Norman Pearlstine on Why Editors Should Report to the Business Side

Media pros gathered this morning at the Bryant Park Grill for a Media Minds discussion with Norman Pearlstine, newly installed chief content officer of Time Inc., and Alex S. Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy at Harvard. All were glad for Cathy Gay’s return after an unfortunate fall left the producer and founder of the series unable to attend the previous one.

It goes without saying that much of the discussion revolved around the Time Inc. spin-off and Pearlstine’s new role as chief content officer, a move that has garnered much discussion about the elimination of church and state at the publisher. He previously served as editor-in-chief of Time Inc. from 1995 to 2005, a position that has now been eliminated. “The idea of having editors report to business leaders is not all that different from what happened in 1997, when I stopped reporting to the board of Time Warner,” said Pearlstine, who then started to report to former Time Inc. CEO Don Logan.

“I’ve always thought that editors, in wanting to lump business as a distinction from editorial, make a mistake … circulation ought to go to the editor and not to the CEO,” he said. “The idea that an editor thinks of himself or herself as someone who’s actually responsible for that customer’s experience seems to obvious to me and I never understood why it wasn’t encouraged.”

Well now it certainly is encouraged at the company that CEO Joe Ripp describes as a “media company” rather than a “magazine company.” Pearlstine acknowledged that, while magazines will still be important, no media outlet should look at themselves as primarily a print company. “When [Ripp] talks that way, it’s meant to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation where you’re willing and able to consider all kinds of things, many of which were difficult to do as a division of Time Warner,” he said.

Pearlstine made clear that his new role will include many responsibilities of the editor-in-chief role, including determining best practices when it comes to newsgathering: “This week, I’ve been involved with Sports Illustrated on two stories, both of which involve anonymous and confidential sources,” he said.

When asked if he thought the new company would be saddled with too much debt in the spin-off process, Pearlstine was optimistic: “It’s not in [Time Warner’s] interest to have a failed IPO, it’s not in their interest to make it so onerous it doesn’t work.”

For more on the conversation, visit our sister site 10,000 Words.

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