“There’s Always Going To Be Room For A Newsweekly,” Nancy Gibbs, TIME’s New Editor, Tells Samir Husni. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.September 19, 2013
A lot has changed since my interview in 2011 with Nancy Gibbs, now TIME’s new editor, but one thing did not and will not ever change: Ms. Gibbs’ belief in the future and role of journalism and storytelling. Part of her recipe for the future of TIME is to continue to innovate on the original recipe for TIME created by Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden in 1923: Making sense of the world one story at a time.
When I asked Ms. Gibbs how TIME is going to be different under her tenure, she answered, “My interests start with the presidency and extends into health and science, into technology, into family issues, into the intersection of public and private life…” Her debut cover as the new managing editor* of TIME is a prime example of how Ms. Gibbs puts her “cover” where her “interests” are.
And as in every Mr. Magazine™ Interview, first the sound-bites followed by the lightly edited transcript of the interview.
On the recipe for the survival of TIME: I think it’s the continuing innovation of the recipe that’s made TIME so successful for so long. We do the most interesting stories. We’re able to talk to the most important and interesting people who are not only in the news but behind the news.
On the importance of storytelling in reaching your audience: I think that the need to make sense of the world for people, and to tell stories in a way that they remember, that moves them, that is powerful, I think that’s something that TIME has always believed in, and I certainly do as well.
On Luce’s coining of the tagline “Newsweekly” for TIME and whether a new tagline is in the magazine’s future: I think what’s great in the 21st century is that we now can do for the minute, hour, for day what TIME as a newsweekly has always done for the week.
On whether or not there’s no more room for a newsweekly on the newsstands: There’s always going to be room for a newsweekly. And what’s great is that that’s just not me saying that, that’s our audience saying it.
On the future of journalism: I’m actually very bullish about the future of journalism and there are a couple of reasons why. One is because I think our audience and I think our readers know how much news matters. We’re living through such a period of just unprecedented change.
On what keeps her up at night: At the moment, it is actually the journalism, and that’s kind of what I’m grateful for.
And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Nancy Gibbs, TIME managing editor.
Samir Husni: You’re the first woman editor of TIME in its entire history. Are we going to see a softer, gentler TIME from now on or is it still going to be the same?
Nancy Gibbs: Well, I don’t think it will be the same but not because it’s softer or gentler. I think every editor has particular interests that they bring to the job. My interests, as you know, start with the presidency, which I’ve written a lot about, and extend deeply into health and science, technology, family issues and into the intersections of public and private life. I think we’re long past talking about soft news and hard news or male news and female news. I don’t think anyone thinks that way; I certainly don’t think that way.
SH: We’ve seen the demise or semi-demise of U.S. News World Report and of Newsweek. What is Nancy Gibbs’ recipe for the survival of TIME?
NG: I think it’s the continuing innovation of the recipe that’s made TIME so successful for so long. We do the most interesting stories. We’re able to talk to the most important and interesting people who are not only in the news but behind the news.
The great advantage that TIME has, partly because we now have the largest audience that we’ve ever had in our entire history, is that we are able to go places where other people can’t and do the kind of both deep investigative work and quick, high-velocity news coverage.
And so what I think is so terrific going forward with our plans to re-launch our website and hire a lot of new staff, is that it allows us to be even faster, even stronger and to go even deeper into the stories that people care most about.
SH: You told me in 2011 that humans need storytelling the same way they need sleep, food and water. Are you still a believer in this day and age that the best way to reach an audience is through storytelling? If so, how are you going to apply that to the magazine, the printed magazine, the website and the digital side?
NG: I’m more a believer in great storytelling than ever partly because we keep getting these fantastic new tools with which to do it.
If you look just at what we’ve been doing in recent weeks, we just launched a new documentary film unit, Red Border Films, which lets us take the great photojournalism that we’ve been known for years and add new dimensions to it with first-rate film making by our photographers.
We did a fascinating interactive project this summer to honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech that was a combination of photo galleries, oral histories and video. This is the most important kind of storytelling, but now we’re not at all limited to the story that you can put on a page. Having the additional dimensions that we get on the tablet, on mobile, on our website and the tools that we have just make storytelling that much richer.
But I think that the need to make sense of the world for people, and to tell stories in a way that they remember, that moves them, that is powerful; I think that’s something that TIME has always believed in, and I certainly do as well.
SH: Back in 1923 when TIME was launched Henry Luce coined the phrase “newsweekly” as a tagline for TIME. What will be the phrase that people will remember Nancy Gibbs coining for TIME magazine in 2013? If you wanted to give the magazine a new tagline, what would it be?
NG: I think Luce was very wise and quite prescient in his understanding that people were so bombarded with information that they needed a source of news that they could trust and that made sense of the world to them. I think what’s great in the 21st century is that we now can do for the minute, hour and the day what TIME as a newsweekly has always done for the week.
SH: So, would you say that there’s no room anymore for a newsweekly?
NG: Of course not. There’s always going to be room for a newsweekly. And what’s great is that that’s just not me saying that, it’s our audience saying it. The audience for our weekly print journalism and our weekly tablet edition is very strong and very stable.
And of course, there are things that you can do, there’s a perspective you have, in the longer form and in the weekly format that is different than what we’re able to do everyday online. It’s not that one is going away at the expense of the other, it’s that both are important, both are strong, both are growing, and they feed each other.
What we do digitally makes what we do in print stronger and vice versa. This week’s cover story is a classic example.
The magazine cover: How Wall Street Won, was an important explanation about where we are five years after the economic meltdown. It triggered an ongoing debate that we carried out on Time.com between our author Rana Foroohar and the Treasury Department. President Obama himself ended up weighing in when George Stephanopoulos held up the cover to show him during their interview on Sunday morning. In that sense, it’s all one story that we’re telling in print and we’re pursuing online. I don’t think it’s a tradeoff where one is stronger at the expense of the other. I think all platforms can magnify the important journalism that we’re doing.
SH: You’ve been known as a prolific writer, interviewer and as a well respected journalist. What’s the future of journalism to you? Do you feel like journalism schools are wasting their time these days? What’s the future of journalism as a whole from the editor of the top leading news magazine in the country?
NG: I’m actually very bullish about the future of journalism and there are a couple of reasons why. One is because I think our audience and I think our readers know how much news matters. We’re living through such a period of just unprecedented change. If you look at what has happened, we’ve come through a decade where we’ve fought two wars and spent the last few weeks debating whether we were likely to get pulled into a third. We’ve gone through enormous economic transformation, enormous technological transformation and people understand that making sense and understanding what’s at stake in the midst of all this change requires sources of information that you can trust.
What journalists are trained to do is to ask hard questions and see around corners and sort out what’s important from what’s not. I think that people who develop the skill sets to be good reporters, to understand data, to read a spreadsheet, to do deep research, to interview newsmakers in a probing way, those skills and the work that it yields I think is more important than ever.
I’m not surprised that the quality of candidates who are interviewing for jobs is spectacular. These are really bright young men and women who have clearly made the decision that of all the things they could do, journalism is their future. That’s been enormously exciting for those of us who have been committed to it for years, to see the amount of energy that’s coming into the profession from its newest members.
SH: What keeps Nancy Gibbs up at night?
NG: What keeps me up at night? At the moment, it is actually the journalism, and that’s kind of what I’m grateful for. It’s not worrying about the business model and not worrying about office politics or any of the things that can distract editors. I’m worried about how we’re going to cover Syria when that story is so difficult and dangerous to cover. I’m concerned about being responsible in how we cover the navy yard shooting and having the right people deployed in the right way. My job is to worry about the journalism and I will always do that and I’m grateful that that’s where my focus gets to be.
SH: Thank you.
*(Managing Editors at Time Inc. are the highest ranking editorial position in each magazine… they are in fact the editor of the magazine).