A 'brilliant, fearless' editor

Besides having a doctoral degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, Ms Radhika Jones had lived in Taipei and Moscow, where she got her start in journalism as arts editor at Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper.
Besides having a doctoral degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, Ms Radhika Jones had lived in Taipei and Moscow, where she got her start in journalism as arts editor at Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Those who know Ms Radhika Jones, the new editor of Vanity Fair, believe she will thrive in her role, given her background and breadth of interests

NEW YORK • Ms Radhika Jones, who grew up around music, now has a big gig - editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair magazine.

She comes with a sound footing. Her father, Robert L. Jones, was a prominent figure in the Massachusetts folk scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

When he wanted to travel less, she sold T-shirts and worked at the box office at the events, including the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals, he helped produce.

"One thing I really learnt from my father," she said in an interview on Sunday, "was the... excitement and rush of discovering new talent and keeping an open mind to new voices and bringing artists together."

That love of discovery will come into play for Ms Jones, editorial director of the books department at The New York Times and a former top editor at Time magazine, now that she has accepted one of the most high-profile jobs in media.

Conde Nast, the company that owns Vanity Fair, made the formal announcement on Monday.

Ms Jones, 44, will succeed Mr Graydon Carter, 68, who said in September that he would step down after a 25-year run at the helm. Her appointment takes effect on Dec 11.

It is a transfer of power at a magazine long defined by Mr Carter's sensibility - a stew of Anglophilia, liberal politics, old-style Hollywood glamour and a sense of mischief.

Unlike Mr Carter, Ms Jones is hardly the gallivanting celebrity editor many media observers assumed would end up as his successor.

Whip-smart and unassuming, she seems suited to a new era - of transformation, but also of restraint - at Vanity Fair and Conde Nast.

"In Radhika, we are so proud to have a fearless and brilliant editor whose intelligence and curiosity will define the future of Vanity Fair in the years to come," said Ms Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and Conde Nast's artistic director.

To follow Mr Carter's long run, executives had sought an editor who could carry on Vanity Fair's journalistic traditions and travel seamlessly among the spheres of Hollywood, Washington and New York.

At the same time, the new editor would be charged with taking the title beyond its printed form - and with fewer resources.

Ms Jones graduated from Harvard College and received a doctoral degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University.

She has lived in Taipei and Moscow, where she got her start in journalism as arts editor at Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper.

In Sunday's interview, she was characteristically candid. Many editors in her position would proclaim their love of magazines, particularly the one they are about to sit atop, but she said: "It's hard for me to exactly figure out when I became obsessed with magazines."

Did she read Vanity Fair growing up? "On and off," she added.

She declined to describe her plans for Vanity Fair. "I need to get oriented first - there's a lot to take in," she said.

She also demurred when asked about any writers she was considering. "I'm just really interested in discovery," she noted.

Those who know her believe she will thrive, citing her literary and academic background for the breadth of her interests.

"She once referred to herself as a 'formerly shy person' - as someone who had to learn how to speak out," said Ms Nancy Gibbs, who recently stepped down as the top editor at Time. "She doesn't come on incredibly strong. She doesn't overpower you with her ideas - she's a different kind of presence."

It is inevitable that Ms Jones will be compared with Mr Carter, just as he had to live up to the expectations of readers who had grown to love the version of Vanity Fair created by his predecessor Tina Brown.

"The reality is, she has incredible credentials to direct a magazine that's so focused on culture," said Mr Steven O. Newhouse, a top executive at Conde Nast's parent company, Advance Publications.

"I think that she's fully capable of all the elements of Vanity Fair," he added.

"Obviously, you don't start out - as Graydon didn't start out - the way that Graydon ended up."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2017, with the headline 'A 'brilliant, fearless' editor'. Print Edition | Subscribe