So, last night bids came in to the Washington Post Company for the opportunity to take the beleaguered Newsweek magazine off its hands. Two of the bidders were no surprise: According to the Times, both TV Guide owner Open Gate Capital and hedge funder Thane Ritchie’s Ritchie Capital Management had already announced they were in. (Ritchie made an unsuccessful bid for the Sun Times Media Group last year.) And while billionaire Haim Saban reportedly didn’t make a bid, as expected, 91-year-old stereo-equipment giant Sidney Harman told the Times he’d let the WPC know he was interested. Seemingly, the vast majority of the 70 “interested parties” the magazine said had contacted it did not follow through with bids. But one very interesting surprise candidate did.
Newsmax Media, a conglomerate of health and financial newsletters, the website Newsmax.com, and Newsmax magazine, announced yesterday that it had put in a bid for Newsweek. This surely raised some eyebrows in Newsweek’s downtown offices yesterday, as Newsmax is a decidedly conservative organization, the first outlet to jump to the lips of Sarah Palin when Sean Hannity gave her an opportunity to re-answer the question the vice-presidential candidate flubbed with Katie Couric: What publications do you read? Founded by Christopher Ruddy, a former New York Post reporter who hounded the Clintons during the Vince Foster case, Newsmax is co-owned by fellow Bill Clinton antagonist Richard Mellon Scaife (who softened toward Hillary later in life). Their publications carry a candid right-wing bent — but according to a statement issued by the company, that won’t extend to Newsweek if they get it:
The company’s bid for Newsweek’s print and online assets is congruent with its objective to diversify and expand into numerous distinct media brand offerings, like any major multi-title publisher. Newsweek’s staff, advertisers and readers can be assured that if Newsmax Media, Inc.’s bid is successful, Newsweek’s stellar brand and editorial representation would remain distinct from our other brands. Newsweek would continue in its mission to objectively report the news and provide analysis from a wide spectrum of perspectives.
There’s no way to know if that will turn out to be true in the event Newsmax wins out in the auction. But in case any of the mainstream-media elites at Newsweek are shaking in their loafers over the prospect of being owned by a conservative company, they should keep in mind that the alternatives (being owned by a hedge funder or stereo magnate and remaining a one-magazine company unable to share back-office costs with another publication) may not be better. In fact, Newsmax is a profitable multi-platform media company that has mastered the web in a time of rapid growth and change. “As household U.S. media brands from CNN to the New York Times were reflecting on a bruising year, the Florida-based publisher ended 2009 expecting to report revenues of $35m, up from $25m in 2008,” reported the Financial Times in January. Noting its rapid success (in no small part during the election for putting Palin on its cover just days before McCain tapped her), Forbes called Newsmax the “great right hope.”
Ruddy has pointed out repeatedly that Newsmax is “a heartland publication,” which sounds like code for “red state.” But the heartland has also always been the bread and butter of the newsweeklies. A company that has mastered both the Internet and marketing itself to what Sarah Palin calls “the real America” may not be a bad choice to usher Newsweek into a new era. In fact, it may even be the best choice — not that the editors of the magazine probably have much say in the matter.