles of jocks.
And, as the envious "Pardon the Interruption" wise-ass Tony Kornheiser said, Jenkins will probably triple his salary. On PTI's sister ESPN show, "Around the Horn," Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Calishaw also expressed laptop envy at Jenkins' move.
Jenkins had difficulty explaining exactly what he'll do in the Clippers post. Something about using his interviewing skills to gain deeper insights into players' personalities, and improving the fan experience. Well, the Clippers have long had an identity crisis, although until losing guard Chris Paul, they've supplanted the Lakers in the Los Angeles sports world in recent years.
But, talk about identity, the Lakers have now landed Lebron James. The Clippers can boost their identity by landing Kyrie Irving. I wonder if Jenkins will ask Irving why he believes the world is flat. That's all right, so does Tom Friedman.
Jenkins joins former Lakers star and ace basketball talent evaluator Jerry West and coach Doc Rivers, who both seem to have enough identity of their own without any evaluation from Jenkins.
Microsoft billionaire and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has delivered another West Coast hit on the old Luce empire. Ballmer's worth $40 billion, so what's a few bucks for an old sportswriter?