Rupert Murdoch has sold his failed online aggregator Knewz to Dylan Howard, the American Media Inc. executive who gained national notoriety and disgrace for his role in the scheme to “catch and kill” stories about former President Donald Trump’s extramarital affairs.
NewsCorp CEO Robert Thomson confirmed the news in a call with The Daily Beast. “Let’s give it a second chance,” he said of the defunct website. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the situation said it is set to be announced imminently.
A bizarre prospect from the jump, Knewz was designed and launched as a news aggregation alternative to Google and Facebook. The theory, according to News Corps executives, was that the tech giants direct traffic to a number of news sites around the globe, but have not given publishers a large enough slice of profits. Further, executives said the tech giants downplayed conservative news sites and pages—a comical proposition, given the overwhelming popularity of right-wing publishers on Facebook—and Knewz would offer links without any supposed tech industry interference.
But readers had little appetite for another aggregator. And just 18 months after the project launched, News Corp shuttered it, saying it was not profitable.
“We started Knewz as an experiment in news aggregation because we wanted to gather a diverse range of quality journalism, to highlight all sides of every story and to protect and project provenance,” a message on the site said earlier this year. “We certainly had provenance, but not profits, and so we bid Knewz farewell. Thank you to the millions of Knewz users who saw the value of the service and supported our mission.”
The purchase of Knewz represents Howard’s latest attempt to return to media relevance after leaving AMI last year. While once a major figure in the shadowy world of celebrity media tabloids, Howard faced a torrent of criticism for his role in attempting to bury stories about Trump’s affairs—which AMI ultimately admitted violated campaign finance law— as well as his attempt to dig up dirt on women accusing disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
Howard has been attempting a media comeback, striking deals to bring foreign media companies to the U.S. or resurrect failed media companies. As The New York Times noted, his media company has purchased former AMI properties Radar Online and OK Magazine, and partnered with Italian fashion magazine Grazia to launch a Hamptons-focused free print edition.
In a recent story in The New York Times about Howards’ efforts, some Hamptons residents cast doubt on whether an edition of the Italian magazine could be successful in the affluent Long Island community’s already crowded market.
Hamptons-focused author Steven Gaines told the Times that most of the free publications are tossed in the garbage. “Some people pick them up and look at them, but there’s really nothing interesting.”