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The Beast and the Brightest

barry diller joanna coles les moonves
Changing a brand’s perception or its business model mid-flight is dreadfully difficult, even if it is majority-owned by a billionaire like Diller willing to invest more capital to resurrect its fortunes. Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
April 17, 2024

On Monday morning, the Times published a story conveying what was already well-known in media circles, partly because I had reported it over the weekend—former top ABC executive Ben Sherwood and former Hearst chief content officer Joanna Coles had a new project on their hands. The duo would be taking over 49 percent of Barry Diller’s boutique digital media entity, The Daily Beast, not to be confused with his sprawling Dotdash Meredith enterprise. What’s more, the two former media heroes weren’t just figureheads in the deal. They would be rolling up their sleeves and returning to the salt mines to also operate the business—Sherwood as C.E.O. and Coles as chief content and creative officer. 

Given Diller’s unsuccessful attempt to uncouple with the scrappy property in recent years, this arrangement seemed like a fascinating experiment, perhaps a last-ditch effort, and even a private equity play of sorts. After all, Coles and Sherwood were ostensibly being called out of retirement—you know, board seats, fun extracurricular projects, managing tax consequences, etcetera—to turn around a money-losing enterprise and either extract value or flip it. At the very least, it was, on many levels, a seemingly noble gesture: Two executives who didn’t have to work were engaged in a highly public turnaround that seemed, humbly, beneath their former stations. Anyway, good for them.