Random House Reaches for Another Star: Newsweek's Jon Meacham

Jon Meacham
Jon Meacham

Several months after Newsweek was sold to 92-year-old audio equipment mogul Sidney Harman, one lingering question was: What's the future for Jon Meacham, the magazine's editor-in-chief since 2006? The answer, starting in January, is that he'll continue to edit, but he'll leave the magazine world behind for the book industry.

The New York Times reports
that Meacham will become an executive vice president at the Random House Publishing Group, as well as executive editor, reporting to president and publisher Gina Centrello. Of course, while running Newsweek, Meacham also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for his Andrew Jackson biography American Lion -- which, like his 2003 account of the friendship between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, was published by Random House. So, it should come as little surprise that Meacham's editing duties will focus primarily on acquiring and editing nonfiction, specifically history, religion and biography.

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"For more than a decade, I have had a splendid relationship with Random House as an author, and now it feels natural to extend this relationship into a role as a contributor to their publishing program," Meacham said in a statement released this morning. "I love editing, I love books, and I love the people at Random House, which always has felt like the right place for me."

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Hiring Meacham continues Random House's penchant for transforming big journalistic stars whose books it already publishes into acquiring editors. Just last month, the same imprint brought in former Gourmet EIC Ruth Reichl as an editor-at-large, while also announcing it will publish her next two works of nonfiction and a novel sometime in the future.

Random House's author/editor double-teamers also includes Kurt Andersen -- whose acquisitions are few and far between -- and David Ebershoff, a best-selling writer in his own right whose author stable includes novelists like David Mitchell, Gary Shteyngart and Charles Bock.

As with Reichl, it remains to be seen how much time Meacham will devote to acquiring and editing books when he's involved in so many other projects, such as hosting PBS's Need to Know program and working on his biographies of Thomas Jefferson and of George H.W. Bush. For Random House, Meacham is another example of fixating on boldface names, be it best-selling authors like Janet Evanovich or media types like Reichl, for future success. And while attention and publicity is key for the present, Random House's author/editors will be judged on their future projects -- and the money they will or won't make for their new employer.