What Editors Will Do to Sell Magazines: First We Find a Cute Baby…

By Jack Limpert

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In 1982, this baby just had to avoid stress to live to be 100.

This week’s double-issue of Time has a cute baby on the cover with a head that says: “This Baby Could Live to be 142 Years Old.”

Wow, I thought, that’s pretty impressive longevity considering that back in 1982 we did a Washingtonian cover with a cute baby and a head that said “THIS BABY CAN LIVE TO BE 100.”

From 1982 to 2015—32 years—magazines have added 42 years to our life span.

Time’s longevity report is actually good journalism: How longevity changes life as we know it; New ways to disrupt aging; The best places to grow old; How to keep the body young; and six more pieces on everything from meal plans to brain games.

How did the Time editors arrive at 142 years? Reading through the 10 articles I couldn’t find the 142 number. Then I looked at the contents page and there was a note: “How old can we live to be? That remains to be seen, but if a promising drug does to humans what it does to mice—a big if—the answer is 142. Mice have a median survival time of 27 months, but with treatment, the longest-living mouse hit 48 months, a life 1.77 times longer. The media human age is 80 years—so if the oldest person lived 1.77 times longer, he or she would reach 142.”


Time promises 142 years but you won’t like the side effects.

Then I looked at what the mice were taking to live 1.77 times longer. It’s a compound called rapamycin. As Time explains, “Mouse UT2598’s longevity diet laced with rapamycin traces its existence back to some dirt samples collected in 1964 on an expedition to Easter Island.” Another wow.

But read on: “While rapamycin dials up one antiaging circuit, it’s clear that it is not yet a fountain of youth…. Consider the downsides. In mice, it has resulted in a body size that is about 30 percent smaller than average, and mTOR-regulated mice were also more likely to develop cataracts and were more prone to diabetes. The males tend to experience gradual loss of testicular function….”

In other words, you might live to 142 but you’ll be four feet tall, almost blind, diabetic, and, if you’re a man, beware of shrunken testicles.

As an editor, I’d be a little embarrassed about coming up with that live-to-be-142 cover to sell some good reporting.

The Washingtonian’s live-to-100 cover story in November 1982 was written by John Pekkanen, winner of two National Magazine Awards. I e-mailed him, asking what he remembers about the story. He confessed that he couldn’t recall many of the details but added, “Obviously the new world of molecular genetics is a major shift in how we look at aging, disease, etc. I don’t think I had much if anything to say about DNA and telomeres in the aging process.”

The inside-the-magazine head on John’s story was “How to Live a Long Life” with this deck: “Studies Show That How You Raise Children Can Determine Whether They Are Prone to Heart Attack or Cancer. Here Is the Latest on Longevity and How This New Research Can Help You Lead a Longer, Happier Life.”

The story’s conclusion: “When we add it all up, the old verities seem to work best. Love, support, and acceptance of our imperfections by those we care about—these are all vital elements that help create a sense of self-esteem, an ability to adapt, and an environment that helps us absorb the stress in our lives. It must begin in childhood, and its later pathways strongly influence our ability to succeed and our chances for living a long life.”

Two long sidebars accompany the Pekkanen article: How to Help Your Child Through Stressful Times and Where to Turn If You’re Under Too Much Stress. Lots of helpful names, addresses, and phone numbers.

The 1982 article quotes dozens of experts and it was so well-reported that it was a finalist for a 1983 National Magazine Award. But in re-reading the story, the number 100 is nowhere mentioned. How did we come up with that cover?

The article’s main theme was too much stress can shorten your life. My years as an editor had taught me that to sell on the newsstand, a magazine cover has to be easily understood—nothing complicated that makes the reader work to figure out what the story is about. And most editors understood that happy is better than sad, pretty is better than ugly, etc.

Taking a negative cover approach would have put someone on the cover looking stressed out. Who wants to look at that for a month? How about we approach it positively? Do all the things that help you avoid stress and, yes, this baby could live a long life.

The problem the Time editors now have created is where do we go from here. Will the next editor have to ask if the baby can live forever?


  1. Something magical about the number 100, I guess — I see it in a line above the logo too!

  2. Why would anyone want to live to 142 years old anyway…. It is remarkable that people would be able to live longer but think about all of the families who didn’t live as long and some that did. It should be kept the way it is right now cause a lot of people would go against something like this for say religion and other stuff. I wouldn’t want to live as long as that anyway cause of family and plus I don’t believe it would be right to do that.

  3. I’m that baby from the cover of the Washingtonian, 33 years later! When I saw this Time cover, it was quite surreal. I’m not sure about living to be 100, but so far I can’t complain.

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