Michael E. Kinsley was appointed editor-in-chief of The New Republic yesterday, replacing Hendrik Hertzberg, who ran the magazine for four years. Hertzberg will continue as a contributing editor and will join the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Cambridge. Kinsley, a former editor of Harper's magazine, was editor of The New Republic from 1978 to 1981 and has been writing the magazine's TRB column, which he will continue to do . . .

David Gergen, the former White House director of communications, will become the first contributing columnist for U.S. News & World Report. Now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Gergen will write for the Editor's Page with magazine editor Marvin Stone and another yet-to-be-named contributing columnist. Gergen's first column will appear in the issue available Jan. 14 . . .

A French ballet troupe lead by Rudolf Nureyev narrowly escaped serious injury Wednesday in India when a bus carrying them to the Taj Mahal was hit by a truck. Five of the dancers suffered minor injuries . . .

Actor Paul Newman handed over a $250,000 check yesterday to Catholic Relief Services to aid starving drought victims in Africa. The money came from Newman's food processing company "Newman's Own," which produces salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and popcorn, all made from the actor's own recipes . . .

The husband of famous pop psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers is denying saying his wife gave "abysmal" advice to her own family, as reported in this week's Family Weekly. Dr. Milton Brothers doesn't like anything about the article. "Nothing printed in the derogatory aspects of the interview remotely resemble what I actually said. My wife is terribly upset" . . .