Norman Pearlstine Returns to Time Inc. in Shakeup

Martha Nelson out; editors now reporting to business side

Time Inc. announced a sweeping reorg as it prepares to spin off from Time Warner, bringing back Norman Pearlstine, its onetime editor in chief, as evp, chief content officer and having editors now reporting directly to the business side.

Martha Nelson, a longtime Time Inc. editor who became Time Inc.'s first woman editor in chief in December 2012, is leaving the company after less than a year in the position. 

Pearlstine served as Time Inc.'s editor in chief from 1994 to 2005. For the past five years, he has been chief content officer of Bloomberg LP. Prior to Bloomberg, he served as a senior advisor to p-e firm Carlyle Group. At Time Inc., editors will now report to the group presidents of their respective groups (lifestyle, news and style/entertainment), but Pearlstine will have "dotted-line" responsibility for them. In an interview, Pearlstine said he would be focusing on developing new line extensions and consumer-focused products and would be available to editors if they had problems, but that "I don't expect to be signing off on covers."   

The shakeup represents a sea change at Time Inc., with its longstanding tradition of editorial independence. It's bound to stir questions internally about how the editorial side will be protected from business-side interference going forward—perhaps mitigated by Pearlstine's stellar editorial reputation—but it also brings Time Inc. in line with the way other media companies operate.

In his day, John Huey, who preceded Nelson, was often considered one of the most powerful people at the company. Between the leaderships of Jack Griffin and Laura Lang, he was part of the three-man committee that ran Time Inc. For her part, Nelson enjoyed respect from editors, but some publishers grumbled that she was inflexible about letting advertisers use magazines in nontraditional ways. 

"It signifies a major change in mindset, and it also aligns Time Inc. with the way other media companies operate, especially new digital competition," said Peter Kreisky, a magazine consultant and onetime senior advisor at Time Inc. "By putting responsibility for the product across all platforms in the hands of the business head, it allows decisions to be synchronized across market needs and opportunities."

Past attempts to have editors report to the business side have been met with staunch resistance. One exception was when, the story goes, Sylvia Auton ran the Lifestyle Group and had its editors reporting to her. When she left for her native U.K., editorial control swiftly reverted to Huey and Nelson

Print media buyers applauded the change. "This is proof they’re thinking about things differently," said Starcom's Brenda White. “This new business model will create more opportunity to do more innovative partnerships.”

Today's reorg is the biggest yet since Joe Ripp took over as CEO of the No. 1 U.S. magazine publisher this summer. Ripp, who is facing pressure to sell the company to Wall Street, also moved to name American Express Co.'s Lynne Biggar as the new evp, of consumer marketing, filling a position that's been vacant over a year since Steve Sachs exited; and News Corp. vet Lawrence Jacobs as evp and general counsel.

Jacobs replaces another member of the old guard who's leaving in the shuffle, Maurice Edelson, who is moving to Time Warner. The longtime general counsel of Time Inc., Edelson has, unusually for someone in that role, expanded his power over the years, adding oversight for corporate strategy and serving along with Huey and Howard Averill in the triumvirate.

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