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What Time Is It?

March 22, 2007 By:
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In the ongoing saga of how magazines are dealing with the Internet challenge, Time, the 84-year-old stalwart, has weighed in with how it will try to keep readers and attract others away from the Web. According to an article in the March 12 New York Times business section, Time is assuming a new look.

What this amounts to, wrote reporter Katharine Q. Seelye, is "a cleaner, simpler design, heavy on labels at the top of each page and the names of its columnists in World War II size type -- the better to brand with."

On the outs are "the last remnants of Time's signature syntax, parodied by the humorist Wolcott Gibbs with his phrase, 'Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.' Richard Stengel, Time's new managing editor, said the inverted syntax would vanish from the Milestones section, where it still crops up in obituaries, as in: 'Died. Of pneumonia.'

" 'Henry Luce may be rolling over in his grave over this,' he said of Time's co-founder. 'But it had outlasted its usefulness.' Still, he said, Luce might like some of the changes, including the reintroduction of distinct sections."

The cover will remain in its "iconic" form, with the "poster-like presentation" of a central image set inside a red border. The logo, though, will be made smaller to make room for a number of teaser boxes that will run across the top.

According to Seelye, "The redesign is the latest step in a major retrenchment meant to uproot the magazine from the perception of it as a weekly report (meaning old news) to one that is more timeless, with the hope of staying relevant in a 24/7 news cycle with its Web site, time.com."

The redesign has also included rethinking how Time does business. With Stengel's appointment last spring, the magazine reduced its circulation to 3.25 million, from 4 million. This has meant eliminating copies that go to places like doctors' offices, where they may not have been wanted; doing this has also meant reducing advertisers rates.

"Time also switched its publication date to Friday from Monday, cut 50 people from its staff, shut its bureaus in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, and invested more in its Web site. It further saved costs by contracting with more columnists, who, as established writers, are less expensive than full-time staff journalists.

"The new design allows the magazine to highlight these columnists and shift its editorial approach from a single omniscient voice to multiple well-known voices (more like its rival Newsweek). Time's columnists include Joe Klein, Michael Kinsley and William Kristol.

"Helping to streamline the look of the magazine is the elimination of most of its custom editions, sought by advertisers who wanted to reach narrow slices of readers based on geography and demographics. In some weeks, Time printed as many as 30,000 (yes, 30,000) different versions of the magazine, said Edward R. McCarrick, the publisher, adding that it was not worth the effort." 

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