Rolling Stone‘s founder is putting the iconic magazine up for sale amid declining revenue and a damaged journalistic reputation in need of repair.
Jann Wenner started Rolling Stone in 1967, and the magazine spent decades as a leading tastemaker and stage for up-and-coming writers. But now he is looking to sell his controlling stake, the New York Times reports.
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Wenner's 27-year-old son, Gus, currently president and chief operating officer of parent company Wenner Media, has come up with plans for selling the magazine after off-loading many of the company's assets.
"There's a level of ambition that we can't achieve alone," Gus Wenner told the Times, referring to the company's status as an independent publisher. "So we are being proactive and want to get ahead of the curve."
"Publishing is a completely different industry than what it was," he added. "The trends go in one direction, and we are very aware of that."
Rolling Stone‘s troubles do not just stem from the economic challenges of the publishing industry, however. The 2014 article "A Rape on Campus," which discussed an unproven gang rape at the University of Virginia, became a famous black eye for the magazine, leading to embarrassing reports about unethical journalistic practices as well as three libel lawsuits.
Last year, a federal jury awarded $3 million in damages to a plaintiff in one of those lawsuits.
Jann Wenner has paid a steep cost for his own financial mistakes, notably his decision to borrow $300 million in 2006 to buy back a stake in Us Weekly that he sold to Walt Disney for just $40 million five years earlier. Wenner Media has since sold Us Weekly as well as Men's Journal to American Media Inc., which may also be eyeing Wenner's flagship publication.
"I love my job, I enjoy it, I've enjoyed it for a long time," said Jann Wenner, 71. But letting go is "just the smart thing to do," he added.
"Rolling Stone has played such a role in the history of our times, socially and politically and culturally," he said. "We want to retain that position."
The magazine has not been on the cutting edge of the music industry in recent years, but rather has featured stars of decades past, such as Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, on its cover.
"I think it's time for young people to run it," Jann Wenner said.
Political stories, such as a cover story asking why Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cannot be president of the U.S., have not earned plaudits or boosted readership. The Times declared that Rolling Stone has not had a cover story gain widespread journalistic acclaim since its 2010 investigative report on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.
"Who lives through the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s and cannot be somehow wistful at this moment?" Terry McDonell, a former Rolling Stone editor, told the Times.