Transcript: Time magazine's Nancy Gibbs

  • 01/08/2015
Transcript: Time magazine's Nancy Gibbs

Lisa Owen: Now, changing tack now. Nancy Gibbs is the first woman to lead the iconic Time magazine. What's more, she's leading it into the digital age with her appointment in 2013, heralding a shake-up in the magazine's online offerings. And if that wasn't enough, her cover story this week is one of her many works on US presidential politics, which includes two fascinating books. She's in New Zealand as the Fulbright fellow, and she joins me now. Thank you for joining us.

Nancy Gibbs: Nice to be with you.

This week's Time cover — we've got it here — with Bush and Clinton on the front cover — just not Hillary and Jeb — so is this an implied prediction of how it's going to end up?

It's not, although we just never could have imagined a moment in history where you could have two former presidents from different parties who have become friends with on another now sitting on the sidelines with the prospect that one man's wife and the other man's brother might be— end up fighting it out to get the job that both of them have held. You just couldn't make this up if you were writing a screenplay. And so we wanted to sit down with the two of them and see what this campaign, at this very early stage, looks like from their perspective, because they really do have a unique perspective on it.

Yeah, and as you point out in this article, nine out of the 10 last presidential races, you either had a Bush or a Clinton featured in it, and you've got George calling Bill 'the brother from another mother.' Is this kind of something that is wrong with American politics — this sort of dynasty — and power concentrated in a handful of families?

It is certainly something that a lot of American voters have expressed some discomfort with, and the polling going in this campaign has consistently shown that people want to have a much wider range of choices than just people with two very familiar last names, so, you know, having said that Republican party so far has served up 16 candidates running, and so if it ends up that — and it's way too soon to know — if it ends up a Bush is running against a Clinton, it will not be because voters didn't have a choice to go in a different direction.

But is there— is there a path to victory for a party that chooses to throw up a really fresh face?

I think there absolutely is, and the evidence of that is what happened, you know, in 2008, where here comes Barack Obama, who had been virtually completely unknown. He had only been elected to the Senate two years before, who virtually comes out of nowhere. At that point Hillary Clinton was ahead by 30 points in the polls, and he ends up winning the nomination, so there's an immediate precedent for someone coming from behind and ending up prevailing and getting the nomination of their party.

But do we see these names and these families over and over again because it comes down to money — the people who can raise the money to run in a presidential election?

Well, the role of money in our campaigns, you know, has been quite a contentious one, and at the moment the ability of a lot of different people to raise money or to find a billionaire to support them has become more and more common, so, no, there really isn't a financial monopoly even to these two families who both have extremely sophisticated and effective fundraising networks. So I don't think it really comes down to money. I think it's a funny thing that in some ways, you know, a brand name is valuable and comfortable. It sort of depends on the mood of the country and how much they're looking for something new versus something that's familiar and safe.

Well, while we're on the topic of money — Donald Trump, because he's got lots of money—

As he keeps telling us.

And he's ahead in the polls. Is he a flash in the pan, or is there something more to him?

Well, so, last time around in the Republican nominating race, there was a different supernova every week, and so we are sort of accustomed to this. That especially at these very early stages, people will rise and fall — sometimes very surprising figures. I think for sheer entertainment value, it's hard to beat someone like Donald Trump, which is why here we are in New Zealand talking about him, and it— one recent survey found out that he has had more air time on the evening news in the US than all the other candidates combined.

Well, when he says things like this— I mean one of the things he said is 'When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best — they're bringing drugs, and they're bringing crime, and they're rapists,' and then you've also got Mike Huckabee talking about Obama and the Iranians, saying that Obama, 'He will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.' Is that kind of politics of outrage what it has come down to? Is that how you get noticed in that political landscape?

I think that the issue of outrage- we're living in an age of outrage. All anyone has to do is go on to Twitter and look at the continuous volume of fury that many of our political systems seem to be generating, and it's easy to be disturbed by that. It's also true, I think, again at this very early stage you do have candidates who are desperately trying to separate themselves and get attention. And as you may know, the first of the presidential debates is happening next week, and because there are so many candidates, only the ones in the top 10 can be in the debate, which really gives them all an incentive to say something that is outrageous and that gets them a lot of attention just in hopes of getting over that threshold.

In the time we've got left, I want to talk about changing media. Now, we've got your magazine from this week, and holding it in your hand, it's a different kind of experience. It's a real tactile experience, different to reading something online. But do you think anyone will be waving a magazine around in 20 years' time?

I do. It's an- In a way, I don't care. What I care about is that the audience for important, serious, fascinating stories continues to grow. And so what's most exciting to me is that I have the biggest audience that Time has ever had in its history, and some of it is consuming our content in print and some in digital and some in video, and there has never been more ways to tell important stories. So how much of our audience is on what platform, I don't care as much about.

But many of them aren't paying for it, are they? Many of them aren't paying for it. So how do you make the journalism pay?

So that is a different and very important question that all of us are facing – what is the business model to support journalism going forward? And it keeps on shifting. Fortunately, our print platform is still very robust; actually growing this year, even as the digital is growing even faster and video is growing fastest of all. I think they're all going to be shifting and rising and falling as budget shift. I don't want to get a point where journalism becomes a sort of a charitable enterprise that has to be supported by benevolent patrons or foundations.

Or wealthy families.

Or wealthy individuals. I think it is really important that we'd be able to do the hard, difficult, expensive work of covering big, important stories; covering the front lines of some of the conflicts around the world, where those stories must be told. But I'm very- I'm actually very confident that we're going to find our way through what has been a dramatic period of transition for all of us and to a place where there is financial stability around us.

But you also talk about information overload, and I'm going to quote back to you here when you say, 'All that data can have that perverse effect of making us feel less aware, less informed, unsure what to believe or who to trust.' So isn't every website that wades into that, including Time and organisations, aren't you just adding to that kind of data that we're not sure which we should be reading, what we can trust?

Well, I think it is true that the more information is available, in a way more scarce understanding becomes, and that's actually- that's our opportunity, which is that people are so flooded by information that they do need someone who can help sort through what's worth paying attention to and what isn't, and so-

Well, the point is that you used to give us this once a week and told us what we needed to know. It was in a package – 'that's what you need to know this week.'

And we still do that, but we also do that now for the day and for the hour what we've always done for the week. So at any given time, in the morning if you log on to, the first thing we will present is, 'These are the five most important stories that you want to know before you walk out the door, just so that you're sort of up to date.' And so for people who want to be briefed, essentially, at any given time, we can cut through and do that kind of filtering function. And people are really busy. They don't have time to read, you know, 50 blogs and a hundred newspapers online. And so I do think that in a way the demand for what we do is only growing at a time where information comes at you so fast.

You talk about how we get on some firm financial footing so that we can fund the journalism. Give me one material way that we can do that.

To get on a firm financial footing?


I think to be much more creative about how— what it is that both readers want from us, because one source of our support is from our readers, and one source is from our advertisers, and I think we have to think just as creatively about what it is they need from us and not be sort of locked into what has worked in the past. If we are not innovating constantly, if we are not having a constant conversation about how all of our challenges are changing, then I do think that we're going to be left behind. But I think that if we are smart and nimble and fearless that there is a way, absolutely a way, forward, because the important thing is that the demand and the audience is so huge and so global. I love the fact that this time I've been in New Zealand this week, I have encountered so many Time readers, and people told me, 'I've been reading Time since I was a child,' or, 'I start every day with Time.' And, you know, that's a fantastic thing.

All right, thank you very much for joining us, Nancy Gibbs.

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