The Glory Days of Old School Magazine Editors Are Fading
09.29.17

During the same September 2017 week, four editors-in-chief of major publications announced their imminent departures. Graydon Carter would be leaving Vanity Fair after 25 years. Robbie Myers would be out at Elle after 17 years. Nancy Gibbs, who, in addition to spending the entirety of her 32-year entire career at Time, was also its first female managing editor, was stepping down. Cindi Leive would be departing Glamour after 16 years. Ladies and gentlemen, the editor-in-chief graduating class of 2017.

I laughed when I saw this tweet:

What do they all know? That the glory days of old-school editors-in-chief are coming to an end? That the enchantment of helming a glossy magazine is no longer so enchanting in the face of looming financial realities? That when faced with the fork-in-the-road prospect of “leave voluntarily now” or “be asked to leave involuntarily in a year,” the former is the superlative option by far?

In the days since, each editor has given a slightly different reason:

“I want to leave while the magazine is on top,” Carter told the New York Times. He also said he considered leaving earlier this year, but Trump’s election convinced him to stay a little longer.

Robbie Myers (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for NBCUniversal)

“I want to spend the next seasons as available to my children as I can be,” Myers wrote in a letter to the Elle staff. One day after the announcement, Elle revealed that Marie Claire Creative Director Nina Garcia would take Myers’ place.

“I’ve been thinking, are there places I could go and things I could do to address the challenges that are facing us as a country?” Gibbs posed in an interview with Vanity Fair writer Joe Pompeo. She said she was stepping down of her own accord, and that she informed Time Inc. management toward the end of the summer that it was time to figure out a transition plan.

“Not to get too emo, but my mom died when she was 49 and last year I turned 49,” Leive told the New York Times. “I felt like I have been given this gift of so much more life and I wanted to do something with it.” She clarified that she had no plans to accept a job at another media company, nor was this departure about her children. “I adore my kids, but I’m not leaving to spend more time with my kids,” she said.

Individually, none of these explanations answer my questions about the grander WHY, but together, they hint at the palpable fog of change and uncertainty that looms over the industry, dulling the sheen of glossy covers that (once upon a time) drew in millions of dollars in revenue.

I posed my questions about the significance behind this flurry of departures to Kim France, former editor-in-chief of Lucky and founder of the website Girls of a Certain Age. She felt that she’d been away from magazines for too long to be of much help, but did tell me this: “The glory days of the old EIC are absolutely gone forever, and have been for a while. Editors used to be gatekeepers of information, but the internet has changed all that. Magazines have lost their relevance.”

Graydon Carter (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

When I reached out to France’s successor at Lucky, Brandon Holley, who went on to found tech startup Everywear, she had a similar take: “The old school EIC days have been over for a long time, probably since fashion bloggers started sitting in the front rows. That moment was a significant shift in the power dynamic as well as the economics of fashion magazines.”

Their message was clear: Editors’ power eroded when unfiltered access (to information, to fashion) was provided by the internet. There were no longer “gatekeepers,” because there were no longer gates.

“The salad days were when magazine editors owned — dominated — the conversations of culture, in fashion especially,” Holley told me. “When new media started creating new stars, it had a democratizing effect that brought a new reality to who directed the conversation. Then advertisers followed the new media stars, budgets were cut, and thus, so were things like clothing allowances and car services. But mostly gone was the power to be the axis point of fashion.”

While the glory days of old-school fashion magazine EICs may be over, I wondered how this “new reality” was reshaping the role of editor-in-chief. If not the axis point of fashion, what are they, and what purpose do they serve? What is the locus of their power, and how are they wielding it?

I asked Holley if a large social media following was the key to being a successful “new age” editor-in-chief. Perhaps, I reasoned, if the era of editor-as-gatekeeper was over, the era of editor-as-celebrity would replace it.

Cindi Leive  (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images)

“It’s more important than ever that the new wave of EICs are like the best old school EICs, like Graydon Carter,” she told me. “Having a strong social media presence is important but really isn’t what makes a great EIC. Celebrities can be made on social media, but EICs need to stand to the side a bit and let the brand be bigger than they are. Carter was amazing at that balance.”

Her answer surprised me at first, but I suppose she’s right: The most successful editors-in-chief have been the ones who’ve understood their brands so acutely, that they’ve ushered them through a lot of change while still protecting the DNA (i.e. Anna Wintour). Maybe the rise of social media doesn’t demand EICs participate themselves so much as see it as an opportunity for their brands.

Of course, navigating the future without forgetting the past is a tricky balance to strike. “The romance of the magazine business will continue,” Carter told the New York Times, “but it will be harder to maintain.”

Laura Brown, Editor-in-Chief of InStyle, is in many ways a shining example of what a new class of EICs might accomplish. In addition to bringing on contributors like Roxane Gay and Lindy West, whose high-profile online presence translates to a built-in social media marketing strategy, she also oversees InStyle’s video strategy down to the magazine’s Instagram Stories (fueling a 730 percent increase in video views year-over-year, according to Business of Fashion).

Nancy Gibbs (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

She is the first to admit that striking the balance is tricky, though: “I can absolutely understand why women who have been in the job for 15 to 20, even 30 years might want to take a (very deep) breath,” she told me. “Yes, things are changing and with that, your expectations — often daily. What struck me is the EIC role has become more performative than ever, so you really have to have the metabolism for it. The EIC controls the tone of the brand, and I would guess that brands will become even more about personality in the future. Definitely voice, because without a voice, you’re nothing.”

The glory days of the old school editor-in-chief may be over, but the legacy of their collective voice will surely mold what is shouted into the uncharted tunnel of the new regime.

“Don’t think I haven’t hit up Cindi, Robbie and Nancy to write,” Brown said. “I salute them all.”

Feature photo by Melodie Jeng/Getty Images.

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  • Aydan

    this is so so interesting but so real! I love that for some of them its a shifting of priorities later in life, for others its to pursue other passions, and ultimately also has to do with a changing environment! I think the EICs are so important as visionaries, but remaining in these positions for extended periods of time may change. Visionary now has such an all-encompassing environment (transcending hierarchical structures–truly of the masses) and I think this is huge, but ultimately there is and always will be leaders–perhaps the shape of this within the industry is shifting! either was fascinating!

    • learnin lady

      I agree! I think Elaine @ Teen Vogue has also been super influential and , important re: this conversation, too.

      She’s very social media present but is also spearheading a changing magazine with a fresh take on every beat. Also, the mag isn’t entirely print anymore– which is huge because their transition, to me, has been seamless. She’s a great example of ~new wave~ EICs, IMO.

      • rachel

        Not a regular Teen Vogue reader, but I think she is doing a great job, and part of that is that she seems to understand young people on many levels. Teens are interested in cool ways to put together clothing, but they are also interested in culture and politics, which she has really brought to the forefront. I remember reading Teen Vogue when I was younger (I am now 26) and feeling like it didn’t speak to anything I was interested in. Generic prom dresses and stories about “what boys like?” No thanks!

  • Hajni

    Old school EIC’s were a sort of royalty in the fashion world and with the spread of democracy within the industry we don’t really need them anymore…

  • diane

    The reality is that the EICs of all stripes and ages are leaving the sinking ship of print journalism. Fashion, news, food–name your genre of magazine–the glory days are over, period. A personal loss for me, having obtained a journalism degree in another era.

  • Kate Stimac

    To say “Editors’ power eroded when unfiltered access (to information, to fashion) was provided by the internet” is a half-truth. Fashion magazines and their editors became less relevant when they stopped moving fashion forward. It’s been a very long time since I’ve opened up the pages of a magazine and been blown-away, inspired, etc. by a fashion editorial. EICs were trusted to find what was new and important and steward the fashion-world to greater heights. For me, they lost reverence with each passing issue as random on-lookers on the street and next-gen fashion publications like Man Repeller continued to prove themselves more interesting and inspired than glossy tomes from which the EICs lorded over.

    • Adrianna

      Your point reminded me of the conversation of how people blame millennials for low McDonald’s, Applebee’s, etc, turn out. McDonald’s is going out of business because of McDonald’s

      • Kate Stimac

        Yes! I’d even go so far as to say a well-executed fashion magazine has enough aesthetic pull to shoulder the blows the rest of print journalism is currently facing and survive. But when issue after issue, these EICs turned out the same, regurgitated point-of-view for that new-new, readers got bored. They already spotted the farce and were seeking fashion counsel elsewhere.

        • Cristina

          “the same, regurgitated point of view” reminds me of most womens magazines in general. I mean, Cosmo has to be recycling ways to have hot sex and extreme diet tips by now right? Lol. Or actually, now, they are peppering pages with “body positivity and acceptance” but when you flip a few pages over, it’s the newest celebrity juice cleanse! I think the only thing I read now is the Magnolia Journal because Joanna Gaines is everything lol.

          • Miciahhh

            I’lol check out Magnolia Journal 😊

    • I used to really enjoy some of the magazines when I was younger, but after a while I started to see how they are all so similar. It’s always some super privileged “it girl” socialite that is featured, or who is the newest writer for the magazine.

      I also remember an article in Vogue during the recession about an older writer who was struggling to find new freelance positions, despite having many connections, a house in a great neighborhood, and many opportunities for many years. Vogue wrote nothing about the struggles of actual young people without any opportunities, assets, or stability, and I was so furious I wrote them a scathing letter to the editor. Totally tone death. I finally cut the cord with them after I couldn’t take their obsession with Kendall Jenner anymore. Like you said, it’s been a long time since I’ve opened up the pages of a magazine and been blown-away!

      http://www.shessobright.com

      • Pick up any fashion mag these days- every last one if full of same SJW garbage, pointless ‘diversity’ screech – where diversity of ideas is shunned for the skin color, and man hating feminazis lecturing women..I used to subscribe to a lot of the fashion mag but got so sick and tired of lefty propaganda after a while!

        • Grace

          this was an exhausting comment to read. ugh

          • GreenMachine

            Even more exhausting when you see that the only other website EverydayWoman comments on is Breitbart…

          • ApocalypsoFacto

            Seriously. WTF is this person doing here? What do they THINK they’re doing here, may be the better question?

          • of course for you it must be! You are what the years of liberal brainwashing propaganda produces. One dimensional sheep thinkers!

          • apricot ashtray

            Yawn…

      • I absolutely agree with this and with @katestimac:disqus above. Obviously the internet was always going to be disruptive, but it didn’t need to kill the print media industry in the way it is currently. I think that more than online content being free and convenient, it just felt more meaningful than anything Vogue has managed to muster for years. I think at the heart of the magazine industry’s issues is a fundamental underestimation of their (mostly female) audience, and a fetishisation of youth and nebulous ‘celebrity’ status which is not shared by the majority of their readers. My final straw was when British Vogue responded to criticism over lack of diversity in models by producing a ‘real women’ issue featuring a lot of very slim white women who just happened not to be professional models, then patted themselves on the back and continued with business as usual. That crap doesn’t cut it anymore.

      • Miciahhh

        Great point

  • Court E. Thompson

    This makes me so, so sad!
    I’m not entirely sure why, but it does. There’s just something about holding physical magazine that I adore and watching them slowly shrink pages has been so demoralizing.

  • Erika Galan

    One thing that I see as a pattern with the four EIC departures featured is the extensive amount of time they have worked at these publications (16, 17, 25, 32!!! years). It is far too long to be at any one institution. Our brains need to be stretched with new experiences so that as working creatives, the product continues to evolve. Their extensive tenures at the magazines are a reflection of what is happening with the magazine industry. I completely agree with other Man Repeller readers, the magazines have been disappointing for quite some time now even before bloggers came on to the scene. I think the best work is often put out when budgets are low and you have to get CREATIVE with your resources. Magazines can’t use the changing media landscape as an excuse forever. Thanks, Man Repeller for another thought provoking story!

    • Miciahhh

      GO Man Repeller!

  • rachel

    They have been over since Linda Wells (the OG girl boss) got pushed out of Allure magazine (where she was not only the EIC but also the founder). I had been an Allure reader since I was a tween in the early 2000’s, but there was no point in continuing after Well’s departure. Sure, it’s a magazine about beauty, but under her there was a multilayered approach: not only hot new trends, but looking at the past and the feature of beauty, the industries ramifications for our culture and peoples personal relationships with makeup, skincare, plastic surgery and their bodies and faces. Now? Cute young celebrities in new makeup. If thats what I want to see, I can do it for free on Instagram.

    • Ugh I feel you on this. I used to get people to buy it for me when they were in the states cos I loved it so much. You can get it here (uk) now but it’s not interesting anymore.

    • ApocalypsoFacto

      I think the Instagram thing is an interesting point – most younger women I know get way more information about fashion and beauty from Instagram, and the models they follow on Instagram, than from magazines. And yet it seems like the old-school magazines have not been able to capitalize on that or try to understand it.

    • Kittybat

      It used to be the only magazine i purchased on the newstand. No longer. It’s completely lost its soul and substance.

  • Nobody is saying the truth – that the infestation of SJWs in fashion magazines ruined them for majority of American women. Lindy West? Really? Her toxic male hating vitriol may be a hit with the feminazis but I don’t think everyday women want to be lectured on when they are simply looking for fashion gloss! But go ahead, preach to the choir with more SJW garbage and see the slow death of glossy mags!

    • belle

      lol wut

      • Olivia AP

        Some of these weird comments are starting to show at MR 🙁
        I’m afraid

    • ApocalypsoFacto

      You’re in the wrong place, sweetie. I’m sure there’s a subreddit on Reddit somewhere you could be posting in, rather than here – maybe go figure that out, and leave the rest of us alone? LOL

      • God forbid, you get to hear different POV! Shutting down anybody who points out the glaring lack of diversity of though in your feminists/liberal ‘movement’! No wonder you are called snowflakes!

        • ApocalypsoFacto

          LOL. You and your ilk are the ones who get triggered any time someone disagrees with you. You literally can’t take it – just like your president, all you can do is throw a tantrum and lob insults. Who’s the snowflake, exactly? I don’t think it’s the rest of us.

          • Hollyweod snd Fashion ate two most morally corrupt industries, only viable because Lefties like you stay ignorant and complicit! Lol

  • afaithleader

    MAN REPELLERS THIS IS YOUR DOING!!!

  • Daisy Tinker

    Magazines got boring when they started relying too heavily on advertising, which in turn affected the fashion brands they were obligated to feature inside. Lucinda Chambers’ said it herself after she was fired at Vogue: “The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway.”
    How can any magazine be truly creative and revolutionary when all they’re worried about is keeping advertisers happy?

  • Catarina Assunção

    Do people still read fashion magazines? and why is Nina Garcia in the front and isn’t mentioned on the article?

    • Cristina

      She is mentioned, she’s taking over at Elle.

  • belle

    I see this as a good thing. It’s like a tenured professor who does a mediocre job but still gets all the perks because they know they aren’t risking anything. Magazines have been boring for a while now and I really stopped reading them when I was flipping through Vogue and half the pages (or more!) were ads. Never could understand the idol worship around Anna Wintour. BYE.

    BUT I will add that I think Teen Vogue is weirdly great so maybe Welteroth is the only one doing this thing right.

    • ApocalypsoFacto

      So agree.

      Let’s face it. The reason why this website, and so many like it, are successful is because they are able to bring fashion down into the realm of the accessible for most women. I remember reading my first Vogue, at age 15, and realizing that one of the jackets featured in the magazine cost as much as my parents had just paid for my first used car. What? Magazine editorials feature outfits where the cumulative cost of clothes and accessories exceeds what many people make in a year. Even “more accessible” magazines like Marie Claire are guilty of this.

      Enter fashion bloggers, like Leandra. Bloggers don’t start out getting free clothes and making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – the clothes are accessible because those are the bloggers’ real outfits. Readers could relate better not just because there’s a greater amount of body diversity among fashion bloggers – you don’t have to be 5’10” and weigh 120 lbs to be a fashion blogger, but you do to be a high-fashion magazine model – but because the clothes actually are within reach of purchase and daily wear for most people.

      The only fashion magazine I still subscribe to is People Style Watch, because the clothes featured are at price points I can afford, and they always show models and fashion bloggers who are larger than a size 2. Everything else – meh. I don’t understand Vogue at all and don’t understand how that magazine has survived, other than it is run by people in the 1%, selling advertising to advertisers in the 1%, who are marketing to people in the 1%. There’s a lot of money in the top 1% of households, as we all know. But other than that – I am not sure what the cultural relevance is or how much longer “institutions” like that can survive. I’m in my 40s, and the last time one of my friends mentioned something she saw in a fashion magazine was probably 7 years ago. All of my friends read fashion blogs on the regular, however.