Dr. Sidney Harman, the founder and chairman emeritus of audio and electronics company Harman International who bought Newsweek magazine and then sold it to IAC (NSDQ: IACI) in order to merge it with The Daily Beast, has died at 92, according to an announcement on TDB.
In a separate post on TDB‘s site, Newsweek veteran Jonathan Alter wrote that Harman death occurred after a brief battle with leukemia. Alter, who said that he would be leaving the publication this week, added, “it came as a shock. He was 92 and expected to live past 100. We all believed him.”
In various interviews following his purchase of Newsweek from the Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO) in September, Harman had bristled at questions regarding his age and morbid speculation about whether he would be able to actively reinvigorate Newsweek, which had been hemorrhaging revenues and readers for years. He was also often described as looking much younger and appearing much more energetic than a man 20 years his junior.
– Joining the magazine world: Although well-respected for his business acumen in electronics, Harman had never run a magazine. Since he emerged as the one of the competing buyers of Newsweek last, agreeing to ultimately pay $1 for the title and assume about $47 million in liabilities, Harman struggled to find an editor-in-chief after Jon Meacham said he would depart from that post. He also presided over a mass exodus of the staff during that period.
With his lack of media experience, he quickly sought out a partnership with Tina Brown, the founding editor of The Daily Beast. An initial attempt to merge the two publications faltered due to “misunderstandings,” in Harman’s words, about his place in a combined Newsweek and Daily Beast.
But that was all sorted out when following what Brown called a “coffee-mug toast” among the parties that had existing Daily Beast president Stephen Colvin becoming CEO while Harman would serve as executive chairman of Newsweek Daily Beast, as the new entity would be known. Harman was also given a seat on a board with IAC chairman and CEO Barry Diller. Brown will report to that board.. “I have every instinct, and Tina has blessed this, to be a participant in terms of sharing and discussing ideas, but recognizing where the editorial authority simply must stay,” Harman said, hailing Brown “one of the transcendent editors of all time.”
– Newsweek‘s and The Daily Beast‘s woes: Both Newsweek and TDB continued to be struggling — Newsweek has only six ads in this week’s issue, Business Insider noted — but Alter writes that Harman told him that the publication was in striking distance of breaking even. In addition, 16 staffers at the magazine had taken buyouts this week, according to Mediaweek.
In terms of the financials, Newsweek lost roughly $40 million over the past two years, while the two-year-old The Daily Beast lost about $10 million last year.
– Looking on the bright side: Still, there has been some positive news lately. Newsweek Daily Beast Co. just named Daniel Blackman, a former strategic partner development officer at Google (NSDQ: GOOG) from 2005 to 2007, was more recently co-founder and chief operating officer of Howcast, as its first chief digital officer, the NY Post reported. Blackman will be working on creating a single site, with Newsweek.com folded into The Daily Beast.
Colvin told the NY Post that advertising on The Daily Beast‘s site is up 367 percent in Q1, year-over-year. He added single-copy sales of Newsweek, while still a relatively small portion of overall sales, are up 57 percent since Brown’s redesign last month. While still not close to profitability, Colvin also said that this year’s losses will be down more than 60 percent from 2010.
– Remembering Harman: Harman was born on August 4, 1918 and was married to former Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA.), who resigned her seat in February, and survives him. He initially achieved fame and wealth in the audio business. As Alter writes, “In 1953 he founded Harman Kardon Inc., where he and his partner invented the concept of “hi-fi”-high fidelity sound that had previously been available only in studios.”
In a statement, Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and his partner in the Newsweek Daily Beast Co., said: “I feel very privileged to have known Dr Harman in the last year of his life. That remarkable brain, filled with so much humor poetry and wisdom, was something his new colleagues at Newsweek and The Daily Beast marveled at in every encounter. Three weeks ago, when he told me of his illness he said he and his family wanted to continue as partners in Newsweek/Beast in all events and we will carry on though will greatly miss his passionate enthusiasm and belief in the venture.”