Hearst Has Some 'Housekeeping' to Do

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Good Housekeeping's Ellen Levine can indeed anticipate a big change at work soon, but not in the form of a dismissal, as some have speculated.
Ellen Levine has edited 'Good Housekeeping' since 1994.
Ellen Levine has edited 'Good Housekeeping' since 1994.

Ms. Levine, who has been editor in chief at Good Housekeeping since 1994, will be named an editorial director later this year, a Hearst Magazines spokeswoman said for the first time. The move will not be a kick upstairs and out of the way, the spokeswoman insisted, but a promotion that Ms. Levine has wanted for some time. Ms. Levine referred a call to her office to the spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, the front-runner to fill the editor-in-chief spot at Good Housekeeping's is Rosemary Ellis, editorial director and senior VP at Rodale's Prevention magazine. Peggy Northrop, editor in chief at Meredith Corp.'s More magazine, was approached about the position but said she wasn't interested, a tipster told Advertising Age. Ms. Ellis did not respond to a message left seeking comment; Ms. Northrop declined to comment.

Whoever assumes the editorial reins at Good Housekeeping will have some work to do, despite its iconic status and enviable paid circulation of 4.6 million. Its newsstand sales averaged about 767,000 last year, according to publisher's statements to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, down from an average of 878,543 in 2004. And ad pages rose 4.3% last year but dropped 6% in first-quarter 2006, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

At least one more vivid rumor can also be put to bed, according to Hearst: Contrary to speculation, Ms. Levine will in fact have an office in the new 46-story Hearst Tower. It seems to Watercooler that's only right, given her history with the company.

She's been an important and highly visible part of Hearst's editorial team since she first moved over from Hachette Filipacchi's Woman's Day to helm Redbook. She repositioned that title to a young married woman's audience, lowered the median age and gave it an identity distinct from the other "Seven Sisters."

The Seven Sisters was how the industry referred to the leading women's service titles and included Woman's Day, Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, McCall's, Good Housekeeping and Redbook. The category was notoriously competitive for ad pages since they all reached a similarly large mass audience of women.

By the time Ms. Levine hit Redbook in 1990, the Sisters' standard formula of home, garden and food was feeling out of step with working women and all the titles underwent a period of revamping. When Ms. Levine was called up in 1994 to head up Good Housekeeping to replace long-timer John Mack Carter, she was the first female editor the title had ever had in its century-long history. (Mr. Carter relinquished his GH post to take on the task of magazine development for Hearst.)

Her tweaking of that title was to put more emphasis on the Good Housekeeping Institute and its ability to test consumer products. She added pages to the magazine that were akin to a mini Consumer's Report in every issue.

But perhaps her most significant contribution was the instrumental part she played in sealing the deal with Oprah Winfrey for O, the Oprah Magazine. At the time the title launched, an instant blockbuster right out of the gate, Ms. Winfrey was out telling the story of how Ms. Levine convinced her it was the right thing to do when she told her, "Oprah, you love the printed word. This would be your chance to put your words and ideas in print every month."

Ms. Levine, in addition to her editor-in-chief role at Good Housekeeping, is also a consulting editor on O, and oversaw the launch of Quick & Simple. Since she already proved once she can fill John Mack's shoes, Watercooler sees no reason why she shouldn't be able to it again.
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