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Time Inc. Sold To Meredith Corp., Backed By Koch Brothers


Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines are being sold to the publisher of such titles as Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle. The Iowa-based Meredith Corporation is set to acquire Time Inc. in a deal valued at $2.8 billion. The deal's financing has raised eyebrows. It's linked to the politically active Koch brothers.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from New York to talk more about this deal. And David, what does it mean for Time Inc. to disappear and for Time magazine to be sold like this?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, I think it's a recognition of a reality, but it's a sobering one. Time is, you know, almost a century old. Time magazine - its founder, Henry Luce, really was able to do - or insist on the idea of the 1900s as being the American century in the post-World War II era. It was a strong fixture of the center-right. But it brought, you know, news of the nation, of the world to many millions of people's homes. And it's no longer a defining institution as it once was in David Halberstam's book "The Powers That Be." It's now, you know, going to be part of a larger magazine empire, kind of one of a number of cards in the deck.

SIEGEL: Since this is a pretty tough time for magazines, why would Meredith want Time and spend so much for it?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, I think it's less to do with Time than some of its sister publications. Meredith owns Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Shape, parenting magazines. It publishes Martha Stewart Living under a production deal.

And in the Time Inc. stable, there are these other titles - Real Simple, Cooking Light, Southern Living, InStyle and then perhaps the most famous of the bunch for this, People magazine. And that appeals to the - call it 65, 70 percent of Meredith's current readership that are female. And Meredith boasts of having a fairly affluent readership. And I think that would fit in neatly with that. The question of whether Time magazine, whether Fortune magazine, Sports Illustrated - whether these titles, although, you know, famous, world-renowned in some ways, would fit in as neatly I think is a very open question.

SIEGEL: Let's turn now to the Koch brothers. They're billionaires. They're very, very involved in conservative politics and causes. What would their role be in this, and what's their interest in the deal?

FOLKENFLIK: So there are two schools of thought on this. Their role, as being announced by Meredith, is saying, you know, the equity they're providing - $650 million of financing for this deal. The - Meredith is taking on billions of dollars of debt. They're saying the Koch brothers will have no membership on the board of directors of this newly expanded Meredith Corporation, and they'll be silent partners. They've been promised a dividend. So in some ways, this is, you know, being done by the venture capital arm - investment arm of the Koch brothers' fortunes. And so in some ways, they're willing to do something silently.

On the other hand, they are, as you say, very active in conservative and libertarian circles. They are very interested in public policy and politics. They spent just an astonishing amount of money to influence that, particularly in trying to strip away certain kinds of regulations, particularly as it pertains to things like carbon emissions and climate change, which they have very strong feelings about given their own investments.

So you can look at the Koch brothers and say they just invest in things. They are through Koch Industries. They underwrite NPR, among other entities. And they seem to have had no effect here or at the Poynter Institution, a journalism outfit. And by the same token, they have been extraordinarily powerful political players in influencing the scene. So I think you've got to take these promises with a grain or perhaps a mine of salt and see what plays out.

SIEGEL: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.