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Si Newhouse’s Dream Factory

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Si's Fantasy World: The decades of magazines.   

Ostensibly, everyone respects the process of governance. But there are clear generational differences. The younger generation is not so young—its members are in their fifties. “Are 50-year-olds pulling on the bits? How could they not be? Here’s Si, 81 years old, sitting in the middle of business,” says an adviser. Some of the frustration surfaced over Florio, whom the younger generation viewed as an embarrassment, Si’s folly, a sign of the old man’s misplaced loyalty or stupidity.

Si Newhouse is still the plenipotentiary, plunging into the details. But his age has been something of an issue. He can be forgetful. Sometimes the famous early riser dozes off in afternoon meetings, and he is slowly going deaf. No one doubts, however, that he’s firmly in control. “Newhouse is involved with whatever he wants to be,” I’m told.

No one expects him to retire anytime soon. Still, preparations are quietly being made for a time when Newhouse is no longer on the scene. The succession seems to have been largely settled, even if details need to be worked out. The kingdom will be gerrymandered among the sons and cousins along the lines of Townsend’s org chart. Bloodlines matter. Primogeniture is the rule. In business decisions, Steven and Michael, Donald’s sons, and Sam, Si’s son, “are first among equals,” as one person who’s dealt with the family on financial matters says. Bob Miron and his children will run the cable business. Jonathan, 57, the worldly London-based cousin with a British passport and a pocket square, will no doubt head the magazines. Jonathan already runs the international magazines, which number about a 100 and produce as much in revenue as the domestic magazines. More than the others Jonathan has shaken free of the family. “Brilliant to stake his turf, to get out of the middle of this family,” says a person who knows him. Jonathan enjoys his stature as an international media mogul. About Si, Jonathan told the Times, “I value his experience and wisdom. Still, we have our own business realities here.”

“Only a fool, and I don’t think there are any fools involved in this story, would assume that the picture is going to stay the same,” says David Remnick.

Steven is the other prominent next-generation Newhouse. He’s short, antsy, and more closely resembles Si, his uncle, with the family’s overwide smile. He lives in the West Village and is married to Gina Sanders, the publisher of Lucky. Steven’s role is more circumscribed than Jonathan’s, since he operates within Si’s realm and, at times, at his pleasure. Other executives say he can bridle at these limits. Steven, as if to compensate, has become a kind of protégé to Townsend, who, it’s pointed out, doesn’t resist the Internet. Steve will certainly be in charge of the company’s Internet efforts going forward.

The next generation waits patiently, but there is a clear sense of relief that Si’s domain is increasingly well defined—the emperor has become a division chief. The editors report to Si; the publishers report to Townsend, a significant shift. The days when one all-powerful person is in control are over. “Chuck Townsend runs the company,” says one executive, a fact that clearly pleases the next generation. There also is a tendency, however slight, to patronize the old man. “We’ve talked about this,” Townsend has been heard saying to Newhouse. “He doesn’t get in the way,” is a phrase people have used to praise him.

Some of the once-ironclad faith in Newhouse’s judgment has been eroded by Portfolio. The family was enthusiastic about the idea, but Si’s persistence in the original course was confounding. For the family, it was a delicate matter. “They didn’t want to usurp his prerogative,” says an insider. But ultimately they didn’t leave him much choice.

At this year’s American Society of Magazine Editor awards at Lincoln Center, the Pulitzers of magazine journalism, waiters in formal dress served canapés. And then the magazine Establishment filed into the auditorium, where Jimmy Fallon presented the first award, momentarily giving the event an Oscars-like feel.

Newhouse shuttered Portfolio the week before, but his surviving magazines dominated the awards, winning seven. Newhouse sat next to David Remnick, as he does every year, and cheered and cheered, more animated than anyone has ever described him to me. At one point, he jumped from his seat to clap award-winner Chris Anderson, of Wired, on the back. From the stage, editors issued warm shout-outs to Newhouse, who, though sitting in the audience, was the evening’s dominant figure. Remnick, who collected three awards, praised him as the Babe Ruth of magazines, swinging for the fences.

Later in the program, there was a special lifetime-achievement award for Annie Leibovitz, the photographer whose 25-year career at Condé Nast Newhouse has lavishly financed. Years ago, she signed a lifetime contract that pays her more than tens of millions of dollars, according to one insider.


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