â€˜This Guy Is Seriousâ€™
Ten Penske Media employees interviewed for this article describe their boss as someone who stepped up for publications in trouble. â€œJay Penske came in and saved this business,â€ said Dea Lawrence, the chief operating and marketing officer of Variety. â€œHe is a hero to the publishing world.â€ His company has more than 1,350 employees, according to the Penske Media vice chairman Gerry Byrne, nearly half of them journalists and content creators.
After the company bought a controlling stake in Vibe and Billboard, which have offices in New York, he flew there to meet with each new employee. â€œThis was in the middle of the pandemic, and so I thought, â€˜Wow, this guy is serious!â€™â€ said Datwon Thomas, the editor in chief of Vibe. Mr. Thomas met Mr. Penske for lunch at Bryant Park Grill in Midtown. â€œJay knew a lot about me and my background,â€ he said, â€œand he knew a lot about Vibe.â€ Four other Penske Media employees said that Mr. Penske makes a practice of meeting with each of his new employees soon after acquiring a property.
Mr. Penske will sometimes play hardball with the staff. When Tatiana Siegel, a longtime Hollywood Reporter journalist, accepted a job at The Ankler, a subscription newsletter started by the show business writer Richard Rushfield that has expanded under the former Hollywood Reporter top editor Janice Min, Mr. Penske put a stop to the move. Ms. Siegelâ€™s contract included a noncompete clause, and Mr. Penske held her to it. The parties eventually agreed that Ms. Siegel would decamp to Rolling Stone, committing 80 percent of her work to it, with the remainder going to The Ankler.
â€œJay has been by far the best owner Iâ€™ve worked under at The Hollywood Reporter,â€ said Ms. Siegel, who joined the magazine in 2003. â€œMy situation was unique, and it was resolved amicably.â€
The upstart publications Puck and The Ankler pose a new threat to Penske Mediaâ€™s hold on entertainment coverage. The competition is reminiscent of what took place more than a decade ago, when Deadline had the old guard quaking. Mr. Rushfield said that start-ups may have an advantage over entrenched publications, because they are not beholden to anyone.
â€œIf youâ€™re at a publication like Variety, for example, the number of things a studio has over you is hard to keep track of,â€ Mr. Rushfield said. â€œYou need friendly access to studio executives and agents gift wrapping your scoops. You need people for covers. You need people to speak at your conferences.â€ The result, he continued, is that â€œpublications with different business models, and more aggressive reporting, can elbow their way in.â€