The Exit Interview: Norm Pearlstine, Editor, Time Inc.
By Dylan Stableford
In a move that had been telegraphed for years, Time Inc. made official this week the announcement of editor-in-chief Norm Pearlstine’s pending departure
and editorial director John Huey’s succession, effective December 31.
Pearlstine spoke with FOLIO: about his 11-year run at Time Inc., the controversy
surrounding his decision to turn over notes in the Valerie Plame case and his corporate future.
FOLIO: How long have you known this was going to happen?
Pearlstine: There are two answers to that question. When John (Huey) became editorial director in May 2001, he and I agreed at that point that he would succeed me. As for the specific timing of it, that was agreed upon two years ago when we both signed three-year contracts. My contract is up at the end of 2006, but we agreed he would become editor at the end of 2005, and I would spend my last year doing other things. The idea was that I would go to corporate and work as an advisor there, and be available to do whatever they wanted me to. And that’s still part of it.
Pearlstine: I don’t know if I could pick one. I can think of two or three things I would say I’m pleased with. The launch and acquisition of many successful magazines. Two would be the reassertion of the editorial independence of Time Inc., including in that our ability to cover Time Warner and AOL/Time Warner in ways that very few publications are able to cover themselves. And I think we have a more diverse workforce today, with more women as top editors. We still have a long way to go with certain minority groups. So it’s kind of a mixed record, but its one where I think we’ve made some progress.
Pearlstine: I certainly do not regret turning the file
of Karl Rove over to the special counsel. There might have been some tactical things where I wish our editorial guidelines would have been clearer about the relationships between reporters and sources. There are things like that we’re working on. But not in terms of decisions do I have any regrets, no.
Pearlstine: Well, on the contrary, I consider it the most important decision I’ve made in 37 years and that’s why I’m writing a book [“Off The Record: The Use and Misuse of Anonymous Sources”] about it. I’m not ducking it at all. I think almost everything I did in 37 years of journalism led me to make that decision and to an understanding of journalism I otherwise would never have had. I’m actually pretty excited about it.
Pearlstine: The book was a function of and grew out of all the stuff I learned about anonymous sources dealing with the special counsel, Matt Cooper, Valerie Plame and Karl Rove. I think it’s going to be a broad examination of the whole use and misuse of anonymous sources over the last 35 years, and the ways in which it has affected journalism. But obviously it will be told very much through the lens of what has happened earlier this year.
addressing product placement. Do you think there is a need for industry-wide guidelines and standards covering the use of anonymous sources?
Pearlstine: I need to do some work on that before I would know the answer.