After Si Newhouse

rsz 1coverpburkesifinal After Si Newhouse 

In today’s paper, John Koblin wraps up recent months’ drama (McKinsey, rumors, layoffs, reflection) by considering the mind of Si Newhouse. This is a man whose business style defined Conde Nast–who two years ago wanted to build a brand new tower and who’s now reduced to killing established titles like Gourmet.

A look back at the good old days:

By the early 1970s, Mr. Newhouse became known as a ruthless leader. The moment that circulation and advertising numbers slumped at Vogue, Si Newhouse threw the legendary editor Diana Vreeland right out onto the street. He brought Grace Mirabella in to take it over, but again, by 1988, when numbers were sagging, he dumped her in favor of Anna Wintour. (The move was announced to the world by Liz Smith on Live at Five on Channel 4—Ms. Mirabella didn’t even know she’d been sacked.)

Mr. Newhouse was able to revive Vanity Fair in 1983 because the numbers made sense. He could experiment with editors until he stumbled upon Tina Brown, who changed it entirely.

The magazines looked prettier, glossier, and expenses were let loose, up and through the roof. This was Si Newhouse’s Condé Nast: big budgets, big splashy pictures, the best writers and editors with total creative control who became wealthy celebrities in their own rights. Money poured, and magazines got bigger and bigger and better. No other publisher could compete.