Can Fresh Crop of Execs Help Newsweek Unseat Time?

Q&A: New CEO Ascheim Says Staff Has Skills to Maintain Title's Relevance

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NEW YORK ( -- Newsweek shook up its executive suite yesterday with a bevy of major personnel announcements.
Thomas Ascheim
Thomas Ascheim

First, Richard M. Smith is stepping down as CEO and editor in chief, the latter a title he has held since 1984, but he will remain the newsweekly's chairman, a role he has had since 1998.

His replacement for the CEO gig is Tom Ascheim, a longtime Viacom cable executive who founded and launched the Noggin and N networks and most recently served as general manager of Nickelodeon Television. Mr. Ascheim's appointment represents his first major foray into publishing, though he did help launch and write the business plan for Nickelodeon magazine in his previous career. Additionally, Gregory Osberg, Newsweek's publisher, has been named president of the magazine.

Editor in chief role split
Ann McDaniel has also been bumped up from her duties as VP, Washington Post Co., to serve as managing director of Newsweek, with Mr. Ascheim and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham reporting to her. Messrs. Ascheim and Meacham will jointly assume the duties of the editor in chief.

A fresh team of execs may be just what Newsweek needs to unseat Time's title as the top newsweekly -- not to mention maintain relevance for a news product some consider obsolete given today's online breaking-news model. Newsweek's total paid and verified subscriptions for January to June 2007 totaled 3.14 million compared with Time's 3.4 million, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. During that same time period, total ad pages for Newsweek were down 4.9% from 2006 to 885.05, according to the Magazine Publishers of America. Time saw a 2.4% decrease to 1,011.27 pages.

While Mr. Ascheim was still adjusting to making the jump from cable TV to the No. 2 newsweekly title, he took a few moments to speak with Ad Age about his other initial goals and plans as CEO.

MediaWorks: What attracted you to making the leap into publishing, having had a successful tenure at Nickelodeon for so long?

Tom Ascheim: Two things: I really liked the people I met, and the people speak an awful lot to what the company is like. They all seemed smart, dedicated and ready to embrace the change media is gong through, and that was also very important to me.

MediaWorks: Given that you're brand new to the news world, do you have any thoughts yet on where you should be taking the news model going forward?

Mr. Ascheim: There's no question we need an incredibly strong print magazine. But at the moment, what we're all facing in the media world is a massive change as we watch the internet change the way media companies approach consumers and make money. That's the question we were dealing with as a TV network at Nickelodeon and it's the same question magazines are dealing with and the same question broadcasters are dealing with. I wanted to go to a place where I thought it would be possible to find the answer and make the answer come to life. One of the great things about the culture here is that it's nimble. It's not a huge media conglomerate. It also has a great corporate culture in the Washington Post Co., which is a very patient and sort of high-integrity corporate group already.

MediaWorks: Looking back at your 17 years at Viacom, what are some of your proudest accomplishments?

Mr. Ascheim: When I got there, Nick was a very small company. I got to both help watch and lead and participate as Nick became a leader, which was a hugely fascinating thing to watch. I was one of the first employees of Noggin and the N, and I got to watch them grow and that sense of charging a new company is what gave me confidence.

MediaWorks:: Any other initial thoughts on your new co-workers as you look at the team Donald Graham [chairman-CEO of the Washington Post Co.] has assembled for you?

Mr. Ascheim: Part of why I came here is because they're so terrific. They're so dedicated, and I could sense they were embracing change perhaps a little faster some in the television world. It's vital that we remain who we are without losing sight of who are yet still embracing change.
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