Real Simple editor quits

Staffers assume Time Inc. top editor Norman Pearlstine pushed Susan Wyland out, hoping for a bigger return on a $40 million investment.

By Sean Elder

Published May 18, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

"I just simplified my life!"

So exclaimed Real Simple editor Susan Wyland over an impromptu lunch of beer and pizza that followed the news of her resignation. The timing of Wyland's announcement -- after weeks of speculation over the fate of the troubled Time Inc. magazine -- left many staff members certain she was pushed before she could jump.

"They're making her the patsy," said one staff member who chose to remain anonymous. "They didn't know what they wanted, either. This is what she said she was going to do all along."

The "this" the editor spoke of is an odd milange of being and nothingness, a celebration of simplicity in a rather austere and complicated package. Unfavorable press reaction and disappointment within Time Inc. itself seem to outweigh a generally favorable consumer acceptance and strong ad pages.

And the success of Hearst's O: The Oprah Magazine, which Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine made a point of praising in the New York Times on Monday, may have had something to do with it.

Wyland, a former editor of Martha Stewart Living, made her announcement to the staff at 10:30 Wednesday morning; an e-mail from Pearlstine, praising the editor and her concept, followed shortly. It was announced that Wyland would be temporarily replaced as managing editor (as Time Inc. calls its magazines' top dogs) by In Style assistant managing editor Carrie Tuhy. The company's newly named corporate editor, Isolde Motley, will "oversee" the magazine.

Motley, it is worth noting, was the first editor of Martha Stewart Living in the early '90s and was most recently M.E. of Life, before its death.

At a post-lunch afternoon meeting, Pearlstine himself addressed the staff, with both Wyland and Motley in attendance. "He was like the grim reaper," said one who was present. When a staffer inquired about job security, he replied, "We want to give the editor who comes in the freedom to make some changes."

The problem with the magazine, Pearlstine went on to tell the staff, "wasn't what was in the magazine; it was what wasn't in the magazine." Wyland remained mute, even in the face of such Obi-Wan-like pronouncements. "Can you imagine what he would have said if she hadn't been there?" one source wondered.

Motley, on the other hand, provided "a human face," and used the closing of Life to empathize with the staff's pain and reassure them that there were many jobs within the company, should things at Real Simple simply not work out.

Wyland had already begun making changes, replacing her former art director, Robert Valentine, with Roland Bello. Bello's influence can already be seen in the June issue, the result of which is a look that is described as warmer and more personal. (This could even mean fashion spreads where you can see the clothes.)

But apparently her changes were not fast enough. The staff, all of whom were hand-picked by Wyland, remain loyal to their erstwhile boss, even as they try to understand Time's impatience.

As one editor put it, "I guess they were thinking they wanted more for their $40 million investment."

Sean Elder

Sean Elder is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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