Just a few years ago, in 2017, Radhika Jones was not the obvious choice for editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, the branch of the Condé Nast media empire that covers everything from pop culture to fashion to politics. Graydon Carter had held the position for 25 years prior and as editor, had achieved a celebrity status—known for hosting glamorous parties, attended by the likes of Tom Hanks and Mick Jagger, and producing Hollywood films, making cameos alongside Jennifer Aniston and Quentin Tarantino. While considering the next pick for the Editor-in-Chief position, her critics felt that Radhika’s comparable obscurity and background in academia rather than the public eye would not make a good fit for the editor-in-chief position, which requires networking and press events along with an eye for journalism.
Nevertheless, in 2017 Carter stepped down and Radhika Jones made history as the first Indian-American editor-in-chief for Condé Nast, hand-picked by Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, former Condé Nast CEO Bob Sauerberg, and New Yorker editor David Remnick to bring in a new era of the iconic magazine. Since then, Radhika Jones has transformed Vanity Fair, diversifying covers and content as well as amplifying the voices of women and people of color.
Here at Paradox, we believe that women are capable of anything and that each woman embraces their own unique and beautiful contradictions. Radhika Jones embodies her own paradoxes and inspires women everywhere as she leads a globally recognized magazine in a new direction with poise and uses her platform to represent the underrepresented, all while proving her critics wrong.
Radhika Jones starts her mornings at six with a cup of Irish-breakfast tea, and swears by Muji ballpoint pens with brown ink, according to an interview with The Cut from last September. Vanity Fair’s editor-in-chief lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son. Most days, she commutes to work in Manhattan by subway—without complaint, because the subway is where she gets her best thinking done. Despite her demanding job, running in-and-out of meetings all day, and a never-ending list of emails or Slack DMs, she tries to make it home for dinner or to put her young son to bed, singing him to sleep each night.
Although Jones currently lives in New York, she was raised in the midwest. Her father, a prominent folk singer in the 50s and 60s, was from Boston, while her mother was from India. In an interview with the New York Times, Radhika shared how exposure to her father’s career growing up had prepared her for her role as editor-in-chief, saying “One thing I really learned from my father, was the kind of excitement and rush of discovering new talent and keeping an open mind to new voices and bringing artists together.”
Jones received an impressive ivy league education, attending Harvard for undergrad and getting her doctorate in English and comparative literature from Columbia years later. Initially planning to major in physics, she soon switched to English; she wasn’t a fan of multivariable calculus. During college, Jones was drawn to theater production, loving the opportunity to be creatively productive and familiar with the technicalities of working backstage from helping out her dad at music festivals growing up.
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Despite her love of writing and literature, Radhika Jones didn’t have a clear career plan for what to do with her degree. After graduating from Harvard, she moved to Taipei to teach English for a year. Jones then set off to Russia where she got her start in professional journalism, accepting a job as a copy editor, and eventually Arts editor, at The Moscow Times. She found her calling in journalism, exhilarated by the “adrenaline rush of meeting a deadline.”
In 1997, Jones moved to New York to pursue her masters in English. During this time she also worked at the art magazine Artforum and as a freelance editor for the literary magazine Grand Street. Jones went on to work as managing editor at The Paris Reviewand atTimemagazine, overseeing the “100 Most Influential People” and “Person of the Year” segments. Before taking on the editor position at Vanity Fair, she was the Editorial Director of the Books Department at the New York Times.
- Radhika Jones, Vanity Fair Editor’s Letter, Summer 2020 Issue
In her nearly three years as editor-in-chief, Radhika Jones has transformed Vanity Fair. Traditionally, the magazine’s glossy pages have captured the glitz and glamour of the elite through celebrity profiles and best-dressed lists. As the media world has shifted to digital platforms, magazines have been forced to adapt. Jones understood the need for change, while adamantly standing by the prevalence of Vanity Fair and its power to drive cultural conversations—she recognized in an interview on PBS that despite a drop in print sales, circulation of Vanity Fair’s content and covers is rising, engaging new audiences.
Part of this change involved calling out Vanity Fair for its lack of diversity. As editor-in-chief, Jones has diversified the magazine’s staff, content, and more notably its cover stars. “What I realized when I took the helm at Vanity Fair is that I wanted to prioritize putting people on the cover who hadn’t been on the cover before,” said Jones, quoted in the Los Angeles Times.
Jones didn’t wait to start making changes and reel in a “woke” or culturally conscious era of Vanity Fair. For her first issue as editor-in-chief, published in April 2018, she featured Lena Waithe—an accomplished and openly queer black screenwriter, producer, and actress—on the cover.
- Anna Wintour, Vogue editor-in-chief and artistic director of Condé Nast
Under Radhika Jones’ direction,Vanity Fair has featured 10 Black cover stars, with the Lena Waithe debut followed by more recent covers featuring icons like Janelle Monáe and Viola Davis. Dario Calmese’s picture of Viola Davis for the Summer 2020 cover marked a new milestone as the first Vanity Fair cover taken by a Black photographer.
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In October 2019, Radhika published Vanity Fair’s Women on Women, a collection of essays that features stories about women written by women from the past 35 years. As the book is written entirely by women during different cultural moments—ranging from essays on Princess Diana to Michelle Obama to the #MeToo movement—the book shares the female perspective from the female perspective, allowing women to claim their own narrative.
(@radhikajones on Instagram)
With her new title, Radhika Jones has also taken over the role of hostingVanity Fair’s annual Oscar parties, the luxurious event instituted by Carter. Each year Jones has dressed head-to-toe in designer ensembles, dining alongside A-listers, and embracing some of the celebrity of the editor-in-chief position. However, even with an increasing Hollywood presence she still faces criticism for “dulling down” Vanity Fair, straying from glamorous gossip and covering more serious topics—more than anything, revealing how change and pushback often go hand in hand.
- Lena Waithe, quoted in the LA Times
Despite being a surprise choice for the position, Radhika Jones has taken on the demanding job of editor-in-chief with strength and composure, inspiring others as she uses her influential platform to promote inclusivity even as it prompts critique. As an aspiring writer and young woman, Radhika Jones is a personal role model—an example of a woman in leadership who pushes boundaries and is a force for positive change in the media industry.
Inspired by Radhika’s Jones efforts to amplify underrepresented voices? See our articles on “30 Black-Owned Businesses We Love“ and “7 Lgbtq+ Brands Changing The Beauty Industry“ to learn how to support Black and LGBTQ+ communities. For more female-empowerment, check out our Paradox Profiles on Jada Pinkett Smith and Melinda Gates. And for even more daily inspiration, follow us@paradox on Instagram!
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