NEW YORK — The likelihood of turning GQ into a beer and babes (or muscle and fitness) title seemed to diminish Tuesday with the announcement that the magazine’s co-executive editor Jim Nelson has been named its new editor in chief.

This story first appeared in the March 26, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A longtime favorite of the staff, Nelson, 40, had been backed by the magazine’s current editor in chief, Art Cooper, though the final decision was said to be handled by Condé Nast’s editorial director James Truman and S.I. Newhouse, chairman of Advance Publications (which also owns WWD). Cooper announced in February he plans to retire in June. The September issue is the first expected to bear Nelson’s stamp.

While the announcement came as a sign that Condé Nast was confident with the magazine’s editorial direction, Nelson will be fighting an uphill battle. GQ’s newsstand position has been sliding significantly in recent years, partially as a result of magazines like Maxim, Men’s Health and FHM. Although GQ’s single-copy sales advanced 5 percent during the final six months of 2002, that capped off three years of diminishing performances on the newsstand.

But, for the most part, there was a pleased sense of surprise among editors in the industry that GQ would not be taking a downmarket approach at a time when other high-end titles have increasingly chosen editors with more mass-market sensibilities.

“I think Maxim is a good magazine, I read it and I like it,” Nelson said, “but I don’t want to be it.

“I want to renew the interest in service and fashion components. I want to sharpen our focus on that,” he added in a phone interview Tuesday. “But I don’t see that as being mutually exclusive of great journalism and excellent writing. I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think there was going to be a home for that.”

Truman could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in a statement cited Nelson’s background in “literature and politics to popular culture and fashion” as one of the main reasons for his appointment.

Nelson began his career as a writer and producer at CNN, and then went to Harper’s Magazine, where he was responsible for editing the magazine’s readings section. He joined GQ in 1997 as senior editor and was promoted to co-executive editor last year.

Condé Nast’s decision to pluck from inside the ranks of GQ was also a surprise because in recent years, it had made a trend of bringing in talent from the outside. Although Cindi Leive, the current editor of Glamour, had been a protégé of late editor Ruth Whitney, she came in after a tumultuous period at the magazine under Bonnie Fuller, who had been purged from Hearst’s Cosmopolitan. Other editors, like Kim France of Lucky, Mandi Norwood of Mademoiselle (now folded) and Chris Anderson of Wired, were hired from outside the company.

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