Discover more from My Goodness! From Jo Elvin
The 'c' word that offends me the most
Look closely and you can see my little peanut head somewhere in this photo. It’s a gathering of the editors of the international editions of Glamour magazine, in Paris in early 2017. In a second I’ll explain what was great about these semi-regular meetings of ours. Why am I mentioning it now?
Because, as a former magazine editor, and a former employee of Conde Nast (the company that publishes Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Tatler and more) a lot of people have been asking me about the Edward Enninful news this week. The British Vogue editor announced in a statement that next year, he will be standing down from the role as Editor-in-Chief, and being promoted to a newly created position of ‘editorial advisor of British Vogue, and creative and cultural advisor of Vogue’.
The bit of the statement that piqued my interest - while also making my eyes roll north and my heart sink - was that while they are now looking for Edward’s replacement at UK Vogue, the position is not Editor-in-Chief, but rather ‘head of editorial content’. It’s very telling: I’d wager that whoever takes the role will not have anything like the creative autonomy enjoyed by any of their predecessors.
This is how they reframed the job at Glamour when my role - editor - was made redundant in late 2017. They replaced the role with something called a ‘chief content officer’. It didn’t take long for the content officer to win an argument that she needed the editor title. Understandably, fashion and beauty PRs had no earthly clue what this new job meant, and so the head of the magazine found herself being overlooked for important invitations in favour of those more junior to her; they still had the word ‘editor’ somewhere in their titles, and so the outside world could make sense of what they did.
What a strange time for a prestigious fashion magazine when, whoever rises to be its new leader, has to swallow a title that sounds like they work in loss adjustment at an insurance company. I should probably get over how offensive I find the word ‘content’ in this context. But it’s so clinical, don’t you think? I remember when we used to feel passionately that readers devoured their favourite magazines for yes, the contents, but also the intimate connection they felt in discovering their ‘tribe’, a secret world all their own. That is what we sold, to readers and advertisers, and proudly. ‘Head of content’ really signals to me that the accountants are in the driving seat and they think they’re manufacturing something akin to homogenised tins of soup.
For a few years now, the company has been on a march towards flattening the structures of their magazines. When I launched Glamour, in 2001, there was pride in the variety exhibited amongst all our different international editions. There was a set of ‘brand values’ that we all adhered to, yes. In Glamour’s case, the spirit of each magazine was aimed at young women who cared about their careers and financial independence - ‘for the girl with a job’, was the tagline of 1960s version of the first Glamour, the US edition. But each country’s editor - from the UK, to Russia, to Greece, Poland and beyond - was encouraged to give their edition the local flavour. I loved devouring every country’s edition because I learnt so much about how geography and culture shaped young women across the world. When we editors convened annually to share ideas, we would be fascinated - and laugh a lot - at things like, how French women really seemed to loathe most mainstream celebrities that would sell like hotcakes anywhere else in the world. (I kind of adore that about French women.)
These days, the company has moved to a model whereby each global title has one overarching editor who is the editor of each international edition. Then every local magazine has someone at the top of the masthead who reports into that editor. A great song and dance was made a few years ago of what a bold, brilliant new era this was when magazines would share great swathes of words and pictures, rather than producing their own local content. (Yes, I know I said content. Ugh. Sorry.)
To me, it’s one of the single most depressing things to happen in magazine history. I want to buy Italian Vogue to see a window into Italian culture. I want to see what their editorial team would do differently to the British or American or Australian. I don’t want to see replication between these titles. And I don’t see the point of buying multiple editions of titles if that’s what I’m getting.
There are of course still differences in each of these magazines. US and UK Vogue aren’t sharing a ton of covers and I’ve written before about how often Korean Vogue flouts all the accepted magazine wisdom by constantly featuring male pop stars on their cover. But these titles are all being increasingly encouraged to share editorial. Many staff - bookings editors, stylists etc - are working across multiple titles to produce photo shoots for the whole group. And surely, with fewer editors overseeing more titles, it can only naturally lead to less variety?
GQ magazine seems to be the most hubbed of the stable at the moment, sharing some covers since they announced a couple of years ago that they’d be leaning more heavily into globalising the brand. My guess is that this latest development at Vogue indicates more of this is incoming. One editor having international reach and the power to steer the creative vision of several Vogues. A content head back in London who is pointedly not being titled as an editor-in-chief - the job description says the role will report to an editor-in-chief, but that’s confusing, if they’re also dispensing with that title.
Is this really the best idea for a brand that is supposed to be the gold standard in creativity? And is it a job any editor would do willingly? No one goes into magazines for the salary. We do it for the creative stimulation, the fascinating people from all walks of life we’ll meet, the adrenaline rush of producing a cover that gets everyone talking and yes, all the glamorous perks like parties, fashion shows, travel. There are often brutally long days, and a fair amount of monotony - at least for the kinds of hands-on editor I was, where I read every last caption several times over before a mag of mine left the building. Ultimately, I always found it an incredibly fun and often glamorous way to make a living.
If I was still doing it, I’d struggle, to put it mildly, in the face of these moves that in my opinion are in play to diminish the significance of the editor role. A friend of mine told me this morning that there’s a Facebook group where my name’s one of those being guessed at as moving to the Vogue job. Trust me, neither they, nor I, are up for that. The whole thing makes me so thankful I’m the age I am and got to work in magazines when they actually wanted editors.
My Goodness! From Jo Elvin is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.