Print power: why celebrities are taking the reins as editors

Diversification is key to any long-lasting career. Not content with being an Oscar-winning actress, an acclaimed director, United Nations ambassador and a guest lecturer at the London School of Economics, Angelina Jolie can now add another lofty title to her CV: contributing editor to Time magazine.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Jolie, a mother of six, would be putting a deeper foothold into her long-established activism by writing a regular column for the prestigious magazine.

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As the media finds itself being audited in every corner of the globe, it’s an interesting career move. Jolie doesn’t need the fame or fortune, but since pulling back from her career in Hollywood, it’s not a surprise she is looking to pivot into a new role she feels more befitting of her humanitarian status.

Contributing editor is a popular title for high profile writers who don’t fit into the day-to-day operations of a publication, but hold a certain expertise or prestige that benefits a title from having them on board.

For example, academic and activist Sinéad Burke is a contributing editor at British Vogue, which means she isn’t in the office every day filing copy for its digital and print outposts, but rather applies her unique insights via individually commissioned pieces. (However, Sinéad is a writer a by trade and her celebrity is a result of her trade, rather than the other way around).

Most recently, she ignited international conversations in two columns: in her first, she recalls being targeted by a group of youths on Dublin’s O’Connell Street and the emotional aftermath of that experience. In another, she wrote with genuine excitement about her thrill at being the first little person to ever attend the Met Gala in New York.

Vogue, and many of its sister titles at Condé Nast, love to appoint contributing editors, exercising the influence they hold in the industry – and the world – as a whole. In fact, it’s reported that Meghan Markle is being lined up to guest edit the September issue, the biggest issue of the year. For someone like Meghan, whose voice has been effectively silenced since her wedding last year, this is a prime opportunity to take back the narrative and kick off her return to maternity leave in a style befitting of a duchess.

Guest editing a magazine is a fitting mechanic to send a message effectively and is usually reserved for those who retain truly influential levels of fame, though the practice is still relatively new in Ireland.

When Amy Huberman was recruited as guest editor of IMAGE magazine in 2017, former editor Rosie McMeel says there were traceable results from the brand awareness created after they announced the appointment.

“I wanted to inject some new energy into the magazine and see what a different perspective would look like,” says McMeel. “As Ireland’s sweetheart, she was the perfect choice. Amy handled the editorial like a pro, throwing herself into our production meetings, parlaying her talents for starring in print into those of publishing it. She more than earned her place on the masthead.”

On an global scale, Bono has guest edited an issue of Vanity Fair in 2007, as well as The Independent in London in 2006; the late Karl Lagerfeld for Elle magazine in 2012 and Cate Blanchett with W magazine last year.

“He didn’t phone it in,” former editor-in-chief Graydon Carter said of Bono. “He read every single word in the issue and made lots of great editorial suggestions. There are things that he decided not to put in – and he was completely correct – and that he wanted us to pull. They were mostly matters of tone.”

This subset of prestige journalism was previously reserved for writers and editors with a wealth of experience who have climbed their way to the upper echelons of their industry in order to best utilise that combined skillset. But, in the bid to sell publications in an increasingly cutthroat market with the present threat of digital media and an ever-changing landscape, creativity is key.

And if it means more access to Meghan Markle, there isn’t much to complain about.

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