When Magazines Published Great Journalism, Time Had Some Great Editors

By Jack Limpert

Ray Cave, who died last Monday, was the last of the great Time editors before too much corporate bureaucracy and the Internet made the magazine almost invisible. Here’s a 2017 About Editing and Writing post looking back at some remarkable Time editors.

As a magazine editor in Washington for 50 years, my contact with the Time Inc. editors in New York was sporadic but at times memorable. I got to see some of their editors in action while judging the National Magazine Awards and being on the board of the American Society of Magazine Editors in the 1980s and ’90s.

One year I was one of three ASME judges in a writing category; another of the judges was Otto Fuerbringer, then the managing editor of Time. He was called “The Iron Chancellor” by Time staffers.

The three of us sat down at the Columbia Journalism School to read the NMA finalists and then talk for two days and pick the winner. We started at 9 a.m. and at 9:30 Otto told us who the winner was. We talked for several hours and agreed with him, which meant we had a day and a half to wander among the other categories.

Henry Grunwald and Otto Fuerbringer represented the earlier authoritarian side of Time Inc. but many of its later editors were smart and more willing to listen.

Dick Stolley, best known as the founding managing editor of People magazine, was often an NMA judge and a smarter, fairer editor would be hard to find. Among other things, he was famous for Stolley’s  cover laws which included “Pretty is better than ugly” and  “Anything is better than politics,” an insight I confirmed many times at The Washingtonian. He was the kind of editor who dominated National Magazine Award judging by listening and leading.

Also admirable for their intelligence and fairness were Time Inc. editors Pat Ryan and Ray Cave. Ryan succeeded Stolley as managing editor of People; her NYTimes obit said,In her five-year tenure, she allowed articles to run longer and expanded the magazine’s coverage of more serious news, exploring topics like sexual harassment on college campuses, the spreading AIDS epidemic and children orphaned by civil war in Nicaragua, even devoting an entire issue to life in the Soviet Union. Ms. Ryan also inaugurated one of People’s glitziest traditions, its annual anointing of ‘the sexiest man alive’ in 1985.”

Cave, like Stolley, was a good, smart editor. Talking with him during NMA judging, I found that he had a lot of insights into how the digital world would change magazines. He had left the Baltimore Sun to join Sports Illustrated as a reporter in 1959. He rose to be SI’s executive editor, then transferred to Time, where he was managing editor from 1977 to September, 1985. He was made corporate editor of Time Inc., then editorial director, before resigning in 1988. Stolley, Ryan, and Cave represented the best of the old Time Inc. before the bureaucrats and the Internet took over.


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