• U.S.

A Rival Takes The Reins

4 minute read
Ginia Bellafante

In the current issue of Glamour magazine, 234 pages behind a cover proclaiming a month of GREAT SEX/YOU KNOW YOU NEED IT–HERE’S HOW, an article discusses women’s rights abuses around the world and questions the adequacy of U.S. foreign policy to eliminate such injustices. To those unschooled in the universe of women’s magazines, Glamour may conjure up a pure lipstick-and-trysts image not dissimilar from that of its competitor Cosmopolitan. The truth is, the publications are quite different because Cosmo is the sort of magazine in which the words foreign and policy would never make a joint appearance, save perhaps in a piece on how to pick up sultans of small Arab countries or graying German auto executives.

Under the 31-year editorial stewardship of Ruth Whitney, 70, Glamour committed itself to offering young women a perspective beyond the frame of their compact mirrors. In fact, Whitney’s mix of personal service and substantial journalism has made Glamour one of the best-read women’s magazines in the country, with 2.2 million readers, vs. top-selling Cosmo’s 2.7 million. Glamour is the biggest moneymaker for its corporate parent, Conde Nast, and has won a number of National Magazine Awards, including two for general excellence and one for a series on managed care.

So it came as a jolt to members of the Manhattan publishing community–chief among them Whitney–when the revered editor was ousted a week ago and replaced by her rival, Cosmo editor Bonnie Fuller, 41, who took over Hearst’s sex-and-the-single-girl book from Helen Gurley Brown just 18 months ago. Fuller’s successor at Cosmo will be Redbook editor Kate White.

Fuller, a Toronto native, arrived in the U.S. nine years ago to reinvent the teen magazine YM, and was soon to develop a reputation for making magazines profitable by tarting them up. At the time, YM combined health and relationship advice with reporting on serious subjects such as apartheid (that topic was covered by current New Yorker writer William Finnegan). Fuller relieved the magazine of such weightiness, turning YM into a primer on waist trimming and boy procuring–a junior Cosmo–and more than doubling its circulation. At the real Cosmo, which she joined after a stint as editor in chief of Marie Claire, Fuller cut back on text and made the emphasis on sex even more pointed, increasing newsstand sales 8% during her tenure. Defending her taste, Fuller explains, “I do what I think will tighten the bond between the magazine and the reader.”

Whitney, who had planned to retire in the next few years, was stunned by Fuller’s installation and distressed that she hadn’t been asked for input in naming her successor. Fuller would not have been on her short list. “I told S.I. Newhouse [Conde Nast’s owner] how disappointed I was in the choice,” Whitney says. “I don’t think Bonnie has the track record to uphold Glamour’s journalistic standards, and I fear for what the magazine may lose. This is saying that only numbers matter and that women’s magazines are just commodities.”

Whitney’s devoted writers and editors worry about the kind of internal culture that Fuller, who has a reputation as a prima donna and a harsh manager, will create. “Under Whitney,” says an editor, “there are no tears, no screaming fits, no fabulous darlings.” To her credit, Fuller is known to be very loyal to favored staff members. Catherine Romano, who worked as an editor under Fuller at YM, MC and Cosmo, explains that while Fuller can be “tough and demanding,” she finds talent in people “and lets them max out on their ability.”

Last week some media watchers speculated that Fuller’s installation was provoked in part by Conde Nast CEO Steve Florio’s machismo. Poaching the enemy can appear heroic. As an editor of a major women’s magazine put it, “There’s been so much bad press about him he had to change the dial.” (Florio took a beating in a recent FORTUNE piece that accused him of atrocious management and of lying about the profitability of Conde Nast publications.)

What’s next for Glamour is unclear. Fuller says she’s not yet sure what she’ll do but knows that she won’t “throw everything out.” Does she consider herself a journalist? Indeed. Says she: “I have a nose for news.”

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