Radhika Jones, the well regarded New York Times books editor, was just appointed as editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair; she is its first woman editor since Tina Brown and, more significantly, the first Indian-American woman to helm a major glossy in America, ever.
Jones is an exciting successor to the tony, elbow-rubbing Graydon Carter, who in his tenure elevated the magazine to a certain celebrity-bible status but was also notorious for its ghostly white Hollywood Issues. In recent years, as its website has grown and improved, its often stuffy in-book content has felt staler and staler; a running joke among avid readers (me) is that not an issue was printed without digging up some piece or another relating to the minutiae of the Kennedys.
Because so many of Vanity Fair’s print staffers have held their posts for so long, there seems to be “panic” among them, at least according to a Daily Beast piece entitled “‘Panic’ as Radhika Jones, Vanity Fair’s New Editor, Takes the Helm.” The Daily Beast details the mood among current VF staffers who, according to a “well connected editor,” “know that they’ve been on the gravy train for a long time. Clearly she’s going to have to go through the contributors and weed them out.” (I know where she should start.)
That quote refers both to the onslaught of cuts being made at Condé Nast that has so far included layoffs and the shuttering of Teen Vogue’s print edition, and also, presumably, the imminent end of the fancy lifestyles of longtime staffers. Some of the sources in the piece are as cutthroat as you’d expect in any good media story, but that takes on an added ominousness and condescension when you factor in Jones’s gender, race, and relative youth—she’s 44, compared to Carter, who is 68. For instance:
And if the gossip-driven Condé Nast corporate culture remains true to form, Jones is “going to be up against a lot of hostile editors and writers who are going to talk to you, [New York Post media columnist] Keith Kelly, and whoever else is out there online—which will be designed to undermine her.”
“If you fail everybody will know it,” a different editor told The Daily Beast. “It’s not like you’re failing at some obscure web site in Seattle. This is like the Yankees.”
It’s all a bit of sniping reminiscent of early oughties media gossip, with the added uncertainty of the 2017 media landscape—particularly at Condé Nast, whose top editors and staffers have enjoyed a vastly higher level of bourgeois job accoutrements than anyone else in media. “The days of the celebrity editor,” bleated Keith Kelly in the Post, “are over.”
Further: Jones is rumored to be earning just one-quarter of Carter’s former salary, and on that salary she is tasked with revamping and revivifying a marquee title in a rapidly shifting media landscape. Also from the Daily Beast:
Jones, meanwhile, is being hired at a significantly lower salary than her predecessor; her rumored starting salary of $500,000-$600,000 a year pales by comparison to Carter’s reported $2 million deal.
“It’s a bit of a glass cliff,” said a prominent editor. “Women always get hauled in to do the jobs that feel undoable.”
Could there be more than belt-tightening behind this disparity? You’ve probably memorized the gender pay gap stats by this point: in 2016, white women earned 80 percent of every dollar a white man makes; black women earned 65 percent of that; Latinas earned just 58 percent. In this case, Jones will, presumably, be expected to immediately do more, and with less budget, on 25 percent the salary of the white man who came before her.
It’s true that Jones is untested heading up a glossy such as Vanity Fair, and Carter was its editor for 25 years—a long time to get a lot of fancy raises—and Condé’s budgets are being slashed in every direction. But still, it is bittersweet, if not surprising, that the exciting arrival of a relatively young woman of color helming one of the country’s most storied magazines is met with a rumored quarter of her predecessor’s income, and with such apparent skepticism out the gate.