A change in leadership can be a defining moment for any brand. When that brand is a popular international news and culture publication, a shift in leadership can open up the opportunity for a new vision or a chance for the new leader to reinforce the brand’s current message. And, sometimes, the new leader is caught in the middle between ownership that wants a little – or a lot – of both.
When Radhika Jones took over as editor of Vanity Fair, she entered a situation in which the magazine’s ownership is engaged in a stark and wide-reaching cost-cutting program. Positions are being eliminated and some media properties are being off-loaded, even as Jones begins her tenure.
In an interview with CNN about the new challenges she faces, Jones was positive and upbeat, saying it’s a “vital time” to be in the media business. A veteran of both hard news and popular media, Jones brings a strong sense of media culture and a recognition of the tectonic shifts happening in the industry, largely driven by populist and consumer trends.
And Jones’ message? She knows what her audience wants: “Audiences are hungry for new faces and new voices… My goal is to reflect the culture as I see it…” And, culture as she sees it appears to be young, diverse, and groundbreaking. In recent months, Vanity Fair has put Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, Michael B. Jordan, and Kendrick Lamar on the cover.
Some of her editorial choices have surprised loyal Vanity Fair readers, and Jones said this is a good thing. “It’s been heartening to me to hear that people are surprised by our cover choices…”
One of the biggest challenges put to the new editor was the future of the publication, specifically in print. Jones said she fully expects Vanity Fair to still be available in print in a decade, maybe longer. She said, despite many reports to the contrary, media consumption is not a “zero sum game.” People are consuming both print and digital, so she’s not going to give up on print any time soon.
That’s not to say Jones won’t look toward expanding on Vanity Fair’s online and social footprint. Those efforts, apparently, are partly to entice more subscribers, rather than trying to depend entirely on advertising efforts. This is a tough tightrope to walk for any media editor. Advertising has been a longstanding moneymaker for media, but that market is redefining itself almost by the day. Media companies continue to look for both short- and long-term solutions.
That’s not to say Jones is stepping away from the brand’s successful backstory. “You want to learn what the traditions are, (those) that are worth keeping and that are valuable… Then you want to learn which habits that maybe could be broken… The truth is, Vanity Fair has this fantastic formula, back from when Tina Brown reinvented it in the 1980’s. It’s about a mix of high and low. We cover these certain areas: politics and technology and finance and course Hollywood and celebrity culture. And those things are really the same. We’re doing those stories.”