Sep 26, 2019 | By Jane Boddy
Jan 26, 2017
There is a moment in Alexandra Shulman’s Desert Island Discs Interview in 2013, where Kirsty Young asks the editor-in-chief of British Vogue if she’d ever want to leave her role and she replies that she has no intention of moving. She talks about being a young woman in media when she first broke into journalism and how in-demand women were at the time and so, she says “I’ve got my bottom firmly planted in the chair…I guess they are going to be carrying me out”.
This week however, a different story emerged. Shulman announced that she would be stepping down from the magazine title which she had been editing since 1992, a magazine which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, complete with a special centenary issue.
The news comes at an interesting time for magazines, both in the UK, and globally. The newer generation we know are glued to their phones rather than the latest print copy of magazines, they want experiences over things. They do not sit with their parents at the table having Sunday lunch, reading the paper, stealing the style supplements and making collages in their bedrooms, the way we did, they have Pinterest for that, they don’t need your print issue.
And yet, at the same time, some magazines are thriving. Teen Vogue which is predominately online now, is currently nominated for a number of media awards this year for its inclusive coverage and has built a dedicated community of readers, while i-D magazine continues to be the voice of the generation with a print product that is a joy to read, and an online component that covers everything from the Women’s March to Trap musicians from the south.
So what does Shulman’s decision to step down from the UK’s style bible mean? Well for one it seems to signal the end of the old guard, in recent years Grace Coddington has stepped down from her role at Vogue, and the Business of Fashion highlights in its news story called The Changing Faces of Vogue, that the global Vogue editors are starting to move around too. The old school editors who became famous for their grit and ability to hit deadlines, rather than how many Instagram followers they had, are slowly leaving journalism. Some are swapping magazine editor roles for content publishing, or book editing, others are working to launch consultancies.
But we can’t ignore that we are in the age of the Insta-editor, where bloggers are being invited to guest edit issues, and the number of followers you have matters. Just this week Cosmopolitan magazine in the UK launched an influencer network, and Cosmopolitan in the US, is launching its reality TV show on E! called So Cosmo. Heritage magazines, like the old school retailers, have to do more to capture the consumers attention now.
Where consumers once binge watched the Devil Wears Prada because it fed our obsession with how over-the-top and glamourous we expect the fashion world to be, offering that perfect behind the scenes glance, now they binge watch their favourite editors’ Insta-stories.
The competition is no longer just other magazines, it’s smartphones, Whatsapp, and Netflix. And what thrives in this climate, is more than just daily fashion reporting, magazines need to have a point of difference, and websites too. In our constantly connected world, editors need to be in the magazines and also on the street style blogs, they need to Snap from that beauty event, they need to ask big questions about politics and how it affects their readers, they need to embrace diversity (I mean it’s 2017, no one is here for your standard cover models any more and they will jump on Twitter to tell you), and mostly magazines can no longer afford to shy away from having a voice.
Teen Vogue when I was 15: photos of Jennifer Aniston’s niece’s pony’s birthday party
Teen Vogue now: YAAAS COMRADE DISMANTLE THAT OPPRESSOR
— Helen B. Holmes (@helenbholmes) December 10, 2016
In this way magazines are not too different from brands, it’s the magazines that are larger than life, making their voice heard, offering the reader more (that free bagged mascara doesn’t cut it anymore), and talking about the issues, from Black lives matter to women’s reproductive healthcare that are winning in today’s changing media landscape. That said, the values of old school journalism still need to be at the core, Shulman’s legacy is that she was the last of the old guard, and protected good journalism.
To come back to that Desert Island Discs interview, Kirsty Young comments on how one of Shulman’s many skills is that she reflects the old values of journalism, putting celebrities on the cover yes, but giving them copy approval, no way! And as Shulman told the Guardian back in 2009, “Vogue is not my personal taste, really. I think of it more as a kind of newspaper. It’s reporting on what’s out there, to some extent, with me editing.”
The skill of an editor to sit back, assess the issue, and produce some quality coverage, is (now more than ever) so very important.
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