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Vanity Fair helped create ‘the celebrity industrial complex.’ VF Editor Radhika Jones wants to investigate it.

Everything is changing, which means there’s never been a better time for a “new establishment,” Jones says on Recode Media.

Vanity Fair Editor Radhika Jones
Vanity Fair Editor Radhika Jones
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

It’s the year of #MeToo, says Vanity Fair Editor Radhika Jones, but it’s also the year of “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” In both negative and positive ways, “the way things were done in Hollywood” is changing.

“You could argue that this magazine played a major role in the creation of the celebrity industrial complex, and it’s very much part of that world, but also, it’s our job and it’s appropriate for us to hold that world to account,” Jones said on the latest episode of Recode Media. “There are just all of these truisms about Hollywood that I don’t think are actually true anymore, or at the very least, they bear interrogation.”

The magazine is famous for its celebrity photoshoots and profiles, which Recode Media guest host Lydia Polgreen (the editor in chief of HuffPost) pointed out require negotiating with those celebs for access. Comparing her magazine to political journalism, Jones told Polgreen the magazine’s appetite for investigative work is “shifting.”

“At a certain point, when certain kinds of stories in our current moment, one has to ask oneself whether the access is helpful to the story or hurts the story,” Jones said. “Does having access to Donald Trump get you closer to the truth about Donald Trump? Or is the write-around really the way to get at the truth about him? ... Access isn’t the be-all and end-all of journalism about Hollywood anymore.”

Vanity Fair recently released its 2018 New Establishment list, the name of which feels especially appropriate this year, Jones said, as some in the old guard are “being toppled from their pedestals.” And topping the list this year is someone who is seemingly giving zero access to any journalist: Special Counsel for the Department of Justice Robert Mueller.

“Talk about an uncooperative profile subject,” Polgreen said.

“The man everyone wants to profile,” Jones replied. “Who is, I think, probably the hardest-working man in Washington right now. And whose findings might change the course of history, or not. We’ll have to see.”

You can listen to Recode Media wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.

Below, we’ve shared a full transcript of Lydia’s conversation with Radhika.


Lydia Polgreen: Today, I’m really excited to be in the studio with Radhika Jones, the editor of Vanity Fair. Radhika, welcome to Recode Media.

Radhika Jones: Thank you Lydia, it’s great to be here.

So you have been the editor of Vanity Fair for how long now?

It’s been about nine months.

Nine months, long enough to make a baby.

Mm-hmm.

Does it feel like a baby has been born?

I almost wish you could go into hiding and come out with the baby. The thing about Vanity Fair is we’re publishing hourly and we’re publishing monthly, and you know how it is. So all of the baby making is done every moment, but it has been great to start to cycle through this first year and kind of get an understanding. We cover so many, these core areas of coverage, Washington, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Wall Street and celebrity culture also in general.

And so I feel like over the course of the year, just because of certain events like the Oscars and also just because of the natural ebbs and flows of the news cycle, not that they ebb so much anymore, you start to get a feel for the rhythms of the job. And so nine months in is a lot better than six months in, which is a lot better than three months in.

So you took over this job from one of the best-known magazine editors out there, Graydon Carter, a celebrity in his own right. What’s it like stepping into a role as yourself following someone who’s a larger-than-life personality? Not that I personally have any experience with this, having followed Arianna Huffington at HuffPost.

It’s an excellent question, and I think the thing that I try to be very clear about in my own mind from the beginning was that there was no way that I could replace Graydon Carter. He is still walking among us, for one thing, and he’s an incredibly iconic and creative and innovative editor. And I think that with these jobs, you have to just have confidence that you make the job your own. The brand has existed for a long time. Tina Brown was the editor before Graydon, and she too was iconic. And so I thought a lot about Tina’s Vanity Fair, and I spent time looking at the archives and thinking about what is the Venn diagram between the editor’s sensibility and the identity of the brand?

And I think that’s really the challenge for me, is not do I imitate Tina, do I imitate Graydon. I could try to do those things for a very long time, and I would fail utterly because imitating is not how you succeed in these roles. So for me, it was more about trying to figure what I could add to this brand to make it special in my own way.

You mentioned Tina Brown, and I think I read that you read her diaries, which I think was one of the most delicious reads. I devoured it basically in one sitting on a flight to India. And one of the things that struck me in reading that book was just how different the media world is now. Are you going to those kinds of parties that she goes to, are you running the business in this kind of big-ticket way that she was running it in this sort of woman in the arena?

I loved reading that book, and I had an early copy because I was with the New York Times, I was on the books desk so we got it early. So I actually had read it before Graydon announced that he was stepping down and before anybody approached me about the job, which was good, because I read it completely just as a kind of magazine fan. And it’s of course incredibly exhilarating, and her energy level is just astonishing. And she was so young when she was doing the job, which I kept thinking about. But it is a completely different environment. There was no internet, so she was out pounding the pavement getting stories because that was the only way to get stories at that time. And she was also making a print magazine, and that was all she was making.

So when you step into this kind of job in contemporary times, you have the print magazine, but you also have the website and you have an events business as we have, and you have an entire social environment where you have to assert the brand identity and engage readers and viewers and listeners. So it feels like a completely different ecosystem, but the thing, that sort of elemental part of it that impressed me, is just that she was after the very best story for her time, for her moment, and I feel like that is the common denominator is can you find the story that no one else is doing in a particular Vanity Fair way, in a particular sort of substantive and rigorous but also entertaining way.

So you mentioned that she got the job when she was really young. I’d love to hear how you got this job. Obviously, Graydon announced that he was leaving, there were a number of people who were considered for the role, I’m sure. What can you tell us about the process?

So I read that Graydon was stepping down, and like everyone else I wondered what would happen, and it was about a year ago I got an email from David Remnick, and he said, “I’m reaching out to some people who I thought might be an interesting fit for the Vanity Fair job. Is that something you would like to speak about?” So I wrote back, “Yes please,” right away. And David, who is very generous with his time, spoke to me about it. And we talked about Tina’s diaries, actually, which was a lot of fun. And so we began a conversation about it. He said, “Well, just jot down some thoughts,” so I gave it a little thought and I was turning things over in my mind, and the next day he checked in and he said, “Well, where are those thoughts?” And I thought, “Oh, okay. This is ... we’re doing this. Okay. I have homework.”

So I did indeed jot down those thoughts, and it went on from there. And it was a really exciting thing for me to think about, because it honestly just hadn’t been ... I mean, it’s a dream job, but it wasn’t something that I had particularly set my sights on. So I kind of came to it a little serendipitously, just the idea of it, and I think that freed up my thinking about what it might be, but also what I might bring to the table.

Yeah, I mean, you’ve had a really interesting career path, right? You were a reporter in Moscow at one point, you were at Time, Paris Review, you’ve done a lot of interesting forms of reporting, editing, literary — sort of, mass market as Time is... I’m curious how all of those various experiences have brought you to this point, and how they kind of braid together in what you’re trying to do with Vanity Fair.

So it’s true, my first job in journalism was at the Moscow Times in Russia in the mid ’90s, and I think about that time, I was only there for two years and I began as a copy editor, which is still a skill that I take great pride in, and I think when I retire I will just spend my free time copy editing the internet. But the news in Russia at that time moved so quickly, and there’s something about this moment that we’re in right now. I mean, obviously this was in the mid ’90s, the internet was in its very beginning, so there were certain technological changes to the pace of news that hadn’t yet happened, but it was an incredibly volatile time in Moscow, and there were wars going on with Chechnya and there were a lot of sort of juggling alliances, and there was the rise of the oligarchs, and all of these ... It was like the table was being set for a lot of what we see going on in the world today in terms of certain power alliances and struggles.

So it was just a really exciting time to be there and be kind of in the swirl of the news, and I sort of worked all around the paper. People came in and out because it was this very small but dynamic English-language paper in Moscow. At a certain point, I was the restaurant critic, which may still be my best-ever job. I was, I will say, a terrible restaurant critic, and I had no palate, but in a way it was more like a sociological survey because there was really no restaurant culture in Moscow at the time, so it was just every week was sort of an adventure with my dining companion.

So I learned a lot, almost about just being curious and being open to experiences, and that was my first experience with journalism, was that world events are happening but in this very volatile way, and my center of gravity had shifted from the U.S.

So that was very informative for me, but I did realize that I wasn’t going to stay there for the rest of my life, so I came back to the states and I started a graduate degree at Columbia, a PhD track in English, which I did end up finishing, but I ended up working in magazines throughout. And as you said, I worked at literary magazines, visual arts, kind of all over the place. I just kind of became a magazine junkie. I like project-based work, I like deadlines, I like the adrenaline of news. And I basically just tried to take opportunities and jobs where I felt I was going to learn something from the people around me, and as you know, there are a lot of incredibly intelligent but also curious and innovative people in our field.

So I was lucky to be able to move from place to place and just keep learning. I mean, there were things ... I went on press when I was working at the Paris Review, which is a literary journal. Philip Gourevitch was the editor at the time, and he felt it was very important for one of us to be on press, because we were publishing photography. And we were doing it on matte paper, not glossy paper, which means that it’s harder to reproduce the colors in the way that the photographer might’ve intended.

So I went on press to Winnipeg seven times for the Paris Review, and I think I saw all the possible sights to see in Winnipeg. I was there every season. But just to be in a printing press and watch something come off the presses, it’s very romantic, but also I just feel like I got to touch ... through all of these various jobs, I touched not only a lot of subject matter, but a lot of parts of the work, like the actual making of a magazine — or a journal in that case — or the creation of a micro-site for a digital project or something like that. I’ve always been an omnivore in terms of how things get done.

So in a way, the dotted line from job to job is a little bit of a zigzag, and I can’t say that I ever had a master plan, but when I started having conversations about Vanity Fair, it did feel that there was something about the eclectic nature of my experience that actually worked for this role. Because it’s sort of an eclectic and just intellectually curious magazine.

And it’s interesting, because I mean obviously I think you’re the first doctor, person with a PhD, to edit Vanity Fair, I suspect.

Maybe, I don’t know actually. We’ll find out.

Yeah, it’s a great question. But I think when the initial sort of shock of your name emerged and people were like, “Wait, who? Oh yeah, that very glamorous woman who runs the Time 100. Isn’t she terribly literary? Isn’t she incredibly highbrow? How is she going to manage the high-low mix that’s so important to Vanity Fair?”

It’s so funny, because the things you work for in your life, they change on a dime. It’s like, yes, I am terribly literary. I worked so hard to be highbrow. No, I am absolutely a literary person, but I also will sit on my phone and look at slideshows of Prince George, which I feel, it makes me human, I love to do it. I think that honestly, most people have that range of interest, but I certainly do.

I think that the common denominator, again, for Vanity Fair is there are obviously a lot of news outlets that do serious investigative journalism, which the magazine has always been known for. There are fewer places that publish really high-impact photography, and I think that’s a core area of strength and one that we want to build on, but I think it just comes down to, I think that as long as, if we are telling a story well, then the story can be about the high or the low.

But the thing that makes it a quality story, that makes it a Vanity Fair story, is in the telling of it. So it feels to me ... I don’t have a problem reconciling that at all. The other thing is that I think I’ve always had eclectic taste in music, in books, and all of those things, and I think that that’s really at the heart of it for me in that high and low.

What’s your biggest lowbrow guilty pleasure?

Oh my, let’s see.

That’s a very loaded question. I mean, I’ll tell you ...

We were talking about Egg McMuffins before we went on the air, so ...

Well, mine is “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Okay. That’s a good one. That’s a good one.

Well, no, but we gotta have yours now.

Okay. Let’s see. Currently, currently ... I have to think about it a little bit. This doesn’t really count, but I will say one of my go-to shows is “The Great British Baking Show.”

I think of that as therapy in the current environment.

Right. It’s uplift.

It’s uplift. I like how they’re so nice to each other.

They’re super nice to each other. Everything looks tasty. Even the things that don’t work look tasty, and oh, I don’t know. Actually, I recently started ... I’m just thinking about these very random things. There was a ... No, it’s gone. Nevermind.

Okay. No worries. We can ...

We’ll stay with the baking show, but if something else comes to mind, I’m gonna let you know.

Interject and let me know.

Okay.

So, you were talking about photography and storytelling. Those are two places where I think you’ve made some pretty striking choices. For example, I believe the first cover that you’ve fully edited and brought into the world was the Lena Waithe cover. That was a big moment, and it kind of landed with a real bang. Can you tell me a little bit about how that came to be, and strikingly, not just having a queer black woman who’s really on the rise in Hollywood, but you also had an unusual choice of writer to tell her story. So, could you tell me a little bit about that?

So, I had watched “Master of None,” and I just thought Lena was so tremendous. I just hadn’t seen someone like her on the screen. She was so funny, and we loved that show, and so I was sort of a fan of that performance and of her, and particularly that episode that she ended up winning an Emmy for, and then I watched her speech at the Emmys, and it was very moving. So, that was about a year ago, and then I started talking to Condé and asked about this job, and of course, if you’re thinking about taking on a job where you’d have to produce magazine covers, one of the first questions that you ask yourself is, “Well, who would go on the cover of my magazine?”

I always had Lena on my mind, just because she was very present in the culture in this way that felt very fresh, and I feel like in this day and age, if you have at your disposal a magazine cover, you should try to use it, and I don’t mean just to provoke or even just to surprise, but really to kind of bring forward or shed light on something that you think is worth talking about and worth thinking about.

Then when I actually took the role, all of these things had started happening in Hollywood. I mean, so much changed in that period of time when I was literally having conversations about Vanity Fair. So much was changing about the areas that we cover in Hollywood because of all the Weinstein reporting and everything. So it was just this great moment of flux, and I felt like the thing that was grounding for me was to think about where the momentum was and who was kind of coming out of all of this, the messiness that was being exposed about the way Hollywood worked. It just felt valuable to think about the future and people who were working in a different way.

Lena Waithe is a creator as well as an actor, and she had won this historic Emmy, and it seemed like she was really busy working, and I like that. So when it came to thinking about that cover, which was the April cover, I just ... I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it was obvious, necessarily, but it just seemed to me like her work aligned with the kind of thing that I wanted to be thinking about, and so we did the shoot. Annie Leibovitz did the shoot, which was great, and we went to Jackie Woodson to do the profile, a literary writer, a writer of young-adult fiction, among other things.

And memoir.

And memoir, and someone who I felt would ... I’ve always been interested as an editor in cross-casting, so someone who’s written a lot about politics, have that person write about someone in music, or have a fashion writer write about celebrity or something, because I do feel like that, in the intersection of those worlds, that’s where Vanity Fair lives, and it’s something that we can offer, but also, it just brings things out differently, and different conversations emerge, and you never know.

I mean, you never know if that person’s gonna be interested in the subject or what, but Jackie was interested and it just worked out. It just felt like an interesting match and something that I hadn’t seen before, and I come back to that idea that to be in an editorial role the way that we are, the thing that makes it worthwhile is to think, “Oh, I’m using this opportunity to put something in the world that maybe hasn’t been there before in the same way.”

I mean, I think if I look back at the covers since you took over as editor in chief, Meghan Markle, perhaps an obvious one, Meghan and Harry, but Kendrick Lamar, and then this month’s cover, Michael B. Jordan, that’s a pretty high proportion of people of color. They’re younger people. They’re voices that wouldn’t necessarily have been seen with such frequency on the cover of Vanity Fair, so I think that’s been really remarkable. I want to ask you about the case for magazines in general, and there’s a really interesting juxtaposition to my mind.

I feel like the internet is the perfect medium. In particular, social media is the perfect medium to transmit the kind of meme-like quality that a magazine cover has. Right? Yet, the disaggregation that the internet has brought to media really kind of pulls at the seams of the idea of the magazine. This is true of tabloid newspapers as well. It’s like the best of times because your billboard travels in a way that it really couldn’t before, even when it was on newsstands. It’s in the palm of everyone’s hand, but the thing-ness of the magazine has been in many ways kind of fragmented and pulled apart. How do you wrestle with that?

It’s funny because as a consumer, I feel all of that. I feel it viscerally. I mean, I do. The place I see magazine covers is on my phone. I see my own magazine covers on my phone. I see other people’s. I react to them, and that really ... I think a lot about that. I think anyone in my role, even five years ago, was thinking about newsstands, and I just feel like there aren’t a lot of newsstands now. I mean, it’s great ... If you have a great newsstand seller, that’s awesome. That’s wonderful, and everyone should go to the newsstand and buy Vanity Fair, and I’ll say that again before our time is up.

But I also just ... I do think that there is the amplifying power of technology in terms of getting those images out and getting that identity out is really powerful. So, I guess my answer to your question is these days, if you have a brand like Vanity Fair that is a legacy print publication, but also a player in the digital space and the event space and all of that, you do have to do all things. That is the job. The challenge for us is to do the best work that we can do, tailored to the pace and momentum of each place.

In a way, I feel like the print magazine ... The opportunity for a print magazine now is to raise the bar even higher, because if you’re working on a monthly schedule and you’re assigning and commissioning photography, which no matter how great photography looks online or on an iPad or wherever you’re looking at it, it’s very seldom — and correct me if I’m wrong — but digital-only outlets are very seldom commissioning high-impact photojournalism or portraiture or anything like that. That still sort of is the province of the print community.

Yep. I think that’s right.

And I think it’s really important. I mean, we’re all photographers now, of course, but it matters when a photojournalist composes a certain kind of picture out of a war zone or a portrait photographer takes a certain kind of very meaningful portrait, and that’s core to Vanity Fair. So, to my mind, it’s like the opportunity for me is to perfect the magazine form. Make it beautiful. Make it luxurious as a reading experience. All of the care that’s taken when you don’t have unlimited space the way that you do online, but you actually have to fit something to a page, and so you really have to weigh the value of words in a sentence and sentences in a paragraph, that craft is very dear to me.

I think it’s worthwhile because I think ... I mean, we circulate it at 1.2 million. There are a lot of people who are reading the print magazine, and they deserve the very best that they can get, and it’s something that is also a timestamp. It is a cultural artifact, and I think the things that have mattered to me, many things that have mattered to me since I took this job, and people have been telling me sort of how they engage with Vanity Fair and what they love about it and what they don’t love about it, past and present, but one of the things I love hearing is, “I’m keeping this one. I’m keeping this one.” You can do that with a magazine.

Yeah. National Geographic is a great example of that, right?

Right.

People who just keep old copies of it, and they’re ...

I still have old copies of magazines that inspired me in my career, and this is after ... I live in New York City, so I’ve moved like eight times, and yes, some of those magazines went away, but I still have this core shelf of magazines that really hit that bar, and it’s fun.

Also, it’s project-based work, and goes very much hand-in-hand. I mean, we have a much more integrated operation now than it was a year ago in terms of the digital staff and the print staff. I mean, I wouldn’t even categorize them in that way. It’s really the Vanity Fair staff. So, there’s a lot going back and forth in terms of where story ideas are coming from and who’s doing the work and who’s doing the writing and the editing. These staffs are blended, but we have to make all these different things, and so ideally, you’re just making them to very best of your ability.

Mm-hmm. Let’s turn to the business of making magazines. Obviously, you came in, I think, with a significant expectation that cost would come down at Vanity Fair. Having read Tiny Brown’s diaries, I know what the world was like back then. I don’t know exactly what it was like during the world of Graydon Carter, but you’d had this kind of caricature in your mind of very expensive lunches, black cars chauffeuring everyone around, unlimited location budgets, business class travel for everyone. And correct me if I’m wrong, but my sense is that there is a desire to bring that more into line with the realities of publishing as it exists today, and more generally, I think Condé Nast has been on a trajectory of what seems from the outside like decline. You’re closing titles, consolidation, things like that. How’s the business going?

Well, I will say reading Tina’s diaries was very entertaining on that score, just as someone who’s worked, let alone Vanity Fair, but who’s worked in the business over the last 20 years, I guess. Wow. I’ve been all over it. I’ve been at newspapers. I’ve been at a weekly magazine at Time. And I think what I take away from that arc of that experience is that there are ways to innovate.

There are titles that are lost to us now. They are gone, and there are titles I still miss. I miss Gourmet. So not everyone makes it, but I do think that in terms of a brand like Vanity Fair, the legacy is something that works in our favor. There are assets ... I mean, I thought about this. I thought about this when I was thinking about the job because it’s something ... I think back in the day, if you were the editor, you just didn’t worry about the business side of it, and that’s just not true anymore.

What percentage of your time do you spend thinking about the economic sort of challenges or opportunities of Vanity Fair?

I probably spend 100 percent of my time thinking about editorial and 100 percent thinking about the business, and so that’s 200 percent.

That sounds really familiar and completely accurate based on my experience.

Right. Right. I mean, I just think for people of our generation, it’s almost harder to split them apart because you’re thinking about the vitality of the product. And those two things are related in my mind. There are values to a legacy publication that I hold very dear: For example, the opportunity to work with an archive. Vanity Fair has an amazing archive, and that is just a huge asset to us.

And so when we think about the challenges of the business, you know, one of the challenges of the business is just that there was a very clear model that used to be the case, and it was a very straightforward advertising model. And that’s what powered Tina’s Vanity Fair — subscriptions too, but really, it was an advertising model.

And the truth is, now we just have to diversify. And so that’s already happening. We put up a paywall this spring, which has been very encouraging, successful. And that’s about ... We still do have a robust advertising business, but we also want to think very seriously about what our consumer revenue picture could be because there are a lot of people out there who are very attached to what we do. And I remember from my days as a freelancer, the philosophy that if you set a value to your work, people will believe that you are worth it. And I think personally, I was very struck by that advice when I was a young, scrappy editor, roaming all around town looking for work.

But I think it’s true of content too. And so I think really for me — and maybe this is true for Conde Nast at large, but I can speak mostly for myself — it’s really about just trying to think creatively about where, how can we ... We know that we will not be able to ride on a solely advertising business for the rest of our days, or rather if we do, the rest of our days will not be terribly long. And I care about this content, and I care about the opportunities that it presents, not just for me and my staff but for the people we cover and the stories we can tell. So it’s part of the job to think about how we can change that model.

Have you gleaned any insights from your experience with the paywall about what motivates people to sign up? Is it, “I got to know the latest inside dope from the White House,” from Gabe Sherman. Is it the big profile? Or is it some combination?

So the great news has been that it is a combination, and I think that’s a real strength for us, and it’s something that, again, is very encouraging because the mix really matters to our readers. Like they want to ... Because there are a lot of places where you can go for the one thing and where you can do a really deep dive in politics, or in celebrity news or what have you.

But I think it seems from the data that we have, that what people appreciate about Vanity Fair is that they can be in an environment where they’re being served multiple different kinds of dishes but all with this same level of quality, and I come back to the word entertainment like in the writing of it and the tone and the voice. So that’s been great to see because we do care a lot about covering all of our different worlds and also finding the intersections between them.

Talk to me a little bit about how ... Your editorship has coincided with the #MeToo era in Hollywood. Vanity Fair, obviously, huge impact in Hollywood. It’s one of the main subjects that you’re known for and cover aggressively, both the business of Hollywood and the celebrities themselves and the culture around them. How have you approached Hollywood in this time?

It was truly fascinating. Again, I go back to a year ago just to think about what Vanity Fair could mean or could do in this era that was just changing rapidly under our feet. You could argue that this magazine played a major role in the creation of the celebrity industrial complex, and it’s very much part of that world, but also, it’s our job and it’s appropriate for us to hold that world to account.

So for me, I think what felt like an opportunity to me was that it meant that all of that, that establishment, the kind of codes of the way things were done in Hollywood, the certain aspects of the clubbiness of it, certain impressions about what would fly and what wouldn’t, or what kinds of movies would succeed and what wouldn’t, all those things have been picked apart. It’s #MeToo, but it’s also, this is the year of “Black Panther,” this is the year of “Crazy Rich Asians.”

There are just all of these truisms about Hollywood that I don’t think are actually true anymore, or at the very least, they bear interrogation. It’s fun and exciting and intellectually exciting for me to think about how Vanity Fair can pursue some of those storylines because I think that audiences perceive the change. Certainly, we read all about it in the news, but I think that we’re in the middle of a very dynamic and kinetic cultural moment, and that’s sort of the perfect place for us.

I think that some folks would ask ... Vanity Fair has a really sort of conflicted relationship here, right? It is one of the practitioners, the prime practitioners of the celebrity profile, which requires access, which requires negotiation, which in some ways, can make you a less aggressive scrutinizer of the networks of power in Hollywood. Vanity Fair didn’t break the Harvey Weinstein story, The New York Times and the New Yorker did, despite Vanity Fair having a really aggressive past in investigative journalism. Do you think that’s shifting now? Is that something that you’d like to see greater scrutiny of these power networks in a kind of investigative reporting kind of way?

I think it’s shifting, and I think that all journalists, or at least a lot of us now, it’s funny, it’s almost like the analogy in politics makes it interesting to me. At a certain point, when certain kinds of stories in our current moment, one has to ask oneself whether the access is helpful to the story or hurts the story. Does having access to Donald Trump get you closer to the truth about Donald Trump? Or is the write-around really the way to get at the truth about him?

And I think we’ve kind of seen compelling arguments on both sides. And so that’s sort of how I think about it, story by story, and I think when we’re all talking about stories and sort of what to pursue, it’s kind of ... Sometimes the thing to do is to sit down with the person and talk to them and hear all about it. And sometimes, that’s not the story that you need or want. And so I think for me, it’s very much about figuring out how are we going to serve our readers, where do we need to put our investigative energy, and access isn’t the be all and end all of journalism about Hollywood anymore.

And you know, of course celebrities are rioting against it. I don’t know if you saw in the New York Times magazine, they had a profile of Bradley Cooper where the writer, one of the great profile writers working right now, Taffy Akner, who basically said he refused to cooperate the writing of the profiles. So that creates its own issues.

So, I want to talk a little bit about The New Establishment list, which just came out. Top of the list was a surprise. How did you put this list together and how is this year, given everything that’s going on, obviously #MeToo, the craziness of the Trump administration, a world on fire. How did you put this list together?

So it’s amazing. When I got to Vanity Fair, they showed me this machine that they have where you put all the data in and then you crank it, and it comes out with this ranked list, and it’s total science. It’s amazing.

It should be-

I knew it existed!

Well, it should be said you do have some experience in list-making. You worked on the Time 100, which is I think a very, also a fascinating exercise in list-making. So you come by this honestly.

Yes, I have made many lists in my day. I’m a big believer in the list actually. I feel like lists are useful. They’re useful for me in my life. I love to see ... It’s just a spectator sport, but I love all the year end lists and what books and everything. So I think lists are a great way to take a snapshot of a moment in time, and The New Establishment has these two conflicting words in the name, “new” and “establishment”, and I feel like that’s exactly what we saw on display over this past year.

And it was in Hollywood when, as you had people sort of literally being toppled from their pedestals, but also in Silicon Valley and certainly in Washington and in Wall Street, too. And so it was a great year to be involved in this particular list-making because it felt like there was a lot of newness to go along with the establishment, and even the establishment people are kind of doing new things, they’re being forced to.

So someone like Bob Iger, who has certainly been on this list before, has been, his new cycle this year is very different from what it has been in the past, with the acquisition of Fox. So we felt like there was opportunity for some fresh faces, fresh voices. I think with a list like this, you want it to have momentum. You want to be able to capture some momentum and point readers toward where the energy is. And so we have the brand new CEO of Time’s Up and the core Time’s Up group on this list.

And we have the kind of rule breakers in politics on the left, who are rewriting that playbook. Whether they win or lose in the midterms, I think they’ve changed the conversation about what progressivism is and what the Democratic Party might represent in the coming presidential election. And yes, at the top of the list we have a taciturn-

Talk about an uncooperative profile subject.

Uncooperative profile subject, the man everyone wants to profile, Robert Mueller. It’s Mueller, right?

Exactly.

Who is, I think, probably the hardest-working man in Washington right now. And whose findings might change the course of history, or not. We’ll have to see.

Hmm. Yeah. And you’ll be holding an event around this?

Yes. So we have a summit in Los Angeles next week, and it’s a couple of days of programming on all sorts of topics. We are talking to, I’m sort of thinking of a few different kinds of panels. We’re talking to the leadership of the New York Times about-

I saw that, the three cousins all together for the first, I think, for the first time being interviewed together.

I think so, yes, and sort of what their year has been like. And we’re talking to the new CEO of Goldman Sachs, 10 years after the financial crisis, and kind of what the future of that organization looks like. We are talking to Bob Iger, actually Doris Kearns Goodwin will be interviewing him, which will be fun. And also ... yeah, some other treats.

One conversation that caught my eye was Hannah Gadsby talking to Monica Lewinsky and I thought, “Oh, that’s gonna be a really interesting conversation between the two of them.”

I’m really excited about that one. Hannah Gadsby, of course, is the breakout comedian whose Netflix special this summer, which she was touring, and then her Netflix special kind of like snapped everyone’s heads about sort of what comedy is in the current moment. And Monica Lewinsky, who actually wrote this amazing piece for us earlier in the year about #MeToo and sort of her overlapping experience in that vein, is just very thoughtful about a lot of the issues that Hannah addresses in her work. And so I think I feel like that will be a very timely and intriguing conversation.

Hannah is also very funny.

Which is great.

Which is great.

We need some fun.

Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you, Radhika, for coming onto the podcast.

Thank you.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.