The heir apparent at Newsweek, current managing editor Jon Meacham, will no doubt get the same orders that Mr. Stengel got: make the magazine a must for readers and, by extension, advertisers.
But installing new editors can blow up spectacularly. Just ask Andy Pemberton, who lasted one issue as Spin's editor in chief this summer, when he put Beyonce on the cover of the traditionally alt-rock mag.
And in the case of weekly news, the fresh leaders at Time and Newsweek will want most of all to steal share from each other. But because both titles are switching editors around the same time, they'd have to tack in virtually opposite directions to pick off readers from each other. It's much more likely they'll try the same sorts of moves.
Bold moves, or play it safe?
The boldest thing either could try would be narrowing his book's editorial mission and personality. That would push away longtime readers and reduce the magazines' mass appeal, but it might also make them more interesting and deliver the kind of attention now captured by The Economist -- the much smaller but more opinionated and steadily growing news weekly. And as advertisers increasingly drool over precision marketing and "engaged" audiences, redefining their readerships could be the best story these books could possibly tell.
But their bosses may not allow the editors to take any such risks.
If on the other hand, Messrs. Stengel and Meacham stick to trying to improve newsstand sales -- which would also impress advertisers -- with somehow improved versions of their titles' frequent covers about Jesus and health, can they really expect to make a mark?
Their achievements or failures will be revealed by the paid circulation, the recent history of which bores everyone to tears: both Time and Newsweek have essentially the same paid circulation that they did 10 years ago, with newsstand declines mostly made up for by subscriber growth.
The new editor who can get those numbers up will be called a winner. A new editor who lets those numbers sink to produce a more targeted, more lively magazine will be called brave.
Newsweek declined to comment on the reported editorial changes, which first appeared in The New York Post.