You don’t know much about Jay Penske. And he’s okay with that.
“This guy is serious”
Ten Penske Media employees interviewed for this article described their boss as someone who got involved with struggling publications. “Jay Penske came along and saved this business,” said Dea Lawrence, Variety’s chief operating officer and marketing officer. “He’s a hero for the publishing world.” His company has more than 1,350 employees, according to Penske Media vice president Gerry Byrne, nearly half of whom are journalists and content creators.
After the company bought majority stakes in Vibe and Billboard, which have offices in New York, he traveled there to meet every new employee. “It was in the middle of the pandemic, and so I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is serious! “,” said Dawton Thomas, editor of Vibe. Mr. Thomas met Mr. Penske for lunch at the Bryant Park Grill in Midtown. “Jay knew a lot about me and my background,” he said, “and he knew a lot about Vibe.” Four other Penske Media employees said Mr. Penske used to meet each of his new hires shortly after acquiring a property.
Mr. Penske sometimes plays hardball with the staff. When Tatiana Siegel, a longtime Hollywood Reporter reporter, has taken a job at The Ankler, a subscription newsletter started by show business writer Richard Rushfield that grew under former Hollywood Reporter editor Janice Min. , Mr. Penske called a halt to the move. Ms. Siegel’s contract included a non-competition clause, and Mr. Penske forced her to do so. The parties eventually agreed that Ms Siegel would land at Rolling Stone, devoting 80% of her work there, with the rest going to The Ankler.
“Jay was by far the best landlord I worked with at The Hollywood Reporter,” said Ms. Siegel, who joined the magazine in 2003. “My situation was unique and it was resolved out of court.”
Upstart publications Puck and The Ankler pose a new threat to Penske Media’s stranglehold on entertainment coverage. The competition is reminiscent of what happened over a decade ago, when Deadline rattled off the old guard. Mr Rushfield said start-ups can have an advantage over well-established publications because they are not beholden to anyone.
“If you’re in a publication like Variety, for example, the number of things a studio has about you is hard to track,” Rushfield said. “You need friendly access to studio executives and agents to wrap up your scoops. You need people for the covers. You need people to speak at your conferences. The result, he continued, is that “publications with different business models and more aggressive reporting can make their way.”