Billionaires, it would appear, 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 wealthy have dominated the media landscape, with plenty of them, including the Bloomberg, Hearst, Newhouse, Murdoch, and Ochs-Sulzberger families, still living large today.
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 over the past few years.
- This isn’t an entirely new trend, as the world’s wealthy have dominated the media landscape for centuries.
- Newspapers and magazines that have fallen under new billionaire ownership in the past 10 years include the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Time, and Fortune.
- In many cases these billionaires have been heralded for saving famous American press institutions from the brink of financial failure.
- However, critics question whether these buyers’ intentions are as pure as they claim.
Jeff Bezos, The Washington Post
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos shocked the world in 2013 when he agreed to purchase the struggling Washington Post for $250 million. Initially, as is often the case when a billionaire buys a newspaper, many believed that Bezos wanted to use the Post to shape people’s views to match his own. However, much of that criticism has subsided, as the internet mogul, who previously had no newspaper experience, leveraged his knowledge of technology to boost the struggling paper’s readership numbers and revolutionize its digital offerings.
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. As was the case with the Post, the Globe needed a big cash infusion, and 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, a former Republican senator and owner of National Basketball Association team the Minnesota Timberwolves, purchased the Star Tribune for nearly $100 million. Taylor said he remembered lots of people reading the Star Tribune when he was a child and hoped to recapture that success, turning the daily paper into a trusted source of news for all Minnesotans once again.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, Los Angeles Times
In 2018 Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech entrepreneur perhaps best known for inventing the cancer drug Abraxane, purchased the Los Angeles Times; its sister paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune; and a few other titles from Tribune Publishing for $500 million. This acquisition was generally well received, as the previous owners, struggling with the headwinds facing print journalism, pretty much gutted these once-proud news institutions to make ends meet. 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 New York Times, whatever the cost.
Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Review-Journal
The topic of a Netflix documentary, 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. Then, according to reports, he sought to influence what the publication’s journalists covered and how, prompting several senior staff to leave.
Joe Mansueto, Inc. and Fast Company
One month after taking Morningstar, the investment and research firm he founded in 1984, public, Joe Mansueto went out and bought Inc. and Fast Company magazines from G+J USA. 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 it emerged that Inc. and Fast Company were up for sale because he’s “passionate about their missions. Their past, present, and future contributions. And the true intimacy they’ve established with their readers—along with the enduring value that brings to advertisers.” Like many of his billionaire media mogul peers, his goal, he says, was to protect a brand held in high esteem.
Laurene Powell Jobs, The Atlantic
Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve 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. Powell Jobs had hinted in the past at a desire to enter the news industry, according to 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 then was criticized a few years later for laying off dozens of employees at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marc Benioff, Time
In 2018 Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife bought Time magazine for $190 million, saying that their aim was combatting “a crisis of trust.” Benioff 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
In the same year that Meredith Corp. sold Time to Benioff and his wife, it offloaded another flagship title, Fortune, to another billionaire: Thai investor Chatchaval Jiaravanon. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray, Fortune’s president, reassured the public that Jiaravanon, whose family controls Charoen Pokphand, one of Thailand’s largest companies, bought Fortune 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
In April 2022 serial headline-grabber Elon Musk became the talk of the internet after reaching a deal to buy Twitter—one of the most influential sources of information on the internet today—for an eye-popping $44 billion. Musk, the controversial founder of Tesla and one of the richest people on the planet, vowed to introduce several changes to unlock the website’s potential, including encouraging free speech on the platform by moderating content less. On May 10, at a Future of the Car event hosted by the Financial Times, Musk said that he would reverse the Twitter ban on Donald Trump. And
To push through these changes as effortlessly as possible, Musk revealed that he plans to take Twitter private and delist the shares. That would happen only after he actually buys Twitter. Then on May 13, Musk Tweeted that "Twitter deal temporarily on hold." His stated reason: questions about the number of accounts that are spam/fake. Whether Musk joins the billionaire media ownership club remains to be seen.
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 Would Elon Musk Taking Twitter Private Mean?
By buying up all the public shares in Twitter and delisting them, Musk in effect would have 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, including its Pulitzer Prize–winning coverage of the Watergate scandal and—most recently—its public service Pulitzer for its reporting of the Jan. 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 whether 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.