Briton lands top US magazine job

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NEW YORK - The magazine world here has been the object of 'the British invasion' for a decade now, but nobody was quite prepared for the news that a 35-year-old former writer for the London weekly Ham and High is to become the most influential editor on Madison Avenue, writes Larry Black.

Si Newhouse, the owner of Conde Nast Publications, rocked the US publishing and advertising industries yesterday by naming James Truman, editor of Details magazine, to succeed Alexander Liberman, 81, as the group's editorial director. The appointment vaults the one- time arts reporter for the Hampstead and Highgate Express over the heads of the editors of 13 of America's best-selling magazines, including Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ.

Until yesterday, rumours suggested Mr Liberman - dean of the industry for 34 years - would abdicate in favour of Tina Brown, Harold Evans or Anna Wintour.

Ms Brown, formerly of The Tatler, came to New York in the mid-1980s to take charge of Vanity Fair, more recently moving to The New Yorker, where she imported a raft of British writers and editors. Mr Evans, her husband and the former editor of the Times and Sunday Times, ran a number of Conde Nast titles before becoming publisher of its sister company, Random House. Ms Wintour is the editor of Vogue.

Mr Liberman has been regarded as a magazine guru, vetting the covers and layouts of the entire Conde Nast stable, and intervening more directly when one of the titles ran into trouble. Mr Truman thus appears to have his hands full when he takes over on 1 April; fewer than half the magazines are believed to be making money, although the privately held firm publishes no figures.

But Mr Truman, who was originally hired by Vogue in 1988 after a stint as US editor of The Face, is going out of his way to lower expectations. 'I should regard this job as a position of influence rather than power,' he said.

For all his youth, however, Mr Truman has an impressive track record at Conde Nast, transforming Details, a downtown arts publication it acquired in 1990, into a hip monthly magazine for young men with a circulation of 480,000.