The storied Time magazine is being acquired by Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff, and his wife, for $190 million in cash – the latest example of wealthy tech moguls bailing out old media brands. And while Benioff says he's not “a Democrat or a Republican," one media critic says his past support of President Obama points to more of the same at the once-proud publication.
“Journalism has been failing for years with job cuts, shrinking circulation and collapsing revenue. It’s no wonder it takes someone like Marc Benioff with more than $6 billion to afford to support a failing liberal outlet like Time,” Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor told Fox News.
Time, like other magazines, has struggled with continued declines in print advertising and newsstand sales. Citing the Alliance for Audited Media, The Wall Street Journal reported that Time “slashed its circulation significantly to 2.3 million for the six-month period ended June 3,” which is down from 3 million over the same time frame last year.
"A rich CEO buying a news organization comes off as a novelty purchase."
Despite those flagging numbers, Benioff praised the magazine's "unique storytelling," calling it a treasure trove of history and culture.
“Naturally he doesn’t want to make any changes in Time’s already liberal operation,” Gainor said, pointing to a 2012 CNN report that Benioff raised $500,000 for Obama’s re-election effort as evidence of where he stands. “Wouldn’t it be great if one of these billionaires bought a garbage outlet like Time and insisted on making it neutral?”
Benioff joins Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Laurene Powell Jobs and Patrick Soon-Shiong as tech billionaires to scoop up legacy media brands in recent memory. Bezos bought The Washington Post in 2013, the widow of Apple legend Steve Jobs bought a majority stake in The Atlantic last year and Soon-Shiong purchased the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.
Powell Jobs has funded attack ads aimed at the Trump administration, while Soon-Shiong reportedly has close ties with former Vice President Joe Biden. Bezos hasn’t been particularly partisan on a personal level – he recently donated a whopping $10 million to a nonpartisan super PAC that backs veterans on both sides of the aisle – but he has been critical of Trump's treatment of the press.
Media critic and DePauw University professor Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that “some good could come from having people with deep pockets take over struggling media operations and providing those operations with stability and resources.”
McCall noted that tech billionaires “aren't buying media properties because they need the money or expect a big return on the investment” and keeping traditional media voices alive can be good for maintaining the quality and reach of journalism.
The New York Times recently referred to Benioff as an “eccentric billionaire, even by Silicon Valley standards,” but esteemed reporter-turned-investment banker Porter Bibb agrees with McCall that the purchase will be a great move for Time staffers.
“Benioff's purchase of Time magazine can only be good for the magazine and its staff,” Bibb told Fox News. “Time also is a global brand with more than a half a century of recognition among media, government, and upmarket readers.”
Despite the optimism, McCall does have a concern and hopes the Salesforce honcho considers the “heavy responsibility that comes with disseminating information and entertainment to a mass society” through an asset such as Time.
“A rich CEO buying a news organization comes off as a novelty purchase,” he said. “Basically, somebody with a lot of money wants a new trinket and a deflated media product becomes a fun way to wield influence in the public sphere.”
Others took to Twitter to chime in on Benioff's elaborate purchase.
“Billionaires are just like us, except their impulse buys are $190 million magazines,” tech journalist Peter Kafka tweeted, while entrepreneur-turned-2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted that techies make such purchases “seeking cultural sway and influence.”
Meredith – which acquired Time Inc. earlier this year – declared that Benioff “will not be involved in the day-to-day operations or journalistic decisions” of Time. Bezos also declared he wouldn’t oversee the day-to-day operations of the Post — but President Trump mocks the paper as the “Amazon Washington Post” on a regular basis.
Benioff has blasted conservative issues in the past and The Wall Street Journal once called him “a master promoter in the movement toward social activism among American chief executives.” He is a champion of many social issues such as gender-pay equality and urged Trump to keep the U.S. in the Paris agreement on climate change.
While he is active when it comes to a variety of liberal social issues, Benioff has also proven that he isn’t as far left as many of his Silicon Valley peers. He even took to Twitter to congratulate Trump after his shocking defeat of Clinton in 2016.
“This is what makes America great — our democracy. Now is the time for us to come together as one country,” Benioff wrote.
After Meredith purchased Time Inc. in January, the company announced it would sell off Time Inc.'s news and sports brands, including the prestigious Time magazine. The negotiations of sales for Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated are still continuing, while Meredith is also the publisher of People and Better Homes & Gardens.
“The only real surprise is that Benioff and his wife did not see the benefit in acquiring Fortune and Sports Illustrated along with Time. They could probably have bought the entire package for less than $500 million since Meredith wanted those titles off their books,” Bibb told Fox News.
Fox News’ Benjamin Brown contributed to this report.