High Profile Magazine Editors Drink Whiskey, Discuss Industry's Gender Gap
Wide-ranging panel tackles editorial 'battle of the sexes.'
Left-to-right: Kaminsky, Peres, Napolitano, Postman, Leive, Coles
NEW YORKâCould a woman edit a menâs magazine? Could a man edit a womanâs magazine? Why are womenâs magazines shunned by the National Magazine Awards? Why donât womenâs magazines cover politics seriously? Why arenât they as irreverent as menâs magazines? How has the newsstand crisis affected the way both menâs and womenâs magazines approach editorial?
Did Vanity Fair know what it was doing with Miley Cyrus?
Those were some of the questions raised by a high-profile group of consumer magazine editors at Mediabistroâs third annual dinner and discussionâsponsored, fittingly, by assorted perfume and lotion retailers and Makerâs Mark whiskeyâheld here Tuesday.
During a wide-ranging, often candid discussion, the panelâGlamour editor Cindi Leive, Elle executive editor Alexandra Postman, Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles, Details editor Dan Peres, Maxim editor Jim Kaminsky and Playboy editor Chris Napolitanoâaddressed some of those topics, and a few more.
Story ideas that were once almost exclusively seen in womenâs magazines are now common in menâs titles, the panelists said.
âDetails draws a lot of inspiration from womenâs magazines,â Peres said. âWe now run grooming packages, âHow to Prep Your Body for the Summer.ââ
The digital era has had an impact on consumer magazine editors well beyond how they approach breaking news, the panel said. âMagazines used to be a little more monolithic,â Napolitano said. Now, âevery page needs a little bit more direct and approachable.â
Even for fashion magazines, the rise of the Internet has made magazine editors change their editorial approach. âReaders are much savvier than they used to be,â Postman said. âItâs virtually impossibleâ to break fashion news in print. âReaders have images off the runway the same day as the fashion editors,â she said. âWe've become curators.â
That modern savvy has also led womenâs magazines to branch out into an area once exclusive to menâs magazines: humor. Readers are smarter, and the humor is a little more knowing, Leive said. Still, the âspecter of political correctnessâ hangs over womenâs magazines while the âspecter of political incorrectnessââthink Maximâs irreverenceâhangs over womenâs magazines, Myers said.
Part of that, Kaminsky said, is because âMaxim changed the way men digest magazines.â
The rise of celebrity has also changed the way both womenâs and menâs magazines cover them.
âCelebrity is just as big a part of the cultural conversation as anything else,â Postman said. âThey are the new fashion icons, and our readers are interested in seeing what they wear on the runway, what they wear pumping gas.â
Leive said the appeal of a female celebrity on womenâs magazine cover is ânot so much about her being sexy as being relatable.â Readers, she said, could âsmell the fakenessâ of a model on the cover. Like it or not, she said, celebrities âhave real body issuesâ and are more like the average reader than models. âThatâs not a terrible thing.â
Peres said that while Details continues its âvow of chastityâ to feature men exclusively on its cover, he was ânot opposed to putting a woman on the cover.â But he added he had no plans to do so. (Napolitano mockingly begrudged the access other magazines get to A-list male celebrities. âEsquire gets to put George Clooney on the cover every other month, six times a year,â he said. âWho's jumping up and down about Seth Rogen?â)
The downside of this, Kaminsky said, was the âmanufactured controversyâ drummed up by Vanity Fairâs instantly-infamous Miley Cyrus photo shoot. âThey went out of their way to sexualize a 15-year-old girl,â Kaminsky said, âand it sold a lot of copies of the New York Post and probably will sell a lot of copies of Vanity Fair.â But to be shocked that a 15-year-old girl is brimming with sexuality, Leive said, âis disingenuous.â
Most of the editorsâboth on the panel and in separate discussions beforehandâagreed that while theoretically possible, having a woman or man as the chief editor of a magazine targeted to the opposite sex was not in the best interest of the reader. The reason, they concluded, was that the editor needs to be as close to the reader as possible. Besides, Leive said, the job of editor-in-chief has become so public and outward facingâone that includes TV and radio appearancesâit would be difficult to properly market the magazine with the opposite sex at the helm.
âNow, Iâd like to be deputy editor of a womenâs magazine,â Napolitano said.
The newsstand crisis many consumer magazines are facing has, in some way, helped editors focus on their core subscribers.
The point was highlighted by Leive, when asked whether or notâgiven the rise of womenâs magazines doing serious journalism within their pagesâwomenâs magazines have been largely overlooked at the National Magazine Awards program. âI have so given up caring about that question,â Leive said. âMillions of readers, they get it. We don't care that the larger world does.â