Time's Man of the Hour

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 18, 2006

When Rick Stengel was named Time's managing editor in May, he talked about hiring more "star writers" who would help push the magazine toward "a stronger point of view."

Stengel also had to make do with less, since Time Inc. executives were already cutting 550 jobs and now are warning that more reductions are on the way.

Now Stengel is signing several big-name journalists who will bring some glitter to a newsweekly that didn't even use bylines until 1980. Michael Kinsley, the former editor of Slate and the New Republic, will write a biweekly column. Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol will be a part-time columnist, and former Time managing editor Walter Isaacson will contribute essays on foreign affairs. David Von Drehle, a longtime Washington Post reporter and editor, will be a political correspondent.

Stengel is abandoning the old Henry Luce approach -- a small army of faceless reporters and researchers feeding tidbits into a Cuisinart in New York -- in part because that may no longer be economically viable. In the age of blogging, it isn't easy to keep a weekly magazine fresh.

"We're going from a 19th-century factory model to a 21st-century Internet model," Stengel says. "Some of the things we were doing were anachronistic," he says, and often produced a "monolithic" tone.

"One great writer-reporter who has a point of view about a subject important to our lives -- what's better than that?"

The new structure will clearly mean fewer original facts and more massaging of old facts. The question is whether that provides more value for readers or defaults on the core mission of newsgathering.

"They're not going to be doing the familiar Time-ese journalism by committee that they've done for the last 75 years," Von Drehle says. "It will be built around writer-reporters with their own voice. It's like a magazine startup with one of the great brands of American journalism."

Von Drehle, who may relocate to Kansas City, will produce a regular "American Journal" feature that he calls an attempt to "get away from the pieces that are shaped at New York and Washington cocktail parties."

Kinsley, a longtime Time contributor who will drop his Washington Post op-ed column, called a biweekly column in the magazine "an offer I can't refuse." He says Stengel has "interesting ideas" and that writing for Time "has a bigger bounce than you would expect. They're also paying me well and it's secure."

Kristol says his essays will provide a chance "to reach the few lost souls who read Time who don't read the Weekly Standard."

Time has already beefed up its Web site by importing such prominent bloggers as Andrew Sullivan and Ana Marie Cox, the former Wonkette. On the print side, though, Time has let go the Pulitzer-winning investigative duo of Donald Barlett and James Steele, saying the pair had become an unaffordable luxury. Time Inc., which has McKinsey & Co. doing an efficiency study, recently shut Teen People and is selling 18 of its magazines, including Popular Science, Parenting and Field & Stream.

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