Sidney Harman, the entrepreneur and philanthropist who purchased Newsweek last year and recently merged it with The Daily Beast, died Tuesday night of complications from acute myeloid leukemia. He was 92.
"Sidney Harman wasn’t a journalist but he believed in the mission of good journalism—to shed light on a variety of stories that help us understand the world and to have some fun doing it,” Newsweek veteran Jonathan Alter wrote in a remembrance for The Daily Beast.
“He entered our business late in life but at the right time and for the right reasons," Alter continued. "We will miss him.”
So who takes over now that Harman is gone?
Harman appeared to be in great health, dazzled friends with his intellect during dinners at his Washington, D.C. home, and impressed Newsweek staffers with his energy and enthusiasm during his first stop in the newsroom. Nevertheless, Harman's advanced age raised questions all along about a possible succession plan.
The Wrap pointedly asked in October, “Who Pays for Newsweek If Sidney Harman Dies?” The answer wasn't clear.
Harman paid just $1 for Newsweek. But in taking over the magazine, he also assumed its growing debt -- as much as $70 million in liabilities according to a report at the time of the sale. Last September, the New York Post’s Keith Kelly asked Harman whether he had a succession plan. "My family is deeply committed to this, not necessarily on a day-to-day basis," Harman said. "But whether I am here or not, they are interested in owning the magazine."
On Wednesday, Daily Beast spokesman Andrew Kirk confirmed the family will remain involved.
“Dr. Harman’s ownership stake in the Newsweek/DailyBeast company remains owned by his estate,” Kirk said. “His estate will have the ability to appoint a replacement director to the board of the venture to represent its interest.”
Harman is survived by former California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, who recently left Congress to become director of the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Daily Beast editor Tina Brown didn’t specify who from Harman's family might take over his role, but said that “the family's commitment to the magazine he loved so much is solidly continuing, in partnership with Barry Diller and IAC."
Diller, the chief executive of IAC, said that he learned of his business partner's illness three weeks ago and told Alter that Harman "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."
Harman, who made a fortune in stereo equipment rather than publishing, became the money-losing magazine's unexpected savior last year. The wealthy philanthropist first discussed buying Newsweek from the Washington Post Co. last May during a lunch with Howard Fineman, then a Newsweek veteran who has since become editorial director of The Huffington Post Media Group.
Several suitors came forward with bids last summer, but the Post’s management concluded that Harman would be the best steward for the magazine.
"In seeking a buyer for Newsweek, we wanted someone who feels as strongly as we do about the importance of quality journalism," said Post Co. chairman Donald Graham shortly after the deal was struck last August. "We found that person in Sidney Harman.”
One of Harman's first tasks was to find a new editor, and he set his sights on Brown, renowned for helping to rejuvenate Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. During discussions with Brown, another idea took shape: merging the iconic print magazine with the provocative news and commentary website founded by Brown and Diller.
Harman became executive chairman of The Newsweek Daily Beast Co. following the deal, with Brown serving as editor-in-chief of both publications. Brown has put her stamp on the magazine with several high-profile hires -- like The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan -- and a new redesign last month. She described Harman Wednesday as “a magical man, full of intellectual curiosity and a desire to see Newsweek reflect the pursuit of ideas."
Harman, according to Alter, was pleased with the magazine's progress during the past six months and said that Newsweek was now on track to break even.