Time Inc.’s New Chief Content Officer Says Editors, Publishers Need to Work Together

He'll be developing new products, not 'signing off on covers'

Time Inc. has appointed a new chief content officer while eliminating the role of editor in chief, with a major difference being that editors will now report to their business unit heads rather than an editorial executive. Norman Pearlstine, who had the editor in chief job from 1994 to 2005 and is returning from Bloomberg LP in the content officer role, joined Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp in talking about the thinking behind the new organization.

Why the change in title and reporting structure?
Pearlstine: Having been an editor in chief for 11 years, I found that there were two parts to it. The first was that the editor in chief was really responsible for maintaining editorial quality, editorial integrity, editorial independence. That part of the job doesn't really require a title, it requires presence.…Chief content officer was in no way in opposition to the commitment to continue editorial quality, standards, integrity. The second part was the parallel universe that was almost a pride in not working with counterparts on the business side that led to innovation, creativity, new products. I thought that editors were basically being subject to more review than is necessary and were discouraged from having conversations with their business counterparts that any modern magazine company needs to do to be successful.

What will the new structure allow you to do that wasn't possible before?
Ripp: By allowing the editors to closely align with our business partners, we'll increase the level of innovation. As we all know, our advertisers are facing a proliferation of choice. That means the share being allocated to magazines is not increasing. So we need to make sure we develop new programs to get share that hasn't been available before.

Will editors risk losing editorial independence now that they're reporting to the business side?
Pearlstine: I wouldn't have come here if I thought that were a risk. If I didn't know Joe Ripp and his commitment to editorial independence and quality and his clear understanding that to do anything to undermine that is clearly not in the best business interests of the company. That said, it's time to recognize we're not in the magazine business, we're in the media business. I don't expect to be signing off on covers of magazines. [As editor in chief] I overruled two covers, at Time magazine. I want to be available to address problems, but…I do expect editors…to solve their problems themselves.

What'll the new job entail, then?
Pearlstine: I will be working on developing not just line extensions but products that are focused around the customer. For all the digital emphasis at Bloomberg, what really distinguished the company was customer focus. There are great people at Time Inc. who are very customer-focused. As chief content officer, I hope to be one of them.