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Fast Chat: Martha Nelson

Time Inc.'s new editor in chief on the company's boys' club past and its digital future

Martha Nelson was just named editor in chief of Time Inc., succeeding John Huey. With her promotion from the No. 2 spot, Nelson will oversee the editorial direction of the biggest U.S. magazine group, the publisher of such iconic brands as Time, People and Sports Illustrated. When she starts in January, she’ll be only the seventh person and the first woman to hold the position. She’ll also be the first eic at the company who didn't come from a hard-news background. During her 20 years at Time Inc., she was behind the successful launch of InStyle and expanded People, the company’s biggest franchise. In her most recent role as editorial director, she’s overseen the 17 brands in the Style & Entertainment and Lifestyle groups. She talked to Adweek about her plans and how she's different from her colorful predecessor.

Adweek: Your promotion wasn’t exactly a secret. How long has it been in the works?
Nelson:
It was a very long engagement. It was something that’s been talked about and discussed and referred to obliquely for quite a while, and obviously [CEO] Laura Lang and I had some important conversations.

What’s going to be the biggest difference between you as editor in chief and John Huey?
Obviously, John and I couldn’t be more different in who we are and our operating styles. One, I’m much more engaged and [excited] about our digital future than John was. It wasn’t his first priority. I suppose I’m more interested in it. John very much enabled and encouraged all the brands to dive in. I would say I’m just involved on a deeper level. I’m probably close to the operation of our digital products.

You’re the first female editor in chief at the company. Do you think that matters?
I don’t get up in the morning thinking about my gender, and I don’t think people here do. The symbolism is not lost on me. I, of course, am very grateful to the women who [paved the way for me]. I also have to point out that I’ve been mentored by Lanny Jones, Norm Pearlstine and John Huey during my time here and [they] made it possible for me to get to this place. I wouldn’t be here without them.

Still, it must not have always been easy.
Nelson:
Let’s just say I will never forget when I first became a managing editor. We had these formal managing editor lunches, and I was very much aware that I was the only woman in the room, including the waiters. And the conversation definitely skewed into the stuff the guys wanted to talk about. It was smart guys giving each other a hard time and having fun. That’s a little hard to break into.

There's a view out there that the position of editor in chief has become an anachronism. How do you see the role today?
Nelson:
I think the role of the editor in chief is a complicated job, but the fundamentals are clear. Your job is to make sure the magazines have the best possible talent leading them, to protect the editorial integrity and all the quality of the work we do, and look for ways to work across titles to be more effective and be more powerful in reaching consumers.

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