One need only watch television or scan the bestseller list these days to see magazine editors are the new media stars. With each appearance on “Oprah” and every insight offered on “Project Runway,” today’s ink-stained wretches have buffed their images — and those of their magazines — into a camera-ready high gloss.
Having extended their magazine’s messages beyond the printed page, today’s most successful editors have virtually become their own brands, keeping company honchos happy as buzz builds for their titles while stoking each editor’s hip quotient.
The master of the editor-as-brand phenomenon is Graydon Carter. During his 16-year tenure at Vanity Fair, Carter, 58, has successfully carved out a well-defined niche for himself as the ultimate Hollywood insider while presiding over his monthly’s savvy mix of celebrity, high society and political features. Carter’s eclectic interests outside of the magazine as a documentary producer and restaurateur all bear his unmistakable stamp of West Coast cool.
“All these things happened by accident,” says Carter of his forays into film and food. “My documentaries largely happened that way. If you’re a journalist, it’s another way of telling a story.” As for the “accidental synergy” resulting from his co-ownership of the Waverly Inn, Manhattan’s hottest celebrity watering hole, Carter says: “In a strange way, it’s a natural extension of being an editor. It forces me to go out and see things. When you’re a magazine editor, you never stop working.”
While many of Carter’s colleagues are striving to make a name for themselves in front of the camera, he prefers to work behind the scenes. In 2002, he branched into film with the Emmy-winning documentary “9/11.”
He also produced “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” based on Robert Evans’ autobiography for USA Film after getting pal Barry Diller to finance the project. This year, he’s got three documentaries in the can or in release: “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” “Surfwise” and “The Chicago 10,” which opened last year’s Sundance Film Fest.
“Graydon brought a lot to the party,” says Alex Gibney, director of “Gonzo.” “He has a great number of high-level contacts and a great editorial sensibility. He knows a lot of people, which is incredibly helpful. Whenever we hit a logjam or got stuck, he’d make a call.”
Carter says he has no plans to abandon publishing for Hollywood. “This is the perfect job for me; I absolutely adore it,” he enthuses. “None of this other stuff would have been possible and I wouldn’t have known how to do it as well if I hadn’t been at Vanity Fair.”
Men’s Health magazine editor Dave Zinczenko says he admires “the way (Carter) has expanded the role of the editor into things like television, film and even restaurants. … We’re all learning from him.”
Zinczenko is having his own breakthrough moment. Recently named Adweek’s Editor of the Year, the 38-year-old helms the world’s bestselling men’s magazine. He was named editor-in-chief in 2000, having started at the Rodale title as an associate editor in 1993 and having risen through the ranks as he helped launch the international editions of the magazine.
In the eight years under Zinczenko’s stewardship, the magazine’s ad pages have grown by 85%. Its media presence has mushroomed exponentially. The telegenic editor and bestselling author has appeared on “Ellen” and “Tyra” to promote his latest book, “Eat This, Not That” (No. 1 on Amazon), has discussed the best cities in America to meet men on “Oprah,” and has logged more than 100 appearances on “Today” where he holds forth on everything from relationships to fitness.
“We’ve asked Dave to take on a new role in the past two years in addition to being editor-in-chief of the magazine, to be editor-in-chief of the brand,” says Steven Pleshette Murphy, president and CEO of Rodale, which published three of Zinczenko’s bestsellers. “That strategy has paid huge dividends both for us and for the consumer.”
More plans are afoot. “We are pursuing partnerships in broadcast and cable,” says Murphy. “And we’re simultaneously building a video library online with several hundred episodes of Men’s Health editorially based product.” He reports the endeavor is moving out of the “experimental phase,” and, in 2009, content “will morph into programming” starring — who else? — Zinczenko.
Hazards of fame
But when an editor’s extracurricular activities start to overshadow their job, things get dicey. Such is the case with Nina Garcia, Elle’s fashion director for the past eights years. During her four seasons on “Project Runway,” Garcia has parlayed her role on the smallscreen as one of the series’ judges into myriad projects. Her book “The Little Black Book of Style” (HarperCollins) is now in its seventh printing — with another one, “The One Hundred,” a fashion dictionary, says Garcia, due out this fall. She appeared in a BlackBerry ad last year and recently lensed an appearance on “Ugly Betty.”
When well-respected style guru Joe Zee joined the magazine last year as creative director, fashionistas began speculating about Garcia’s imminent departure. Her ouster earlier this month was breathlessly chronicled by the New York tabloids and countless style blogs. Subsequently, Garcia was reportedly in talks with Elle for a lesser consulting role and she had yet to reup for “Runway’s” fifth season.
Says one insider: “It’s one thing for the top editor to go after such a high-profile role, it’s another thing entirely when a senior staffer does. The magazine has to come first.”
Says Garcia of her “Runway” stint: “It has all benefitted the magazine and myself. I don’t consider myself a television personality. It’s something I never anticipated doing.”
Garcia reports she is in discussions with Bravo and the Weinstein Co. about developing future shows. “I don’t want to do another makeover show,” she says. “New projects come to me every day.”
“Twenty years ago, you would have seen yourself as a magazine editor for your whole career,” Zinczenko says. “These days, the stakes are higher. Now there are any number of things you could do, from running a website to writing books to moving out to Hollywood.”