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Meet Fortune’s new editor, Clifton Leaf

Questions for the new boss: How do you cover Trump? And what’s going to happen if Time Inc. has new owners?

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Fortune magazine has a new editor in chief: Clifton Leaf, a veteran of the magazine whose last job was deputy editor, succeeds Alan Murray, who is now running content across all of parent company Time Inc.

Next question: How long will Leaf get to keep that job?

Time Inc. is currently considering offers for all or part of the company, which means Leaf’s job, along with everyone else’s job at the storied magazine publisher, is up in the air.

Leaf’s the wrong guy to ask about that — “we read the news just like everybody else,” he says — but he was happy to answer other questions about his new gig, the future of his magazine and the magazine industry at large.

Peter Kafka: There’s no point in asking you if you’re optimistic about your new job, because you’re supposed to be optimistic.

Cliff Leaf: [Laughs] I am. I’m very optimistic.

But from the outside, the future of storied magazine titles looks fuzzy at best.

Absolutely. If I were writing about this magazine from the outside, I would really think about this as a brand, not just a magazine.

We’ve been exploding on lots of fronts. Our digital platform is growing very well. We’re on track to hit almost 23 million uniques in March [via internal/Omniture], which would be a huge month for us. We’re really hoping to steadily exceed 20 million. We’re going to grow that. And in the conference division, which is a huge part of what we do, and a huge extension of our brand — that part’s been growing like wildfire.

I’m really happy about all that. I think the magazine itself — we just keep churning out good stories and good journalism. I don’t see that ending anytime soon.

If I was thinking honestly about the magazine industry, we’re obviously seeing the decline of print. We’ve seen that across every part of print. Magazines, newspapers, phone books, papyrus scrolls. This isn’t a new story.

But I think there’s still a place for really great print products.

I’ve talked to people who’ve looked at Time Inc.’s business. They think that there’s real value in the brands, but that a new owner would want to cut the employee base significantly [Time Inc. employed more than 7,400 people at the end of last year]. The company has gone through several rounds of cuts over the years. Could you function if you had more cuts?

No, not really. Not with a much, much smaller staff, because I think we’re pretty lean now. We’ve made a lot of cuts — I think we’re in a nice fighting trim now.

Everybody wants more resources. I think certainly we do. But I think that overall, certainly at Fortune, I don’t see us getting much smaller than we do now.

Everyone in media is trying to figure out how to cover Donald Trump, and how much to cover him. How are you thinking about that?

We certainly write about Trump with respect to his impact on business and the economy. But the story of business is much larger than Trump, it’s much larger than the administration, it’s much larger than anything Congress throws out. Whatever the story is, we’ll go tell it.

Any big changes planned for your next six months?

I am really excited about the core storytelling that Fortune has always been famous for. I want to really invest in storytelling.

We’re known for telling great, provocative, thoughtful stories about business. I think what you’ll see is an even more ambitious roster of great stories.

That’s not really a change, though.

I think even more ambitious, and I think some longer things.

I haven’t really sat down to say, “I’m going to change this, I’m going to change that.” I’ve been all of about three hours into the job.

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