On Feb. 17, Time Inc. editor in chief John Huey was making preparations to head off for a long weekend.
Through that night, his boss, Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons, and shareholder activist Carl Icahn were swatting each other over the phone. Mr. Parsons was trying to fight off a plan hatched by Mr. Icahn and Lazard Frères chairman Bruce Wasserstein to split the $82 billion Time Warner media conglomerate into a quartet of independent concerns.
By the next day, as Mr. Huey left town, Mr. Icahn had backed down: The company would remain as it was.
Reached by cell phone on the afternoon of Feb. 21, Mr. Huey didn’t seem too concerned about the corporate backdrop to his weekend getaway.
“Putting the Time Warner issue and making it into something overly dramatic—it’s just not there,” Mr. Huey said. “I guess because we have our name on the building and you cover the press, it’s a natural thing to do.”
What, indeed, do Time Warner and Time Inc. have to do with each other?
“I don’t think—unless I’ve been misreading something—I don’t think Time Inc. has been a big part of this,” Mr. Huey said.
Ten days earlier, Mr. Wasserstein’s Lazard colleagues had devoted a 37-page chapter of their report on Time Warner to Time Warner’s publishing interests. In it, Lazard challenged the whole relationship between Mr. Huey’s realm and the rest of the company.
“Publishing appears to have no material strategic or financial ties to other [Time Warner] divisions,” the report stated. “Few, if any, meaningful synergies have ever been generated or documented.”
“I didn’t find it a very compelling chapter,” Mr. Huey said.
But the plan to break up the company into four units failed. And now Mr. Huey outlined his role at the company as if Time Inc.’s position in Mr. Parsons’ empire had never been challenged.
“My job is to put out the most compelling, honest, cutting-edge magazines that we can—that are authoritative, that people need and want to read,” Mr. Huey said. “I don’t sell ads. We have lots of people who do.”
Mr. Huey, who filled the post vacated by Norman Pearlstine on Jan. 1, has already presided over about 100 layoffs at Time Inc., as the parent company tried to improve the print division’s logy reputation among the suits upstairs.
“We’ve gone through our process that we were supposed to go through on the edit side,” Mr. Huey said. “We’re looking at other issues right now. Now that we’ve done that, we’re looking at more proactive, positive editorial issues. I’m looking at launch ideas, and Web-site development is going well.”
But, as the Icahn-Wasserstein move shows, it’s not clear that Mr. Huey will ever be able to put cost-cutting out of his job description as long as Time Inc. is under the Time Warner umbrella. In fact, as part of the settlement reached with Mr. Icahn, Mr. Parsons pledged to trim another $1 billion from Time Warner’s operations. Where will that money come from?
And there’s no shortage of people below Mr. Huey who feel connected to Time Warner ownership and its present difficulties.
On Jan. 30, when Fortune managing editor Eric Pooley gathered his staff to break the news of the second round of layoffs, the audience had Time Warner on its mind. After Mr. Pooley’s opening remarks, Fortune editor-at-large Carol Loomis, a 52-year veteran of Time Inc., posed a question: Had Mr. Parsons considered cutting his own compensation?
In a room full of business journalists, Mr. Pooley had gone from manager to subject. After Ms. Loomis’ query, Patty Sellers, another editor-at-large, asked Mr. Pooley how much money Fortune had earned last year. Mr. Pooley said the final numbers had yet to be tallied and he didn’t have an answer.
Nor are numbers Mr. Huey’s concern. “His job is not to worry about the ads,” Mr. Parsons said of his incoming editor in chief back in November, at a breakfast sponsored by the Si Newhouse School of Public Communications. “John’s job is to make sure these magazines keep their promises to customers from an editorial perspective.”
Mr. Parsons added that he expected Mr. Huey to make Time Inc. titles “authentic, trustworthy, high-quality and engaging.”
The managing editors below Mr. Huey—many of them appointed by him in his previous role as editorial director—expressed faith that he would carry out that mission. “Standing up and supporting the journalism of this company is the most important job of the editor in chief,” said Mr. Pooley, the Fortune managing editor. “Speaking as one of the guys who works for him, it’s great knowing that’s what he cares about so much.”
“I like working with John; I’m very loyal to him,” said Sports Illustrated managing editor Terry McDonell. “He embraces change, and that is one of the things that make him good to work for.”
But in the current climate, it seems the best way to make a magazine would be to make money. And Time Inc. has been among the steepest decliners during print media’s current downturn.
Last year, Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated recorded ad page drops of 12.2, 9.8 and 16.8 percent, respectively.
“I’m glad I’m at The New York Times and don’t have to worry about it anymore,” said former Fortune editorial director Joseph Nocera, speaking about Time Inc.’s current woes.
“I worry a lot about quality,” a veteran Time Inc. staffer said.
Mr. Huey’s ascension to the editor-in-chief slot was not seen as a break from the Pearlstine years. He had already left his mark on the company, starting with his work jazzing up Fortune as its managing editor in the 1990’s. After Mr. Pearlstine appointed him editorial director in 2001, he picked the top editors at most of the flagship titles; most recently, he promoted People managing editor Martha Nelson to oversee all three People titles and the magazine’s Web site.
Mr. Huey has been credited with bringing change—shaking up the mastheads and invigorating a clubby culture at Time Inc. In a speech to 250 Time Inc. executives on Jan. 20, Mr. Huey said the job had “a fairly archaic title, when you think about it.” It recalled, he said, an era “when hierarchy and status could rule the roost without question [and] when big brands seemed assured of their place atop the mediascape.”
Signaling a change in that media-scape, the first launch in the Huey era isn’t even a magazine: On Feb. 22, Time Inc. will debut Office Pirates, a humor Web site edited by former Maxim editor Mark Golin.
Now, a sense of security is hard to come by. And some of the rank and file said Mr. Huey isn’t involved on a daily basis.
“Everything I know about Huey is what I read about him in the paper,” a Time Inc. staffer said. “His profile looms, but it’s not present.”
Mr. Huey will have to assure a jittery staff that Henry Luce’s journalistic legacy is safe, while he satisfies the financial dictates of Time Warner.
Is there even a unified Luce legacy to defend anymore? Mr. Huey batted away questions about the growing split between the news magazines and the fashion and lifestyle titles at the company.
“We don’t organize the company that way; we don’t think about it that way,” he said. “I spend as much time with the people running the women’s magazines as with the men’s [magazines].”
It is at the news magazines where recent cuts have reached highest on the masthead. In December, Time magazine laid off bureau chiefs in Los Angeles, Beijing, Jerusalem, Seoul and Moscow. At Money magazine, according to Time Inc. sources familiar with the proceedings, editor-at-large Jean Chatzky will be changing her staff position for a contributing post, essentially a freelance position.
According to Time Inc. sources, Ms. Chatzky—who also serves as the financial editor of NBC’s Today show—clashed with Money’s managing editor, Eric Schurenberg, over the question of keeping an office at Time Inc. Ms. Chatzky is negotiating whether she will retain her office in Money’s 17th-floor space, or relocate to an independent office in the building.
Ms. Chatzky declined to comment on the proceedings.
And the financial pressures continue. “What’s not cuttable is anything we have to have to keep up the quality of our magazines,” Mr. Huey said. “We have 13,000 employees; we’ve cut—how many? That’s a painful thing for anyone involved, although many, many have been voluntary. I don’t know the percentage there. Even compared to other media companies, it hasn’t been very high.”
How much fat can Time Inc. cut off without hitting bone? What are the bones of the company? If Luce knew, he didn’t pass that bit of information down. Or else the field of magazine publishing has since changed so radically that to ask such a question is to become too theoretical.
Mr. Huey seemed to think so.
“What’s not cuttable,” said Mr. Huey, “is a hypothetical. I haven’t spent that much time thinking about that, either.”
Liberty! Equality! Inscrutability! Later this week, Condé Nast plans to launch a revamped corporate intranet, Condé Nast Connect, which will unite the employee sites for all its magazines across the old Condé Nast, Fairchild and Golf Digest divisions.
“We’re one company now,” Condé Nast spokeswoman Maurie Perl said. “There will now be one overall employee site.”
Traditionally, Condé Nast careers have been isolated within individual titles. The central human-resources department would receive candidates and deliver each to an appropriate magazine—sometimes redirecting the applicant to an unasked-for posting. And there the candidates would stay, like baseball players in the days of the reserve clause.
“It’s a lot harder to move around once you’re in the company,” one staffer said.
But under Condé Nast Connect, the system of separate and impenetrable fiefdoms will be replaced by one of unified, impenetrable fiefdoms.
It’s sharing, Condé-style: The new site will tell all 3,000 workers the job descriptions for the various positions within the company. It will not, however, tell them which positions are actually open and hiring.
For that, employees will have to stick with the old ritual of a surreptitious trip to the all-knowing human-resources department to put in for a transfer. “There always was the fear that, even though your first visit to H.R. is confidential, it wasn’t,” a former Condé Nast staffer said.
Monster.com, it’s not. Still, now a Golf Digest copy editor can find out if he or she has the qualifications, even on paper, to be a fashion assistant.
But not necessarily at Vogue: Job descriptions will be general, not magazine-specific, Ms. Perl said. And anyone hoping to learn what qualifications you need to fill Anna Wintour’s stilettos is out of luck. Ms. Perl said there won’t be postings for editors in chief or publishers.
Staffers will, however, all be able to share in the other information on Condé Nast Connect, including posted cafeteria menus and news of company discounts at shops like Club Monaco.
For outside job-seekers, Condé Nast also plans to make the company more approachable starting in March, posting the job descriptions to a forthcoming unified external Web site as well. At present, the magazine Web sites instruct would-be applicants to fax a résumé and cover letter to the human-resources office. When the new site launches, candidates will also be able to submit their résumés online.
Ms. Perl said the shift to openness is part of the company’s effort to increase efficiency.
“We’re a very large company,” Ms. Perl said. “At any given point, there are job openings and needs. This is a way to operate in today’s universe.”
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