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Information is sexy, says Hearst Corp CEO

As chief executive of Hearst Corp, Steve Swartz leads one of the largest private media empires in the country, with holdings in newspapers, magazines, broadcast television, cable television and business information stretching from Cosmopolitan to its 20 per cent stake in ESPN.

Yet from the fraying cable television bundle to evaporating print advertising, each of these legacy businesses faces challenges from digital media.

In his annual January letter to employees, Swartz touted higher profits across each major division, but acknowledged that the digital revolution “in many respects makes our job on the consumer side of our company harder.” His mission is to join that revolution without abandoning the core of the 128-year-old company. Magazines still make up the company’s second biggest revenue contributor, behind cable television.

In his first full fiscal year as CEO, the former newspaperman has invested more than US$200m in digital youth brands from AwesomenessTV (a network on YouTube) to edgy nonfiction purveyors Vice Media, on top of its existing holding in BuzzFeed and Roku, a video-streaming service.

A former editor for The Wall Street Journal and CEO of SmartMoney who joined Hearst in 2001, the 52-year-old Swartz also continued the company’s aggressive push into business media, its fastest-growing division, with a nearly $2bn deal to boost its stake in Fitch Ratings agency to 80 per cent from 30 per cent. He remains on the lookout for acquisitions in this realm.

He recently spoke with the Wall Street Journal about why Hearst is holding on to its print assets, and the opportunities for growth—particularly in business media—it sees on the horizon.



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