Indian-American to lead pre-eminent celebrity-driven magazine ‘Vanity Fair’

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Radhika Jones, new editor in chief of Vanify Fair magazine. (Photo: Condé Nast)

While Radhika Jones, 44, is not the first Indian-American to make a name in the fashion, celebrity, or news world in this country, she may be the first to climb the citadel of the glossies. This Nov. 13, Vanity Fair announced Jones will take over as editor-in-chief of the celebrity-driven magazine that takes a splashy view of America and the world.

In the fashion world, back in 2015, another Indian-American, Roopal Patel, was appointed the fashion director of the Saks Fifth Avenue store chain. And New York City boasts several Indian-American designers like Rachel Roy, on the catwalk during New York Fashion Week annually.

Several Indian-Americans have reached the top in the American news media world, including Davan Maharaj, former editor in chief and publisher of Los Angeles Times; Nikhil ‘Nik’ Deogun, senior vice president and editor in chief, Business News at CNBC; Fareed Zakaria, former managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine and Newsweek international editor; Bobby Ghosh, former Time World Editor;  S. Mitra Kalita,  vice president for programming for CNN Digital, and former managing editor of L.A. Times; and Raju Narisetti, CEO of Gizmodo Media Group. formerly senior vice president Strategy, for New Corporation, and before that managing editor at The Washington Post.

Jones garnered high praise from the likes of Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue and artistic director of Conde Nast which owns Vanity Fair. She becomes only the second woman to helm the magazine, and follows in the giant footsteps of the British media icon Tina Brown, who launched the new incarnation of the magazine as its editor in chief from 1984-1992. Jones succeeds current editor Graydon Carter, who has been there since 1992, and is known for raising the celebrity-driven bar of the magazine, which also however, carries serious political and economic pieces.

“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,” Wintour said in a statement about Jones who lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son.

“I’m honored and excited to succeed Graydon Carter as editor in chief of @VanityFair,” Jones tweeted Nov. 13.

The New York Times, where Jones has been the editorial director of the books department for the past year, broke the story about her appointment. The Times called Jones a “surprise choice” to lead Vanity Fair.

In an interview with Vanity Fair the day the announcement was made Nov. 13, Jones talked about her inspirations and hinted at where she may take the magazine. But not much about her parents, one of whom happens to be Indian, her mother, and Robert L. Jones, her father, a well-known singer and guitarist from the 1950s and ’60s, according to his biography on a folk music website.

Her mother’s name is hard to come by in any news story, but an Aug. 1, 2012 tweet from Jones accompanied by a photo of her parents shows her mother dressed in a white sari holding a bouquet smiling up at her father.

@radhikajones “42 years ago my parents eloped in Paris. Happy anniversary, Mum and Dad!” Jones tweeted.

Parents of Radhika Jones when they got married in 1970. (Photo: Twitter)

Condé Nast, in its press release, noted Jones will oversee  all content development, production and consumer experiences for Vanity Fair’s digital, social, video, print and experiential platforms, in her new post.  She becomes only the fifth person to hold this position since Vanity Fair’s modern revival in 1983, the company said.

Jones will lead Vanity Fair through its 24th annual Oscar Party in March, the fifth annual New Establishment Summit, the brand’s 105th anniversary and the continued digital expansion of The Hive, the title’s newest brand launch.

Jones, who takes over officially Dec. 11, previously held senior editorial roles at The New York Times, Time and The Paris Review. She joins Vanity Fair from the Times, where since November 2016 she was Editorial Director, Books, overseeing daily and Sunday reviews and expanding the desk’s digital coverage at the intersection of books, news and ideas. At Time, Jones led all arts and entertainment coverage for the brand.

“Radhika is an exceptionally talented editor who has the experience and insight to drive the cultural conversation—balancing distinctive journalism with culture and humor,” Bob Sauerberg, president and CEO of Condé Nast is quoted saying in the press release. “Her experience covering news and entertainment has given her a thorough understanding of the importance of chronicling and celebrating the moments that matter. With her expansive worldview, I know she will guide Vanity Fair’s history of provocative and enduring storytelling well into its future.”

“There is nothing else out there quite like Vanity Fair,” Jones is quoted saying.

Vanity Fair’s head office is on the 41st floor of One World Trade Center, where Jones, accompanied by Sauerberg, Wintour, and Carter, met staff members. Jones said her conversations with Conde Nast began in mid-September, “But I always thought I was a long shot …”

She said she was “fascinated by celebrity culture,” adding, “I also happen to have read Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries this summer, and found it interesting to think about how she positioned high and low culture, because they’re so much more mixed now, and it’s an interesting proposition for a magazine like Vanity Fair to sort that out.”

Jones said she saw opportunity in every platform and a lot of possibilities to grow the publication. As for what she reads and watches, Jones named the National Geographic, New York magazine, The New Yorker, and added she is “obsessed with” the television series The Americans, and The Crown.

Prior to The New York Times, Jones spent eight years at Time rapidly rising through the ranks to become deputy managing editor in 2013.

Jones “placed particular focus on broadening the curatorial voice of Time 100, mixing celebrity and the notable with curiosity and the unknown” and that as head of the annual Time 100 Gala for seven years, “she was responsible for programming the event and convening one of the most diverse crowds of leaders and luminaries in the world,” Conde Nast said.

Prior to joining Time in 2008, Jones was the managing editor of The Paris Review, managing editor at Grand Street, an editor at Artforum, and the arts editor of The Moscow Times, where she began her career.

Jones has a B.A. from Harvard University and holds a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia, where she has also taught courses in writing and literature. Born in New York City, she grew up in Cincinnati and Connecticut.

Considered a relative unknown compared to those who competed for her position, Jones was asked what she wanted people to know about her.

“That I’m an omnivore, culturally speaking, and story-wise too. I’m always ready to be interested in something. That’s my default position,” she told Vanity Fair.

 

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