Penske Media Buys Controlling Stake in Wenner Media, and With It, Rolling Stone

Founder Jann Wenner will remain editorial director at his 50-year-old magazine.

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Penske Media Buys Controlling Stake in Wenner Media, and With It, Rolling Stone

Penske Media has bought a majority stake in Wenner Media, publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, the companies announced in a joint statement on Wednesday.

According to terms of the deal, Penske, the New York-based owner of outlets including Variety, WWD, and IndieWire, will acquire 51% of Wenner, though the latter will maintains “the majority control and editorial oversight for Rolling Stone. “The publication,” according to the statement, “will remain an independent authority on US pop culture and impactful political coverage.” The deal comes a year after Singapore-based music start-up BandLab Technologies purchased a 49% stake in Rolling Stone for an undisclosed sum. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the New York Times reports that the investment values Wenner Media at roughly $100 million.

“Our interest in Rolling Stone is driven by its people, its cultural significance, and the globally-recognized brand that has no peer in its areas of influence,” said Penske Media chairman and CEO Jay Penske. “We believe that Penske Media is uniquely qualified to partner with the Wenners to ensure the brand continues to ascend for decades across multiple media platforms—we’re eager to get started.”

Jann Wenner, who founded Rolling Stone 50 years ago with the critic Ralph Gleason and nurtured it into the 20th century’s preeminent voice on music and counterculture, will stay on as the magazine’s Editorial Director, and his son Gus Wenner will remain President & COO and join Penske Media’s Advisory Board.

The 21st century hasn’t been as to kind to Wenner and Rolling Stone, with falling ad revenues, a slow embrace of digital publishing, and a damaging reporting scandal in 2014 surrounding an alleged rape at the University of Virginia all contributing to its fall from the vanguard of American publishing. The company had been in sell mode for a while. In addition to other recent financial maneuvers, in March it sold its two other magazines, Men’s Journal and US Weekly, to David Pecker’s American Media company. Pecker, the longtime publisher of supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer and a vocal supporter of Trump, immediately became a leading candidate to purchase Rolling Stone as well.

In its heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, the magazine pulled off the neat trick of becoming as famous as the rock stars it put on its cover. Along the way it introduced the world to a new generation of cultural critics like Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and David Fricke. But it struggled in recent years to maintain a foothold in the digital marketplace, expanding its coverage into areas like movies and television, and attempting to strike a balance between focusing on younger pop acts and the aging legacy artists that first attracted its core audience of Baby Boomers. Under Wenner, Rolling Stone was never shy about its liberal political ideology, often excelling as much in glowing coverage of Democratic icons like Barack Obama as in its scorching criticism of Republicans like George W. Bush and Donald Trump. In 2010, the magazine’s expose on Stanley A. McChrystal, in which the four-star general was recorded excoriating Biden and Obama, led to his resignation.

“I am so proud of our accomplishments over the past 50 years and know Penske Media is the ideal match for us to thrive in today’s media landscape,” Jann Wenner said in the statement.

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