This year, Life magazine is expected to make $6.5 million, the best profit showing since it was resurrected as a monthly in 1978. But that wasn’t good enough to save the job of managing editor Jay Lovinger, who was done in by the magazine’s poor newsstand showing, business-side agitation and the unwillingness of his bosses-Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine and editorial director Henry Muller-to fight for him anymore in the face of corporate pressures.
The Life that Time Inc. development editor Isolde Motley is taking over will become a much leaner magazine. According to sources at Time Inc., Life’ s $10 million editorial budget is slated to be cut 20 to 30 percent by the year 2000. How many of the 46 full-time editorial staff members will lose their jobs is not yet determined, but cuts are all but certain.
The timing of the Nov. 13 move surprised Mr. Lovinger, who was in the job for less than a year. “I’m a little perplexed but I’m ready to move on,” he said after learning he was being given the title of Time Inc. editor-at-large. Mr. Lovinger said he knew there were concerns on Mr. Pearlstine’s part, but added, “Did I know there were problems that would cause me to lose my job? No.”
Apparently, those problems began soon after Mr. Lovinger took over the job in January. A business-side financial manager, John Vlachos, was dispatched by Mr. Lovinger’s editorial overseers to find the fat in Life’ s editorial budget. His relationship with Mr. Lovinger soon soured over typical bean-counter versus idea-guy disagreements, sources said. At the same time, newsstand numbers were beginning to plummet. Average monthly newsstand sales in the first half of 1997 were 314,657, down 10.8 percent from the 352,584 in the same period in 1996. Mr. Lovinger placed the blame on the circulation staff and industry trends, sources said, a move that annoyed some senior-level business executives at the company. Mr. Lovinger soon found himself without any institutional support. “Jay was no longer beneath the radar of the 34th floor, and that means he was a problem,” said one Time Inc. executive. “And Norm doesn’t want to have a problem at Life .”
In the scheme of Time Inc., Life is almost an afterthought. Even with a circulation of more than 1.5 million, the monthly’s estimated 1997 profits pale in comparison to People ‘s ($288 million) and Time (more than $40 million), Time Inc. sources said.
But with the pressure from the business side, differences between Mr. Pearlstine and Mr. Lovinger rose to the surface. Once again, as with the last days of former corporate editor Jim Gaines, Mr. Pearlstine and one of his charges somehow were operating under different assumptions. Mr. Pearlstine, sources said, expected Mr. Lovinger, who has been known to come to the office wearing a Batman T-shirt and sneakers, to revolutionize the magazine. Mr. Lovinger said he wanted to give the magazine more edge and more investigative features, but that the architecture was pretty much set. “My feeling was we had become successful, so I decided not to change many things,” Mr. Lovinger said.
But bigger changes had to be made. The corporate side wanted Life’ s yearly profits to reach $10 million or so, sources said, in order to protect against a coming advertising downturn-particularly in tobacco and drug advertising-and rising paper prices. And that meant massive budget cuts. When Mr. Pearlstine did not cotton to Mr. Lovinger’s informal proposals of how to remake the magazine, he decided to make a move.
Ms. Motley, the founding editor of both Martha Stewart Living and This Old House, got the job partly because she knows how to run a magazine on a relatively tight budget. The two magazines she helped create grew up on the Time Publishing Ventures side of Time Inc.’s business, where, unlike at Time Inc.’s New York-based magazines ( Time, Fortune, People ), editors report to a business-side executive and cost structures are much slimmer. Time Inc. executives also hope Ms. Motley can inject some buzz into Life .
Ms. Motley, who declined to comment for this article, told Life ‘s staff on Nov. 13 that she will be making the magazine more text-driven and has told others at Time Inc. that Life will celebrate ordinary Americans. But vision may be irrelevant for a magazine that TV long ago consigned to the financial sidelines, a mass-market, general-interest magazine in a media world where special-interest magazines rule. ” Life is a magazine of tactics, not strategy,” said Dan Okrent, Mr. Lovinger’s predecessor who is now editor of new media at Time Inc.
Mr. Pearlstine declined to comment.
Call him Mr. Clean. Driven to distraction by the clutter in Wenner Media Inc.’s headquarters on Sixth Avenue, Jann Wenner has found time in his busy schedule running Rolling Stone, Us and Men’s Journal to oversee a massive cleanup.
Per Mr. Wenner’s directions, the company’s writers and editors are no longer allowed to have back issues of magazines on their desks or around their work areas, according to sources at Wenner Media. Stacks of folders and papers are verboten . Employees would do well to keep their desks free of everything but a computer, a phone and folders for the story or business project they are working on. “The more wood you see, the better,” said one staff member.
To help tidy things up, work crews have come around with giant garbage barrels, and some extra storage space has been found. Mr. Wenner has even taken to wandering the corridors, pleasantly pointing out offending piles and offering aphorisms. “Do you need all that?” he’ll ask, gently. “A messy office is a messy mind,” he has told some of his workers.
Cleaning jags are nothing new for those toiling at Wenner Media. According to a number of editorial staff members, after Mr. Wenner gets back from summer vacation, he often finds his surroundings unbearably messy. “But this is the most prolonged,” said one longtime Wenner Media employee. “It’s not usually this sustained or dogged.”
“We’ve got the most beautiful offices in New York,” Mr. Wenner said, and that beauty was being obscured. “The coral reef of CDs! The plague of wire racks! The out-basket virus!” When nudges to join his cleanliness jihad were not heeded by all, Mr. Wenner got serious. “Personal involvement from the top carried the day,” he said.
Mr. Wenner has not been shy about offering decorating tips. Earlier this fall, he paid a visit to his then-managing editor, Sid Holt, telling him it was time to redecorate. Mr. Holt’s office got a paint job and some shelving. Mr. Wenner himself trudged down from his office with an Albert Watson portrait of Keith Richards, which he then hung on the wall. (Only Rolling Stone -authorized art is allowed to touch Wenner Media’s walls.)
Even things invisible to the naked eye have run afoul of Mr. Wenner’s esthetic sensibilities. One day, Mr. Holt went out to lunch and on his return discovered that all the promotional CDs cluttering his file cabinet had been boxed up and placed in storage. Mr. Wenner also could not stop himself from rearranging the paraphernalia on Mr. Holt’s desk, company sources said. He moved pen and pencil holders, had Mr. Holt remove recent Rolling Stone issues and asked him to cut his in-box from four levels to two. Mr. Holt complied. Still, it was not enough to save him; he was fired in mid-October.
Bob Love, Mr. Holt’s replacement, has been subject to consultations of his own with Mr. Wenner. It seems the office lacked a coffee table, a sad state of affairs Mr. Wenner wanted to rectify. But what kind? Mr. Wenner pondered the question with Mr. Love, and they settled on a stained blond wood table.
Divining what is driving Mr. Wenner into such fits of cleanliness has the magazines’ staff members employing dime-store psychology. Some have speculated that the firing of Mr. Holt, after 13 years at the magazine and four years as Mr. Wenner’s deputy, prompted Mr. Wenner to purge as much of the old order as possible from the premises. Others chalk it up to a re-energized Mr. Wenner, his back and marriage problems done with, concentrating more on his life’s work. “His entire attitude is very feudal: This is an extension of me, of my house ,” said one longtime habitué.
Mr. Wenner sees it this way: “I’m a firm believer that good design is very important in life. Good design makes you feel better.”
The 14th floor of the Condé Nast Building, home to chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr., chief executive Steven Florio, editorial director James Truman and other members of the company’s corporate elite, has always been a calm, even staid place. Recently, though, the peace and quiet of the Madison Avenue inner sanctum has been shattered by the appearance of peripatetic adman Andy Berlin. Mr. Berlin, who left the New York-based Fallon McElligott Berlin advertising agency on Nov. 4, has moved in and set up shop for a couple of months with 25 or so colleagues. Some of the floor’s denizens are none too pleased with their new, noisy temporary office mates, even if Mr. Berlin is a good friend of Mr. Florio and Condé Nast is a client.
The population of the 14th floor has more than doubled since the black-clad admen showed up. Offices where one person used to work now hold four or more. In one office, all the furniture and shelves were removed, and a flat U-shaped panel was installed along the wall, with phones spaced three feet apart. “It looks like a telemarketing operation,” sneered one source.
There’s been grumbling that Mr. Berlin’s minions are overusing the floor’s color laser printer, and some fret that the security of Condé Nast’s editorial archive-filled with old photos valued in the millions of dollars-has been jeopardized. Others are annoyed that, at a time when editors are being told there’s no room for extra staff until the move to Times Square in 1999, a buddy of Mr. Florio gets to set up an outside company within Condé Nast.
The new housing arrangement came after Mr. Berlin’s buyout talks with Fallon McElligott, his partner agency in Minneapolis, collapsed. He needed some temporary headquarters and Mr. Florio could oblige, having relieved himself of a hefty portion of his executive staff in recent months.
Mr. Florio did not return calls, but a partner of Mr. Berlin, Ewen Cameron, said that the ad agency was “incredibly grateful” to Mr. Florio for his generosity. When the agency, Berlin, Cameron & Partners, does move, he said, it will be renting space “elsewhere” in the Condé Nast empire.