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Time Magazine's Richard Stengel: 'All the Rules Are Being Remade'



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Richard Stengel: 'All the Rules Are Being Remade'
The managing editor of Time magazine says the Internet is forcing a rethink of newsweeklies. If Time co-founders Henry Luce and Briton Hadden were creating a newsmagazine today, "it would probably be electronic only."


By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 08/28/06


Richard Stengel, the new managing editor of Time magazine, recently announced his first major initiative: shifting the newsweekly's on-sale date to Friday, starting at the beginning of next year, as part of an effort to reformulate both Time and Time.com.

Stengel, appointed to his position in May, is the 16th managing editor in the history of Time since its founding in 1923 by Henry Luce and Briton Hadden. Among other previous posts, he has served as both Time's national and culture editor as well as the editor of Time.com.

He most recently was the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, a non-partisan think tank in Philadelphia -- "about as far away from the Sixth Avenue media hot center as it's possible to be," he says.



I Want Media: You've been Time's managing editor for a couple of months now. What have you learned so far?

Richard Stengel: Having been out of the media business for a while, I find that there's been an incredible acceleration of the news cycle, mostly because of the Internet.

People now have a kind of passive relationship with the news. It's like, "If there's something I need to know about, it will get to me." So, what I've realized is that to get people's attention you kind of have to grab them by the lapels and say, "Here, pay attention to this."

I think the covers I've done since I've been here have a strong point of view. You have to give people a reason to pay attention to the news. You have to present news in a way that's forceful and compelling.

IWM: How will the new change in Time's publication schedule -- from Monday to Friday -- benefit the magazine?

Stengel: It reinforces our position of leadership. In some ways, it puts us ahead of the news cycle.

Even though Monday is the first day of the week, I've always felt that we were landing at people's doorsteps and on the newsstands at the wrong time. On Friday you're setting the agenda more than merely reflecting it. This change will help us lead the conversation rather than just mirror it.

IWM: Will this change be a blow to Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report?

Stengel: [laughter] I have no idea. That wasn't part of our calculation.

IWM: The new publication date is said to be part of an effort to put more emphasis on Time.com. Can you elaborate on that?

Stengel: You know, if Briton Hadden and Henry Luce were coming up with a newsmagazine today, it would probably be electronic only from the start.

The Internet has made us rethink the very premise of the newsmagazine. It has wildly changed the periodicity of the news. All the rules are being remade.

We're going to put up news that's more relevant, as opposed to kind of hoarding it and keeping it for the magazine. I want people to come to rely on Time.com. I want them to have a compelling reason to come to us every day.

IWM: Do you really think that if the founders of Time magazine were around today they would launch a publication that would be online only?

Stengel: I think they'd certainly be thinking about that, yes.

IWM: Would they do something along the lines of Time Inc.'s first Web-only publication, Office Pirates?

Stengel: Well, I don't know. I wish Hadden and Luce were here so I could ask them.

IWM: Time.com features several bloggers, such as Andrew Sullivan. Do you expect to add more bloggers?

Stengel: I'd love to get our correspondents blogging. Wouldn't it be great if our Beijing correspondent had a blog about life in Beijing? To keep the Chinese metaphor alive, let a thousand flowers bloom, as far as I'm concerned.

IWM: Teen People and ElleGirl magazines are shutting down their print editions and will publish Web-only. Would Time ever contemplate such a move?

Stengel: That's an interesting question. It's a question any print medium can ask now. I don't really know. Certainly that's not something we're contemplating now, or even contemplating for the future.

You could make the argument that even with the further penetration of the Internet for news, a print edition becomes a very premium product. You could argue that print is kind of a high-end product that complements what people get on their computers.

IWM: Is it possible that magazines on paper will disappear someday?

Stengel: [laughter] In the year 3025? I don't even want to think about that.

IWM: Is a newsmagazine that summarizes the week's events relevant in today's 24/7 news environment?

Stengel: I would argue with the premise of your question. Summarizing the week's events is not what Time is about. We've been out of that business for a long time.

IWM: That's not what you do?

Stengel: Read the magazine.

IWM: I do. Well, I read it online.

Stengel: Our bread and butter is news analysis. We analyze what's going on, which is forward-looking rather than retrospective. Part of the difficulty of the newsmagazine business is that people still think that is what we do.

IWM: We're past half-way through the year now. Who would be your pick for Time's Person of the Year for 2006?

Stengel: Oh, man, I don't know. It's still very early. Well, we have Hassan Nasrallah, Ehud Olmert, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Condoleezza Rice, Kofi Annan ... We'll have to watch how everything plays out.

IWM: This year will be your first time overseeing Person of the Year. Do you anticipate any changes?

Stengel: Person of the Year is a great franchise. There may be ways for us to leverage it even further. We periodically ask opinion leader-type folks to weigh in. I think our readers like that. It's a fun kind of parlor game to play. We'll have to wait and see.

IWM: I Want Media runs an annual survey to name the Media Person of the Year. Who would be your pick for 2006?

Stengel: Right now? Let's see. Well, Rupert Murdoch's had a very interesting year. The Google guys; they're not going away. And, you know, there's the Time Warner guys, Dick Parsons and Jeff Bewkes.

IWM: You have to mention your bosses.

Stengel: I have to mention my bosses, exactly.



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