Variety Publisher Penske Media Acquires Majority of Rolling Stone, Wenner Media

Rolling Stone
Justin Sullivan / 2017 Getty Images
– Rolling Stone

Variety publisher Penske Media has acquired a controlling stake in venerable pop culture chronicle Rolling Stone and Wenner Media, founded by Jann Wenner 50 years ago in San Francisco, the companies announced Dec. 20.

While financial terms weren’t disclosed, a source familiar with the deal told the New York Times the acquisition is believed to be valued at close to $100 million.

Wenner Media is to retain “majority control and editorial oversight” of Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner will reportedly remain with the company as editorial director, and his son Gus will stay on as president and chief operating officer and join Penske Media’s advisory board.

“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 a statement.

BandLab, a Singaporean company, previously acquired a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone in a deal led by Gus Wenner, who also hived off  Wenner titles US Weekly and Men’s Journal to American Media, owned by David Pecker.

American Media, which publishes National Enquirer among other tabloid titles, was believed to be a contender for Rolling Stone, which chronicled the cultural and political shifts of the 1960s and ‘70s and introduced Hunter S. Thompson to a mass audience.

“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,” Jay Penske, the chairman and chief executive of Penske Media, said in a statement.

Variety hired Shirley Halperin as executive editor and Jem Aswad as senior news editor in music earlier this year. Both previously worked for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. The moves were the first of a new initiative by the Hollywood trade bible to expand its presence in the music and live entertainment spaces. 

 “As music has become more ubiquitous than ever, and is continually opening up new opportunities for business and partnerships, a sector ripe for reporting has emerged. We look forward to tackling the music industry from every angle at Variety,” Halperin said at the time.

Rolling Stone serialized Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” as well as works by author Tom Wolfe, and featured cover photographer to rising photographer Annie Leibovitz in its heyday.

Writers who found a home at Rolling Stone included P.J. O’Rourke, Cameron Crowe and Joe Eszterhas.  The magazine was also one of the first major publications to explore the death of nuclear worker Karen Silkwood, whose story was made into a 1983 movie starring Meryl Streep.  When kidnapped heiress-turned-bank robber Patty Hearst was apprehended in 1975, Rolling Stone scooped the mainstream press with an in-depth report detailing her activities following her abduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a radical fringe group.

In recent years, it’s been criticized for failing to jump on the digital bandwagon quickly enough, losing relevance – and ad dollars – as the popular music landscape changed and, most seriously, was sued for defamation over a cover story depicting an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.