By Published on .

Quick, name a media mogul, any media mogul. Which names come to mind first? Rupert Murdoch? John Malone? Ted Turner? Sumner Redstone? Bill Gates, even?

All have something in common-besides immense power and eye-popping paychecks. What they share is that none is known first and foremost as a print media mogul.

True, Mr. Murdoch's empire was built on a base of newspapers, and he still owns the nation's largest weekly magazine. And, yes, Mr. Turner may one day be lord of the entire Time Warner universe, including Time Inc. But Rupert's heart blasted off on a satellite long ago, and Ted is at heart a cable guy.


This is not great news for magazine publishers, and it's reflected in the lineup of speakers for the industry's annual meeting. Last year's keynoter was then-Disney President Michael Ovitz. This year's is Ted himself. And while Jane Fonda's significant other is a colorful speaker, it's not at all clear why he's the top choice to stand before the nation's leading magazine publishers and editors and help them understand the challenges and opportunities facing their business today.

Perhaps, as one industry observer said, it boils down to George Steinbrenner-style economics-keynote speakers are picked by their ability to put fannies in the seats. The bigger the name, the more people willing to plunk down eleven-hundred bucks to attend.

Or perhaps it's a diversionary tactic, meant to distract attention from the paucity of true visionaries and charismatic leaders in the magazine business.

The legends of yesterday-Henry Luce, Harold Ross, DeWitt Wallace, Malcolm Forbes-have today been replaced at many publishing houses by CEOs who keep a low profile (the better to focus both eyes firmly on the bottom line).

There remain a handful of living legends. S.I. Newhouse, Jr. Hugh Hefner. Jann Wenner. But "Si" and "Hef" tend to keep to themselves, and Jann skates along the edges of the industry mainstream.


Bill Ziff briefly emerged in a leadership role when he received the Henry Johnson Fisher award for lifetime achievement in 1992 and delivered from the podium a blistering wake-up call to industry movers and shakers.

To quote Mr. Ziff, "When I started out, nearly the entire industry consisted of family-controlled businesses .

. . To the best of my knowledge, all of these companies were started on a shoestring. Human talent, rather than financial capital, was their basis.

"I knew many of the principals and chief surrogates of these companies when I was a young man," he added. "Business conversations with these people were not about money and finance. They were about publishing and journalism."

"That," he later noted, "is certainly not the way things are."

A strong and praiseworthy stand. But Bill Ziff handed the keys to his kids not long after, and they promptly sold the shop. Another bright light extinguished.


One level below the moguls, the magazine industry has been sapped in recent years of many of its most colorful characters (Steve Florio is among the few notable exceptions). Some have left the business. Others remain, but have edged out of the spotlight (where have you gone, Peter Diamandis?).

This is not a commentary on the state of magazines. The industry remains vibrant, one where new products continue to defy overcrowded newsstands by capturing consumers' hearts and advertisers' wallets.

But the industry has undoubtedly lost some of its glamor and media appeal, in part because of an obsessive interest in new media technologies.

There's no clear solution to the challenge. Leaders can't be conjured up from thin air. But the industry should keep the spotlight on those it has, and give others the podium and the opportunity to articulate a vision.

As Ted Turner said recently, "If you want to lead, you got to blow the horn and get out in front of the parade."

He was talking about his $1 billion gift to the United Nation's. But he'll be out in front of the MPA's parade this year, too. It's too bad the magazine industry didn't hand that lead role to one of its own, equally regrettable that

Most Popular
In this article: