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Kelly takes Time off

Editor ankles mag for post at Time Inc.

Time Magazine managing editor Jim Kelly is leaving the publication to take a job within Time Inc., opening up a hole at the top of the country’s biggest weekly.

Time already has someone in its sights, saying it would name someone within the next few days.

Despite its humble-sounding name, the title of Time ME reps the lead day-to-day edit role at the pub and one of the most prestigious jobs in magazine publishing.

Kelly’s new gig will be the newly created role of Time Inc. managing editor, where he will oversee standards at Time Inc.’s many books as well develop the larger policy for the slate of mags.

By Tuesday afternoon in Gotham, replacement names were already flying: insiders like Steve Koepp, Kelly’s deputy and the former chief of Time.com; outsiders like Jon Meacham, Kelly’s Newsweek counterpart; and name-brand choices like Tina Brown and Adam Moss, the former New York Times Magazine editor who has recently re-engineered New York magazine.

Koepp would fit with company’s desire to amp up online operations in the face of intensifying competish from blogs and newspaper Websites.

At the same time, tapping a figure who has a track record of reinvention–both Moss and Brown fall into this category–would be the more dramatic move. (Koepp, incidentally, has a Hollywood connection–he co-wrote the screenplay for early 90’s Ron Howard pic “The Paper.”)

Another candidate, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, is seen as a wild card. Weisberg has spent much of his career at Slate, first as a writer and now as its editor-in-chief, and may be the person who best represents the idea of melding online buzz with a serious news sensibility.

Rumors that Kelly would be removed had been circulating for weeks. At a celeb-heavy event thrown last week by the mag for its Time 100 issue, tongues were wagging about a possible departure.

Still, Time Inc. spokespeople continued to deny any tension between Kelly and his boss, Time editor-in-chief James Huey, or that a removal was imminent.

Time Inc. has been one of the more embattled of Time Warner’s largely successful divisions, and Time magazine hasn’t been immune to the bumps of circulation and ad pages.

Still, the choice comes at a curious juncture. So far this year, Time Magazine is up nearly 5% in ad pages over the same period in a dismal 2005. And the title just received the National Magazine Award for general excellence, its first such win since the mid-1980’s.

Kelly took over as Time topper nearly six years ago, at the foment of celeb weeklies. As the head of the mag world’s most venerable, but also most widely circulated, weekly he has been forced to tiptoe on the line between shifting consumer tastes and the magazine’s journalistic tradition.

The news focus Kelly honed as a writer (he has worked for the paper in some capacity for nearly 30 years) was leavened with it share of service and celeb-oriented pieces.

The mag was also perceived as late to the online game, though it recently hired bloggers like Andrew Sullivan to beef up its presence among younger and non-print readers.

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