Billionaires seem to have a thing for media ownership. Deep-pocketed, high-profile investors have spent fortunes acquiring mass communication platforms, including newspapers, magazines, and even social networking services, particularly over the past few years.
This isn’t an entirely new trend. For well over a century, the world’s wealthiest have dominated the media landscape, with plenty of them still living large today, including the Bloomberg, Hearst, Newhouse, Murdoch, and Ochs-Sulzberger families.
Joining that list of legendary names is a new club of investors with cash to burn and a belief that there’s still money to be made—or something else to be gained—from owning a media business. So who are the big-name billionaires who bought up publishers in the past few decades and turned plenty of heads in the process? Let’s take a look.
- Billionaires have been buying up publishers at a notable rate.
- This isn’t an entirely new trend because wealthy individuals and families have dominated the media landscape for centuries.
- Newspapers and magazines that are now under new billionaire ownership include The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Time, and Fortune.
- These billionaires are often credited with and heralded for saving famous American press institutions from the brink of financial failure.
- Critics question whether the intentions of billionaires are as pure as they claim.
Jeff Bezos: The Washington Post
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shocked the world when he agreed to purchase the struggling Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.
As is often the case when a billionaire buys a newspaper, many believed that Bezos initially wanted to use the paper to shape people’s views to match his own, especially since he had no previous newspaper experience,
Much of that criticism subsided, as the internet mogul leveraged his knowledge of technology to boost the struggling paper’s readership numbers and revolutionize its digital offerings. The Post reported more than 58 million unique visitors to the site in December 2022.
John Henry: The Boston Globe
Around the same time that Bezos bought The Washington Post, billionaire sports magnate John Henry paid $70 million to purchase The Boston Globe from The New York Times.
The Globe needed a big cash infusion just like the Post. Henry, who made his fortune trading commodity futures before building a sports empire that includes the Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club, was seemingly happy to oblige.
Glen Taylor: Star Tribune
Henry wasn’t the only wealthy person to buy his local sports team and newspaper. In 2014, Glen Taylor purchased the Star Tribune for nearly $100 million. Taylor is a former Republican senator and the owner of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves.
Taylor said he remembered lots of people reading the Star Tribune when he was a child and hoped to recapture that success. He turned the daily paper into a trusted source of news for all Minnesotans once again.
Patrick Soon-Shiong: Los Angeles Times
Patrick Soon-Shiong is a biotech entrepreneur best known for inventing the cancer drug Abraxane. In 2018, he purchased a number of publications, including The Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune as well as a few other titles from Tribune Publishing for $500 million.
The previous owners struggled with the headwinds facing print journalism and gutted these once-proud news institutions to make ends meet so the acquisition was generally well-received. Soon-Shiong vowed to bring the glory days back to the Times, his local newspaper, eliminate fake news, and create a worthy rival to The Washington Post and The New York Times, no matter what the cost.
Sheldon Adelson: Las Vegas Review-Journal
The late Sheldon Adelson’s acquisition of The Las Vegas Review-Journal was a controversial one, to say the least. At the end of 2015, the casino magnate secretly bought the daily newspaper, which was often critical of him. According to reports, he sought to influence what the publication’s journalists covered and how they did it, prompting several senior staff members to leave.
Joe Mansueto: Inc. and Fast Company
One month after taking investment and research firm Morningstar public, Joe Mansueto purchased Inc. and Fast Company from G+J USA. Mansueto founded Morningstar in 1984.
Mansueto took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to explain his decision, claiming that he “wasn’t looking to buy a magazine” but “jumped at the opportunity” when the two publications went up for sale. Mansueto said he was “passionate" about their missions, their history, future contributions, and the "intimacy they’ve established with their readers."
Like many of his billionaire media mogul peers, his goal was to protect a brand held in high esteem.
Laurene Powell Jobs: The Atlantic
Laurene Powell Jobs has made plenty of investments via her philanthropically minded investment firm Emerson Collective. One of them was buying a majority stake in the magazine The Atlantic in 2017 for a figure reported to be just over $100 million.
The widow of Apple co-founder Steve Job hinted at a desire to enter the news industry in the past, according to The New York Times reporter Edmund Lee. She called The Atlantic “one of the country’s most important and enduring journalistic institutions” and pledged to invest in its platform and hire more staff to draw new readers.
She was then criticized a few years for laying off dozens of employees at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marc Benioff: Time
In 2018, Marc Benioff and his wife bought Time magazine for $190 million, saying their aim was combating “a crisis of trust.”
The chief executive officer (CEO) of Salesforce said he wanted to give the magazine the financial muscle “to carry out its mission to provide truthful, trustworthy information to readers” and basically act as a “steward” of real journalism in a time when trust is lacking and misinformation is spread by dubious sources.
Chatchaval Jiaravanon: Fortune
Thai investor Chatchaval Jiaravanon purchased Fortune in 2018. The total purchase price? $150 million. Jiaravanon's family controls Charoen Pokphand, one of Thailand’s largest companies.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Fortune president Alan Murray reassured the public that Jiaravanon bought the publication as a personal investment because “he loves the brand” and promised to provide capital to help the magazine grow without interfering in the publication’s day-to-day operations.
Elon Musk: Twitter
Tesla CEO Elon Musk completed his acquisition of social media giant Twitter in October 2022 for $44 billion. Musk made the offer in April 2022 when he vowed to introduce several changes to unlock the website’s potential. Among them were:
- Encouraging free speech on the platform by moderating content less
- Reversing the Twitter ban on Donald Trump
He also announced plans on taking the public company private and delisting its shares—a promise he delivered after he completed the purchase.
The move didn't come without hiccups, though. Musk tweeted that the deal was on hold in May 2022. Then, on July 8, Musk's attorneys said he was terminating the agreement, saying Twitter appeared to have made false and misleading representations upon which Mr. Musk relied when entering into the Merger Agreement, and is likely to suffer a Company Material Adverse Effect (as that term is defined in the Merger Agreement).
Who Is the Biggest Media Mogul?
The most powerful media tycoon in the world is probably Rupert Murdoch. Over the years, Murdoch and his family have amassed a huge media empire that currently includes cable TV channel Fox News and the newspapers The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Post.
What Does it Mean for Elon Musk to Take Twitter Private?
Public companies go private when there are no apparent benefits to trading on the stock market. One way to do so is to have a private buyer or private equity firm first submit a bid to purchase a controlling stake in the company. If and when the offer is accepted, the new owner can proceed to delist the shares. This is what happened with Elon Musk and Twitter. Musk now has complete control over the company's every action and policy.
Which Newspaper Did Jeff Bezos Buy?
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, an American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C., that’s best known for its political reporting. The paper is best known for its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Watergate scandal and its public service Pulitzer for its reporting of the January 6 assault on Congress.
The Bottom Line
It’s no secret that newspapers, magazines, and the media industry as a whole are struggling to make money the way they did in the past. Wealthy figures with cash to burn are stepping in to help ease the financial constraints and breathe life back into some of the country’s most prestigious press institutions.
The question many people are asking is what price media outlets may pay in return for access to lots of capital and innovative ideas. Are these billionaires willing to do whatever it takes to protect American journalism and the quality of news reporting, even if it comes at a financial loss? Each new owner is an individual with their own goals and plans. Whether any of these deals risks damaging the integrity of these important and highly influential institutions remains to be seen.