By  on February 22, 2002

NEW YORK -- Sighs of relief, both over the ones taking over and the one who is leaving.

That was the reaction Thursday morning of staffers at In Style and People on hearing the long-expected news that Martha Nelson, managing editor of In Style, will succeed Carol Wallace as managing editor at People. Charla Lawhon, executive editor at In Style, will take over Nelson's job at In Style. The appointments are effective April 1.

Staffers at In Style were pleased one of their own is moving up to the top chair, while many of the People staff were relieved they soon will see the back of Wallace. While recognized as very smart, the common view is that she is a nightmare to work with. Nelson, on the other hand, is considered by many to be a dream boss.

The changes come at a critical time in magazine publishing and both People and In Style have been severely affected. As reported, In Style's ad pages dove 11.8 percent in March 2002 compared with March 2001, to 260.3 from 295, but the decline was smaller than some of its competitors.

Yet insiders at both titles don't expect any major upheavals -- at least in the short term. As Cindy Weber Cleary, In Style's fashion news director, said, "For now, if it ain't broke, why change it? I don't see a reason for her [Lawhon] to make radical changes. She'll want to make some changes and put her stamp on it."

The question is when that will happen and how much latitude Lawhon will have to tinker with the In Style formula. Nelson faces many of same challenges as she steps into Wallace's shoes at the juggernaut that has been People. She also is moving from the love-and-kisses world of the monthly In Style to the more cut-throat attitude of the weekly People. While Nelson was at People before helping to found In Style, she doesn't have Wallace's hard news background.

But many of those questions weren't even raised Thursday as staffers were told of the appointments. The mood at In Style Thursday was upbeat, as editors were relieved the top job wasn't given to an outsider. "People like Charla. She's a known quantity, not an unknown," said one staffer. And of course, the fact that she's worked with everybody there makes the editors feel their jobs are pretty secure.

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