Wired revamps amid short-circuit rumors

Is Wired coming unscrewed?

The magazine (and, increasingly importantly, its massive World Wide Web sites) that introduced words like digerati, digital god and cyberculture into the lexicon, announced Thursday that its founder and publisher, Louis Rossetto, was stepping down — even as rumors of the imminent bankruptcy of parent company Wired Ventures swelled to a deafening roar in cyberspace.

Wired reps said Thursday that Rossetto, who walked away from the CEO slot at Wired Ventures six months ago, has given himself the title of editorial director. But in the same breath they announced that Dana Lyon was being named publisher of the magazine and that Martha Baer was moving out of her editorship of Wired Digital (i.e., all of the Web sites and Web-related editorial content) and into the managing editor slot at the magazine. Additionally, former editor-at-large Katrina Heron has been named the magazine’s new editor-in-chief.

So what exactly is happening? Rossetto, perhaps in response to all of that inspection being directed toward him and his company, is trying to stave off buyout rumors with big rhetorical sticks.

“What part of ‘no truth’ is it necessary to explain?” Rossetto thundered when asked about the sell-off chat. “This is exactly what gives online journalism a bad reputation.”

The erstwhile editor-in-chief also insisted that the new position he’s given himself is actually a promotion.

“We’re still looking for the right person to take us to the next stage” as his replacement as CEO, he added.

Rossetto’s longtime business partner, prexy Jane Metcalfe, has stayed out of this particular crisis thus far. But Wired staffers — now some 20% fewer in number, thanks to a downsizing last month — said that they are “nervously hopeful” about the ongoing publication of the magazine, but wonder how much longer Rossetto and Metcalfe can bleed red ink on the Web.

Ziff-Davis Publishing’s ZDNet news Web site is reporting that the pair are trying to sell off the Wired Digital enterprise. Wired.com and HotWired are among the Web’s most popular (and influential) news-oriented Web sites. However popular, though, industry analysts point to their lack of profitability and Wired Ventures’ endemic lack of cash as reason for a possible sale.

Among those mentioned as potential buyers of not only Wired’s Web holdings but all of Wired Ventures are S.I. Newhouse’s Advance Publications, German media powerhouse Bertelsmann AG and Ziff-Davis.

But Rossetto emphatically denies that any part of Wired Ventures is for sale. “(No part of) Wired Ventures is on the block,” he insisted.

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