The new executive editor of Time magazine brings more than an impressive resume and wall covered with awards to her new position.
Martha Nelson also brings a Midwestern perspective to the job that was nurtured in Pierre and continues today in Rapid City, where her mother lives and she owns a second home.
"Having come from the middle of the country gives me a different perspective on some issues and how people might respond," said Nelson, who is Time's first female executive editor. "When I think about something that might go on the cover, I'm not just thinking about a 40 square mile block of Manhattan. I'm thinking about people I grew up with in South Dakota."
The 60-year-old Nelson has spent 20 years at Time Inc., part of the time in Australia. She was editor for Time Inc.’s Style & Entertainment Group, a group editor for Time Inc., editor of the PEOPLE Group and the founding editor of InStyle magazine, a project near and dear to Nelson’s heart.
Before that, she worked as an editor at Savvy Magazine, Women’s Sports & Fitness, Ms. Magazine, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society.
Nelson humbly acknowledged her role as the first female editor-in-chief while thanking the women and men who came before her.
"As the first woman I'm certainly aware of my role and well aware of the work and the sacrifices that women in the company made a generation ago that make it possible for me to be here," she said. "But I was also strongly mentored and encouraged and put on the path to this job by the men who were my bosses."
Nelson didn’t set out to be a journalist, however. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Barnard College.
Her mother, Pauline “Polly” Donaldson, believes her children’s childhood education in Pierre and during the seven years the family spent in Saskatchewan, Canada, played an instrumental role in fostering her daughter’s love of words and a career in magazine publishing.
“In Canada composition was a separate course from English,” Donaldson said. “The composition teachers graded everything that was written, and there were daily composition lessons.”
Donaldson noted that her daughter is taking the helm at Time during a period that has been difficult for the magazine industry. But some of Nelson’s personality traits may be well-suited to that challenge, she said.
“Martha was always quite adventuresome,” Donaldson said. “She’s very willing to try things.”
Nelson has received a number of honors while advancing in the world of publishing.
Forbes magazine named her one of the “World’s Most Powerful Women” three years in a row. She was named one of Variety’s inaugural "Power Women" in 2009 and named Editor of the Year by Adweek in 2006.
She also received The Women’s Media Center’s first “Going the Distance” award in 2012 for her contributions to advancing the visibility and power of women and girls in the media.
“She’s gotten awards like crazy,” her mother said. ”She is very, very generous with all the organizations that need her” — but also with her family.
“She’s been a very good daughter to me,” Donaldson said, “and a good sister.”