What’s in a participle? When the new Time magazine appeared on Friday, Jan. 5—returning, after decades of Mondays, to an end-of-week publishing cycle—it included a note from managing editor Richard Stengel titled “A Changing TIME.”
That was changing, not changed.
“In the coming weeks and months,” Mr. Stengel wrote, “you’ll be seeing more changes and innovations.”
In other words: Pardon our dust! Soon after becoming managing editor last year, Mr. Stengel announced his intention to revolutionize the way the ancient Henry Luce property did business. Breaking news would go to the Time.com Web site, while a reconceived print edition would “set the news agenda,” as Mr. Stengel put it in the editor’s note.
Designer Luke Hayman, who retooled New York magazine after Adam Moss took over, began working with the design firm Pentagram and Time art director Arthur Hochstein this past fall to come up with a new-look version of the magazine. (Mr. Hayman officially joined Pentagram Dec. 1.)
Time.com got its full makeover on Jan. 8, with more blogs and steadily updated news stories (Jan. 9: “A behind-the-scenes look at iPhone’s birth”). As far as the print edition was concerned, though, Friday 2007 looked a lot like Monday 2006—a few new departments, but the same old template.
The bigger changes are on hold, to the surprise of some readers and staff. “That was a Rick decision,” one staffer said.
“It’s not next week,” Mr. Hayman said. “It’s probably a couple of months.”
Mr. Stengel’s last splashy move as managing editor—awarding Person of the Year for 2006 to “You,” complete with Mylar-mirrored cover—was a public belly flop, an instant punch line among readers and commentators. With the redesign, he appears to be taking a more cautious approach.
“Even the rough dates, we’re playing around with at the moment,” Mr. Hayman said. “If we don’t feel we’re ready, we’re not ready.”
Mr. Stengel declined to comment. “There will be moments that we take bigger leaps than others, but it is definitely an evolutionary process,” a Time spokesperson wrote via e-mail.
Others, including Mr. Hayman, said that the redesign will involve one particularly big jump, when the moment comes.
“There will be a significant change at one time, but it is also going to evolve over time,” Mr. Hayman said. Mr. Hayman said that the “fonts, grids and templates will change at once.”
“It does look significantly different,” said a Time staffer who has seen prototypes of the new look.
“It’s clean. It’s elegant. It draws you in,” the staffer said, without getting into the visual specifics.
But you—reigning Person of the Year though you are (cue laugh track!)—won’t get to see it this month. “That was one thought,” Mr. Hayman said, of the possible Jan. 5 debut. “It obviously hasn’t happened. They haven’t decided on a hard date.”
The magazine’s new look isn’t the only Time Inc. project with a rolling deadline. While the designers were getting to work last fall, teams from McKinsey & Company were studying Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, People and Entertainment Weekly, to come up with recommendations about making the magazines operate more efficiently.
This past November, Mediaweek reported that the consultants’ results were due at the end of that month. In December, WWD reported that McKinsey was finishing up the study. Now Time sources say the McKinsey reports, one for each magazine, are due by the end of January.
McKinsey has a reputation in the publishing industry for providing consultant-certified cover for staff cuts. After multiple rounds of layoffs last year, Time Inc. C.E.O. Ann Moore announced in November that there would be more budget cuts coming in January. Though the individual magazines will be charged with eliminating a certain amount of spending, rather than a specific number of jobs, Time Inc. sources estimated that the result will be a loss of some 150 jobs this time around.
“The directive we gave McKinsey was threefold,” a Time Inc. spokesperson said, speaking bullet-pointedly. “To make [operations] more efficient. To further integrate the digital and print of each of these titles. To make sure that whatever changes we implement don’t do anything to erode the journalistic excellence that Time Inc. is known for.”
At Time magazine, the McKinsey study featured a number of closed-door sessions with staffers from various departments. The meetings were attended by some 10 to 15 people, according to a source present, and ran about 45 minutes to two hours. There was one McKinsey representative at each session, and one senior staffer selected by Mr. Stengel.
One staffer present at a group meeting said there weren’t many “groundbreaking revelations,” and that the conversation dealt with familiar topics, such as the practice of copy editing on paper rather on computer.
The staffer said there was an “assumption that they might use what McKinsey said as fodder for the layoffs, but the layoffs were going to happen anyway.”
While waiting to see what specifics McKinsey comes up with, Time Inc. staffers have been left guessing about what efficiency may mean. One theory is that Time magazine could be consolidated on the 24th floor of the Time-Life Building, by cutting enough jobs to empty out the offices now located on parts of 22 and 23.
Editorial staffers also worry that the consultants may call for pruning the many-branched job titles on the masthead—senior writers, staff writers, writer-reporters, senior-reporters and reporters—thereby making the jobs more redundant and suited for elimination.
Another rumor in circulation (which many staffers regarded as farfetched) was that McKinsey would recommend outsourcing copy-editing jobs to India.
A Time Inc. spokesperson declined to comment on the details of the rumor mill. But Bangalore or no, will McKinsey’s study results be followed completely when they finally come out?
“McKinsey is not running Time Inc.,” the spokesperson said.
But with so many plans still pending—Mr. Stengel’s new take on the magazine, Ms. Moore’s more-of-the-same layoffs and McKinsey’s whatever-it-may-be report—Time employees are unsure whose vision of change is going to prevail. The result is a mix of optimism and dread.
“I think people are pretty enthused about the idea of rethinking some of the stale aspects of the institution,” one staffer said.
“You can feel the anxiety,” said another.
By putting off the full redesign, Mr. Stengel may be losing the chance to put his own stamp on 2007 before the bad news comes down. The changes so far—for instance, the creation of new slots for writers such as historian Niall Ferguson and economist Jeffrey Sachs—are less than reassuring to the regular troops.
“You have to think,” a Time staffer said, “that every time there is the announcement of a big-name hire, how are they going to afford this?”
In addition to the layoffs, the staff is facing the expiration of the Newspaper Guild’s contract with Time Inc. on Feb. 1. According to New York Guild president Barry Lipton, the current benefits will continue while a new contract is in negotiations.
Ray Cave, Time’s managing editor from 1971 to 1985, hosted a McKinsey team in the early 80’s. The push for efficiency, Mr. Cave said, is nothing new.
“Could you put Time out less expensively?” Mr. Cave said. “Hell, you could put anything out less expensively. You just hurt its quality.”
Regarding the changes to the magazine under Mr. Stengel so far, Mr. Cave said, “I think it’s more significant, and I think it needed to be more significant.”
But the traditional power of the magazine has been in the cumulative effort of its reporter-researcher-editor corps, not famous bylines. “You lose the voice of Time by saying, ‘I’m going to bring you a lot of different voices. I’m going to bring you contradictory voices,’” Mr. Cave said. “Luce wanted Time to deliver a voice. And that’s the way we were managed.”
Whatever happens, though, at least one part of the Luce architecture will remain. According to Mr. Hayman, the designer, no new graphic elements are going to supplant the red banner.
“There are some things that are obviously a given,” Mr. Hayman said. “It functions beautifully. And it’s iconic. It wasn’t really expected to be up for grabs.”
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