Is the All-Powerful Magazine Editor a Thing of the Past?

At two top publishing companies, the role isn’t what it used to be

The day of the über editorial director could well be over.

With John Huey heading for the exit at Time Inc. and Si Newhouse fading from the picture at Condé Nast, it certainly seems that way. Huey, in addition to having the top editor position at the No. 1 U.S. magazine publisher, was considered by some the most powerful person at the company, a man who acted on his own and often alienated business-side types; famously, his clashes with the editorial side factored into Jack Griffin getting bounced as CEO after just six months on the job. Martha Nelson, who is expected to succeed Huey, is respected but isn’t the outsized personality he is.

Similarly, at Condé Nast, Newhouse, in addition to being chairman, has been spiritual editorial chief, hand-selecting editors for his magazines—famously picking David Remnick for The New Yorker (after withdrawing an offer from Michael Kinsley) and courting Joanne Lipman at his East Side apartment to helm the short-lived Condé Nast Portfolio. That the octogenarian Newhouse isn’t as involved these days was evident in the recent change of the guard at Wired, where corporate editorial director Tom Wallace led the search to replace Chris Anderson (with sign-off from top execs such as Chuck Townsend, Bob Sauerberg and Jill Bright). Wallace didn’t rock any boats picking Scott Dadich, a company insider and Wired vet. (Wallace would not comment on the process.)

There are other signs that life at Condé Nast isn’t what it once was. Consider recent high-profile departures like Brides EIC Anne Fulenwider, who left for the same position at Hearst’s Marie Claire; W publisher Nina Lawrence, who decamped for Dow Jones & Co.; and Glamour associate publisher Patrick Connors, who bolted Condé for (shock!) American Media Inc.

The absence of Newhouse could mean more stability in the edit ranks, for better or for worse. Meanwhile, at Time, Huey’s exit could make it easier for CEO Laura Lang to act more freely. 

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