Harmans move up another notch in DC power structure

By A. James Memmott

August 4, 2010 at 8:38am

As the Washington Post suggests, the announced sale of Newsweek magazine this week was very much an inside-the-Beltway deal.

Sidney Harman, founder of the audio company Harman International Industries, husband of Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., and a former under secretary of Commerce in the Carter administration, is purchasing the magazine.

Harman, 92, takes over a publication owned by the Washington Post Co. a publishing enterprise run by the Graham family, a force in Washington for years.

Robert B. Barnett, Washington lawyer to the political and publishing stars, represented Harman in the deal.

Sidney Harman
Sidney Harman

“I see working hands-on at Newsweek as the culmination of a lifetime career in industry and government and education,” Harman told the Post Monday. “And I find it extraordinarily meaningful to be entrusted with carrying on the legacy of the Graham family.”

Donald E. Graham, chair of the Washington Post Co., picked Harman over several potential buyers. They included Avenue Capital Partners, publisher of the National Enquirer, and OpenGate Capital, owner of TV Guide.

“In seeking a buyer for Newsweek, we wanted someone who feels as strongly as we do about the importance of quality journalism,” Graham said in a statement quoted in the Post. “We found that person in Sidney Harman.”

Terms of the sale were not announced. However, citing unnamed sources, The New York Times reported that Harman paid $1 for the magazine with the understanding that he would assume its more than $50 million in liabilities.

Newsweek has fallen on hard times recently, as readers shift to other sources of news. The number of subscribers has dropped from a high of 3.2 million to its current 1.5 million.

According to the Times, made $30 million in 2007 and lost $30 million last year. It currently has a staff of 325; an unnamed source told the Times that Harman would keep 250 employees. The Post said “a majority” of the employees would be retained.

However, Jon Meacham, the magazine’s editor for the last four years, is scheduled to leave when the deal is made final.

Harman, chairman emeritus of Harman International, the parent company of audio powers Harman Kardon and JBL, did not announce any plans he might have for Newsweek.

He did say that his wife, who represents California’s 36th congressional district and is chair of the House intelligence subcommittee, was not involved in the deal to purchase the magazine.

“My wife has absolutely nothing to do with this, other than wishing me the best,” he told the Post.

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