• U.S.

Press: Newsweek’s Outsider Bows Out

5 minute read
William A. Henry III

And an insider steps up as its sixth top editor since 1972

When William Broyles took over as editor in chief of Newsweek in September 1982, the choice was widely seen as quirky. He had run successful magazines, Texas Monthly and California, but had almost no background in news coverage. Yet there was a bold rationale to the move: Broyles, with no ties to the magazine’s past, would not feel hidebound by its traditions. A Texan, he would bring a heartland perspective to a magazine perhaps oriented too much toward New York City and Washington. While others were caught up in day-to-day reportage of events, he could develop long-term projects. Said Newsweek’s owner, Katharine Graham: “He will add a whole new dimension.”

From the start, however, Broyles’ tenure was troubled. He not only remained the outsider, but was sharply criticized by some of his staff for concentrating on features that resembled pop sociology, and by others for failing to take charge on breaking news stories. Said one Newsweek Washington correspondent: “No one got a clear idea of the direction in which he wanted to take the magazine.” Rumors floated repeatedly that he was about to quit. Last week, at what was scheduled to be a routine story conference, Broyles, 39, proved the speculation true by announcing his resignation. He plans to write about his experiences as a Marine lieutenant in Viet Nam in 1969-70. Said Broyles: “I do not want to edit any more.”

To replace him, Graham chose Executive Editor Richard Smith, 37, who joined Newsweek in 1970; it has been his only employer. A former writer and reporter who specialized in international coverage. Smith has edited the magazine’s international editions for the past year.

Smith will be Newsweek’s sixth top editor since 1972. During that time, the magazine, which is a subsidiary of the Washington Post Co., has also had seven presidents. At the publication’s 50th anniversary party last February, Humorist Art Buchwald cracked that Broyles was “the editor of the month.” One major reason for the frequent turnover, according to company executives, is Graham’s dissatisfaction with the pace of Newsweek’s efforts to catch up with TIME. Although advertising increased under Broyles, Newsweek’s share of the total ad revenue for all U.S. magazines dropped during the first eleven months of 1983 from 5.7% to 5.6%, while TIME’S rose from 7.5% to 7.6%. From mid-1982 to mid-1983, Newsweek’s U.S. circulation edged up by about 22,000, to 3.02 million; TIME’S rose 164,000, to 4.7 million. There have been persistent rumors, firmly denied by Graham, that the magazine might be up for sale.

The rise of the well-regarded Smith was a setback to another insider, Editor Maynard Parker, 43, who as Broyles’ deputy was making the week-to-week decisions much of the time. Smith is expected to be a hands-on editor, probably diminishing Parker’s role. The two men are close friends, however, and Parker said last week, “I intend to soldier on.”

The incident that may have soured Parker’s prospects was the handling of diaries purportedly written by Adolf Hitler. Last April Newsweek and other organizations bargained unsuccessfully for U.S. publication rights from the West German photo weekly Stern. Under Parker’s supervision, Newsweek then ran an all but breathless cover story, synopsizing the memoirs, which included the memorable lines “Hitler’s diaries—genuine or not, it almost doesn’t matter in the end.” After they had been exposed as forgeries, Newsweek ran a second cover suggesting that it had played a major role in uncovering the fraud. Says one Newsweek veteran: “That episode killed Parker. There were expressions of high-echelon support, but it was poor judgment, and everyone knew it.”

Broyles’ era included other questionable decisions. In September 1982, an obituary for Grace Kelly remained as the cover story even after hundreds of Palestinians had been massacred by Lebanese Christians in refugee camps in an Israeli-controlled section of Beirut. Broyles’ explanation: he did not know he could switch covers on a Saturday, as TIME did. Last August a provocative story on the impact of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) on the gay community was illustrated by a cover photograph of two men in an embrace.

But amid the occasional misadventures, Broyles brought a number of achievements to the magazine. Newsweek produced a special issue in February that looked at 50 years of U.S. history through the lives of five ordinary families in Springfield, Ohio, and stretched the newsmagazine concept with a 25-page special report on a killer’s road to the brink of execution. Broyles successfully sought to have stories be more “rooted” in the nation’s basic concerns, a concept he expressed by using the word America, in some form, 14 times on twelve covers in 1983. Broyles, says a Washington correspondent, “won support for his idea that the news grew out of long-term trends, and that Newsweek should spot and report those trends before anybody else.” Smith credits Broyles with shrewd hiring, including 25% of the magazine’s correspondents. He also supervised a long-heralded redesign of the magazine, which has received Graham’s approval but has not yet been put into use. Because of Broyles, says Smith, “we are not in a period where Newsweek has to be radically redefined.”

Smith’s sudden promotion was as big a surprise to him as to anyone else: the 6-ft. 5-in. outdoorsman was on vacation near Brattleboro, Vt., and had just come home from a flying lesson when he got a telephone call from Broyles, summoning him back to New York. Smith asked, “Can I come back to Vermont after the meeting?” Replied Broyles: “I don’t think you are going to want to.” Next morning Graham gave Smith the good news over breakfast, and he took charge as soon as the decision was announced. Said the exuberant Smith: “Why not start at the Start?” — By William A. Henry III.

Reported by Marcia Gauger/New York and Hays Gorey/Washington

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