Beat Writers: Few Worries About Harman Newsweek Interference

Beat writers who regularly report on the magazine industry say speculation that Sidney Harman, the incoming owner of Newsweek, will try to influence coverage on behalf of his wife, Rep. Jane Harman, is unfounded.

The Washington Post Company announced Monday it would sell Newsweek to Harman, who is married to the Democratic congresswoman.

While her congressional opponent, Mattie Fein, has already raised the issue in an open letter sent to news outlets, those who cover the industry say the chances of Mr. Harman seeking to oversee news coverage is minimal.

“I don't get the sense that he would,” said Dylan Stableford, media editor of “It opens him and Newsweek up to the criticism. But from what I've read about him, I feel like he separates his business and personal life, at least politically.”

Matthew Flamm, who covers the magazine business for Crain's New York Business, agreed.

“I don't see it as a big issue,” he said. “The relationship he has with his wife is out there and if he were to (interfere) it would get out.”

Flamm cited the case of Carol J. Loomis, a Fortune writer who is credited with writing one of the most stinging assessments of the Time Warner AOL deal in 2000, with showing how an owner can be hands-off. Loomis' story included harsh criticism of her magazine's owner. “They managed that one well,” Flamm said.

Lucia Moses, who covers magazines for MediaWeek notes: “Any smart owner understands that the quality of the product and the advertiser perception of the product and the ability to keep staff are important. It is a magazine that covers politics so it is going to be held to a higher standard and under more scrutiny because of the owner's connection.”

Jeff Bercovici, a former Portfolio and Radar scribe now covering magazines for AOL's Daily Finance, said any expectation of a major Newsweek editorial shift “would be a stretch.”

“I don't see Harman doing that,” he said. “I don't think you are going to see a lot of change with Newsweek.”

Abbey Klaassen, executive editor of Advertising Age, said observers will keep an eye on the magazine to see if any influence is exerted, but did not expect it to be done:

“He seems like a guy who's got a lot of opinions, but I wouldn't expect he would try to influence it. Ultimately, the advertisers care about the audience and if they were to do something that damaged the Newsweek brand, it would have implications.”

Then there is Michael Isikoff, the former longtime Newsweek scribe who recently left for NBC. He also suggested any Harman influence would be unlikely. He had previously told Media Matters that he was concerned that the conservative Newsmax might purchase the publication, saying it was not his “preferred owner.”

“He said his wife does not tell him how to run his business and I see no reason not to take him at his word,” Isikoff said of Harman. “I think he is smart enough to know that if the magazine was perceived as promoting an agenda of his wife that would undercut the credibility of the magazine.”