Cites Magazines' Role in 'New and Dangerous Phase' of U.S. History

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NEW YORK ( -- No one, least of all himself, would describe AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin as
Photo: Doug Goodman
Gerald Levin spoke of the 'profound moral basis' of magazine publishing.

being a commanding speaker. But in a rare appearance to deliver the closing keynote address at the American Magazine Conference, Mr. Levin, despite his shrinking, shaky, self-conscious style, offered a surprisingly emotional depiction of magazines and their role in the media world.

His remarks, like so many at the conference, leaned heavy on the events of Sept. 11 and did not stint on ominous imagery: "It's a new and dangerous phase of this country's history," he said, a "dark atmosphere."

'Faces of young widows'
Growing visibly emotional and with tears welling up in red-rimmed eyes, he said that "when you see the faces of young widows and young children" who lost loved ones in the attacks, "it tears your heart out." (Mr. Levin's own son, Jonathan, was murdered in a 1997 robbery.)

While he noted the attacks "made a bad business environment worse," his talk dealt more with media's role in the world.

"As well as being a multibillion-dollar industry," he said, "there is a profound moral basis to what we do. When the foundation of a democratic society is threatened, it is this moral element [that] must take precedence."

'Whatever it takes'
In words that should come as a relief to his staffers at Time Inc., a unit that has seen deep cutbacks and substantial buyouts this year, he all but offered a blank check. "We will not retreat," he aid. "Whatever it takes, whatever they need to reach their audience, to help [readers] make up their own minds."

"This is who we are. This is what we do. No terrorist act or threat will stop us."

Mr. Levin's comments were termed "somewhat disingenuous" by a former Time Inc.-er, who did not doubt Mr. Levin's promise of resources now but pointed out "they cut the editorial budget substantially in the past year."

As for AOL Time Warner's commitment to the medium and concerns over investment capital drying up for magazines, he pointed out that in the multimedia giant's first full year of existence, it has spent "well over $2 billion" on acquiring magazines -- by far the biggest investment it has made in any area.

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