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The Disappearing Title of Magazine Editor in Chief

by News Desk

When Laura Brown, the popular editor in chief of InStyle, departed the title earlier this year at the same time as it was revealed that its print edition was ending after close to three decades, no public announcement was made about her successor to run digital operations.

But an inquiry to the PR department of Dotdash Meredith, which last year acquired Meredith titles such as InStyle, People and Entertainment Weekly, resulted in the answer: Laura Norkin, previously deputy editor, will be overseeing InStyle as senior editorial director. In her new role she’ll work closely with Leta Shy, the former editor in chief of Condé Nast-owned Self, who will join Dotdash Meredith in June as senior vice president and group general manager of beauty and style, looking after Brides, Byrdie, InStyle and Shape.

The message appeared to be that at InStyle, gone are the days of big flashy announcements about top editors and also the actual editor in chief title.

And the fashion publication isn’t the only one that has lost the lofty editor in chief title. After just a year in the job, Mary Margaret quietly exited the role of editor in chief at Entertainment Weekly, which also had its print component axed, and has been succeeded by EW executive editor Patrick Gomez, who has been named to the position of general manager. Shape, EatingWell, Health, and People en Español, all now digital-only, are also all without an editor in chief.

For now, People, its biggest cash cow, still has an editor in chief, as do a handful of other titles.

Explaining the new structure, a Dotdash Meredith spokeswoman said: “All of our magazines have editors in chief who lead content and editorial for print and help set the overall direction for the brands across all platforms, working closely with the brand general manager. All digital content (whether for a digital+print brand or a digital-only brand) is driven by senior editorial directors, who typically oversee groups of editorial directors and editors and report to general managers.”

The exception to the rule is Parents, which was made digital-only earlier this year, but still has an editor in chief.

As for what the general manager does, the role looks to be a modern-day term for publishers, with Dotdash Meredith describing the position as “business leads for each brand, setting overall direction, working closely with editorial, content strategy, business development, audience development and marketing for each brand.”

Of the trend of disappearing editors in chief, Aileen Gallagher, associate professor of magazine, news and digital journalism at Syracuse University, said: “Editor in chief is a title that is very associated with print and as time goes on and you have audiences and also frankly employees that are not wedded to print, that title becomes less important to them.”

At Complex Networks, now owned by BuzzFeed Inc., the traditional editor in chief role has been split in two. Aria Hughes was recently named editorial creative director, charged with managing the vertical leads, as well as digital covers and feature ideas, while executives are searching for an editorial strategy director, responsible for overseeing the news operation as well as SEO lists, traffic, volume and engagement. Both these roles will report to Aia Adriano, former director of social, who has been promoted to vice president of content.

“Complex had kept what I would call maybe a rigid structure and hierarchy based on our previous model of being a print magazine first and then eventually a dot-com website and that is a very strict editorial structure where all roads lead to the editor in chief as the gatekeeper of taste and tone for the brand,” Donnie Kwak, general manager of Complex Networks of the recent changes.

“In the years since, we’ve evolved from a print magazine to digital to video to audio to experiential,” he explained. “While the dot-com product and the text product is still an integral part of what we do, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of Complex the brand. So rather than have an editor in chief position which is responsible for yaying and naying everything across everything we do, I thought it made more sense to have a specific role of creative director for our editorial product to work alongside the leader of our video product and our social product and our collaborations and our experiential director.”

To date, though, the biggest publisher to start the trend was Condé Nast, the owner of Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Glamour and The New Yorker, among others. Beginning in 2020, a number of editors in chief around the globe, many of whom had been in the position for years, departed, leaving spectators with questions.

They were soon answered when Anna Wintour was appointed chief content officer and global editorial director of Vogue and a handful of editors in chief were made editorial content heads for particular regions as the publisher looked to streamline its editions after merging U.S. and international operations and save costs amid the global pandemic.

As part of the changes, Edward Enninful, the widely celebrated top editor at British Vogue who is said to be an eventual successor to Wintour, was promoted to European editorial director of Vogue for the markets owned and operated by Condé Nast, which include the U.K., France, Italy, Germany and Spain. While Wintour and Enninful are still listed as editors in chief of American Vogue and British Vogue, respectively, many of the other titles have been given a head of editorial content like Eugénie Trochu at the newly named Vogue France.

This did not go down well with everyone. As previously reported by WWD, Celine’s artistic, creative and image director Hedi Slimane was understood to be so upset by former Vogue Paris editor in chief Emmanuelle Alt’s departure that Vogue Runway was not invited to cover Celine’s spring 2022 virtual show and hit the brakes on some advertising with the Vogue brand.

The changes have happened not just at Vogue but also other Condé titles including Vanity Fair, GQ, Condé Nast Traveler and Architectural Digest. For Vanity Fair, Simone Marchetti has been promoted to European editorial director, inclusive of the editions published in France, Italy and Spain. Vanity Fair’s U.S. and U.K. editions will continue to be overseen by editor in chief Radhika Jones. 

For now, the U.S. versions of Teen Vogue, Self and Glamour, all digital-only publications, still have editors in chief.



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