Time deputy managing editor Nancy Gibbs was promoted today to be the magazine's top editor, making her the 17th person—and first woman—to hold the position in its 90-year history. Her appointment is effective immediately.
Gibbs, shown in a video interview here, has effectively been running the magazine since July when her predecessor Rick Stengel was tapped to help Time Inc. editor in chief Martha Nelson plan for the company’s upcoming spinoff from Time Warner. As previously reported, Stengel, the magazine’s managing editor since 2006, was nominated by President Obama to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Gibbs, 53, first joined Time as a fact-checker in 1985. She was hired as a full-time writer in 1988 and continued to climb the ranks of the magazine, rising to executive editor in 2010 and deputy managing editor in 2011. Despite her ascent, Gibbs apparently didn’t always have her sights set on running the magazine: In a memo regarding her promotion to deputy managing editor, then-Time Inc. editor in chief John Huey wrote, “I think if you had said to her even three years ago, ‘How would you like to become a top editor?’ she would have laughed. (I know, because I did, and she laughed.)”
Indeed, Gibbs is best known for her cover stories. She's written the most of any writer—more than 150—including the magazine’s Sept. 11 cover story, which won a National Magazine Award. Gibbs has also co-written two books with Time Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy: The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House (2007) and The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity (2012).
While Gibbs said that she was more than content as a writer—and plans to continue writing, both for the magazine and books, as managing editor—the opportunity to play a larger role at Time was hard to turn down.
“We were all aware that we were entering a period of real transition and transformation, and being invited to be part of the leadership of that was also intriguing,” she told Adweek. “Getting to roam across a much wider range of challenges, like thinking about video or interactive design and graphics or ways of telling stories that just weren’t possible when I was starting out as a writer, that’s tremendously exciting.”
Growing beyond print will be imperative for the magazine as newsweeklies continue to face difficult advertising and newsstand environments. Ad pages at Time are down about 14 percent year to date, according to Media Industry Newsletter.
Since taking over the No. 2 spot, Gibbs has overseen Time’s transition to an all-digital newsroom, more recently leading the upcoming relaunch of Time.com, which entailed making a slew of new hires. As managing editor, she'll continue to focus on growing the magazine’s digital footprint. “The magazine is very strong but our opportunity to keep growing our digital audience is tremendous, and so I’m spending a lot of time working towards that relaunch.”
“Nancy’s commitment to this project and what it means for Time overall, not just online, is a big part of what drew me here,” said Edward Felsenthal, managing editor of Time.com (and one of Gibbs’ hires). “She is absolutely at home on the digital side, and is as passionate or more passionate about it than anybody in the building.”
As a leader, Felsenthal praised Gibbs’ talent for collaboration and her desire to infuse the Time brand with new talent. “I think her leadership style is in many ways built around that kind of beautiful synthesis she exhibits in her journalism…She has a great gift for getting the best ideas out of people and merging them into a strategy,” he said.
Gibbs is also planning on working with new Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp on expanding the Time brand. “When he talks about figuring out new opportunities and businesses we should explore, I have a lot of people who have really interesting ideas about that and are very eager to have that conversation—and I think, frankly, have been frustrated that they didn’t even know how or with whom to have it in the past,” she said.