The power players at Condé Nast, the privately owned glossy and digital magazine publisher controlled by the media-centric Newhouse family, moved swiftly Thursday night to shoot down internal speculation that Vanity Fair Editor in Chief Radhika Jones is headed for the exit.
“There is absolutely no truth to the rumors,” said a spokesperson for Condé Nast, which—like other print media outlets—has suffered declining ad pages and other financial challenges with the rise of the internet over the past decade, especially the advertising dominance of Facebook and Google.
Internal chatter about a potential ouster of Jones, amid such struggles, moved around the Condé Nast offices at a frenzied pace this week, sources told The Daily Beast. The company was quick to affirm its support for the Vanity Fair chief, however.
“We are thrilled with what Radhika has accomplished with Vanity Fair—which has resulted in both increased subscriptions and growing digital audiences,” the spokesperson continued in an exclusive statement to The Daily Beast, ostensibly reflecting the views of Artistic Director Anna Wintour and Condé Nast’s global CEO Roger Lynch, “and are excited for what she has in store for the future of the brand.”
The 46-year-old Jones—a brainy academic (Harvard undergrad, with a doctorate in comparative literature from Columbia University)—took over the storied monthly in December 2017, with the support of Wintour and The New Yorker’s longtime Editor in Chief David Remnick, but in otherwise unenviable circumstances.
Barely known outside her circle of professional colleagues, she suddenly found herself braving a corporate culture that thrives on mean-spirited tongue-wagging—such as the widespread if erroneous gossip that had Jones leaving her perch at VF shortly after the magazine’s Academy Awards party in Los Angeles this past Sunday.
Immediately after her visit to the magazine’s offices in November 2017, a month before she formally occupied her new job in Freedom Tower, staffers infamously sniped to WWD about Jones’ “most offensive… choice of hosiery… not in a neutral black or gray as is common the halls of Vogue—but rather a pair covered with illustrated cartoon foxes.”
The article provoked general eye-rolling about Condé Nast’s alleged penchant for arrogance, elitism, and judgmental triviality. It also “touched a nerve online as the latest example of the constant scrutiny successful women face for how they look,” wrote Vox columnist Jen Kirby.
With a journalistic pedigree that included Paris Review, Artforum, the Moscow Times, Time magazine, and The New York Times’ book coverage—but no experience running her own title—Jones arrived amid painful layoffs, company-wide losses, and severe belt-tightening that seldom if ever plagued her celebrity-editor predecessor, Graydon Carter, who had reigned over Vanity Fair for a quarter-century.
Dismissing dozens of Carter-era loyalists to hire her own editors and writers—but with an austerely stringent budget—Jones promptly undertook to make the magazine’s focus younger, less glitzy, and more culturally and ethnically diverse.
She announced the new sensibility with her first big story—its subject appearing on the cover wearing a plain white T-shirt and dreadlocks—a profile of 33-year-old black lesbian screenwriter/producer/actress Lena Waithe.
Since that April 2018 issue, Jones has produced a magazine that traditionalists, inside and outside Condé Nast, have criticized as occasionally more woke than wonderful, and hardly respectful of a brand that—during the Carter years—purposefully appealed to readers in the middle of the country as well as on the supposedly stylish, sophisticated coasts.
Faced with declining print circulation, like many other magazines, Jones has also been grappling with a significant falloff in fashion advertising—once a reliable source of revenue for Vanity Fair and other glossies in the Condé Nast lineup.
While several observers attribute the decline to fashion advertisers’ active dislike of Jones’ less-glamorous product, a Condé Nast insider said Vanity Fair has been victim of a company-wide restructuring in which ad sales teams don’t work for specific titles, but instead follow the Facebook and Google model of selling ads based on categories such fashion, lifestyle, automotive, and others.
It’s a model that tends to discount the power of Condé Nast’s once-alluring magazine brands—one of many issues that Jones must address at Vanity Fair if she hopes to remain and succeed.
—Maxwell Tani contributed reporting.