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New Editor Sets New Goals to End Newsweek's Inertia

Meacham says the No. 2 newsmagazine must be as nimble as the Web while delivering quality.

September 06, 2006|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

After being named editor of Newsweek on Tuesday, Jon Meacham said America's second-largest newsmagazine needed to produce unique stories and expand its long-form storytelling to strengthen its position in an increasingly competitive media environment.

The 37-year-old Newsweek managing editor will take the top job early next month, at a time when the magazine is fighting to bolster relatively stagnant advertising and circulation.

"We are going to have to break news like a website and write with the quality of a monthly" magazine, Meacham said.

"And do it every week."

Newsweek Chairman Richard M. Smith announced Meacham's appointment and the reassignment of longtime Editor Mark Whitaker to a new position overseeing the development of websites for Newsweek's parent, the Washington Post Co.

Although Smith retains his title of editor in chief, Meacham will be in charge of day-to-day editorial operations at Newsweek; the magazine's circulation of about 3.1 million puts it second to Time, owned by Time Warner Inc., with a circulation of 4.1 million.

In the first seven months of this year, Newsweek's advertising revenue climbed 2.5% to $250.6 million over the same period in 2005, short of the 9.5% gain that Time made to $345.1 million.

The editorial change at Newsweek comes about three months after Time announced the hiring of Managing Editor Richard Stengel and a planned shift from Monday to Friday delivery.

"Time is on the brink of making some pretty significant changes under Stengel," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and a former Newsweek reporter. "It probably would raise more questions than it would answer if Newsweek didn't do anything, if they just stayed the course."

The Project for Excellence has tracked a trend by the newsweeklies toward more lifestyle and entertainment coverage. But Meacham said the claim that the magazine had gone "soft" seemed a little hackneyed, having been leveled over more than half a century -- "ever since we put Ava Gardner on the cover."

The new editor said Newsweek would distinguish itself by providing information readers couldn't get anywhere else -- if not always on topics considered hard news.

"We have to do original reporting and provide new information," Meacham said. "It's true on Iraq and Iran. It's true on what's happening in Congress."

"And it's also true on the question of what's happening with first-graders and why they are imploding because of all the pressure," he added, referring to Newsweek's latest cover topic.

Time's move to Friday publication was designed in part to appeal to advertisers, who want to reach readers about to embark on their weekends.

Meacham said that Newsweek had to at least consider changing its delivery schedule to match its rival.

"But we are going to wait and see," Meacham said. "This is a long-running gunfight between the two of us. I think it's a good chance to differentiate between the two products, which this will help do."

Meacham has been Newsweek's managing editor for nearly eight years, and wrote cover stories on politics, international affairs, religion and the death of President Reagan. His books include "Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship."

In announcing Meacham's appointment, Smith called him "the best and brightest young editor in the business."

Smith also announced the promotion to managing editor of Daniel Klaidman, who had been Washington bureau chief and assistant managing editor.

The changes at Newsweek had been rumored for months.

Whitaker, 48, in 1998 became the first African American to head one of the major newsmagazines; under his leadership, Newsweek said Tuesday, the publication received a record number of awards.

But last year Newsweek was forced to retract a story that said the U.S. military had confirmed that an interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet.

That report was blamed for helping trigger rioting in Afghanistan that killed at least 14 people. Whitaker went on national television to explain what went wrong.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

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