WSJ. Magazine Editor-in-Chief Kristina O’Neill on breaking out of fashion’s echo chamber – WWD

Ten years ago when Kristina O’Neill took over the helm of WSJ. Magazine, the Wall Street Journal’s glossy fashion and style supplement, she was the magazine’s third editor in its then young life. It was created in 2008 as part of Rupert Murdoch’s effort to transform the journal into a national general interest publication – and to compete head-to-head with the New York Times. She introduced a new logo (in the journal’s strict escrow font), recruited bold names for Moonlight columnists (Karl Lagerfeld, Dwyane Wade, Marina Abramovic were rendered in the journal’s signature stipple hedcuts), and campaigned very high goal.

“We [aren’t] Changing things just for the sake of change,” O’Neill wrote in her very first letter to the editor. “Each transformation marks a shift toward content that will help you on your journey to an enviably fulfilling life.”

It could be seen as a prescient statement signaling the current FOMO movement being supercharged by social media. But now it also reads like a paean to the era before a global pandemic, an attempted insurgency, and the annihilation of Roe v. Wade cast their somber shadow. But, says O’Neill, 46, “We haven’t deviated from that path. If anything, we’re more grounded in that mission of creating content that enriches people’s lives. Now we have a few stories a day that make for a WSJ. Reader text thread with friends is full of wit and wisdom.”

Mentions in group texts remain unquantifiable, but during O’Neill’s tenure, WSJ. The magazine has pulled off a number of journalistic coups, including the inside story of Kim Kardashian’s shapewear line following the “Kimono” debacle; extracting some interesting quotes from the dimwitted Tom Brady after his Super Bowl win with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and a 2018 interview with wellness mogul Gwyneth Paltrow just before her marriage to Brad Falchuk. (In Lachlan Bailey’s memorable cover photo, Paltrow eats an orange popsicle. O’Neill gushes, “I think it’s probably one of the best pictures of her that’s ever been taken. I love it.”)

O’Neill’s first WSJ. Magazine cover photographed by Mikael Jansson.

The next chapter in O’Neill’s tenure comes as the influencer class continues its incursion into the fashion industry, toppling and ousting gatekeepers in glossy legacy titles ahead of the social media era. Now, O’Neill’s brief includes the kind of New Curve style and fashion reporting that drives clicks and digital ad revenue.

In the past three months, the Journal has hired 16 reporters and editors for a now-full Style newsroom that covers the day-to-day machinations of the industry with more urgency than was possible at a glossy magazine that relies heavily on freelance talent.

“The beauty of making long-lead magazines is that we kind of have time,” O’Neill said of Paris Fashion Week during a phone call last week. “We work well in advance and everything is very beautifully and carefully curated. But we somehow missed this agility. The goal was to create a desk that can respond to things faster and cover things in the here and now.”

Sarah Ball, News Editor at Style, cites breaking stories about the death of Queen Elizabeth II, market reporter Kelly Crow’s information on the art market and the spending power of Harry Styles’ fan base on the morning “Don’t Worry Darling” was better posted . than expected box office numbers.

The mandate of the style desk, says Ball, is to “[find] the distinctive style angle way in [to a story] and often with a more visually lush approach.”

The Wall Street Journal, which was an early part of the paywall model, has 3.7 million subscribers, most of them digital. A Journal spokesperson would not break down the total digital audience for the style vertical, but would break down the digital audience for WSJ over the three months since its launch. Magazine has quadrupled, according to O’Neill. Meanwhile, the magazine will publish eight issues this year, up from six issues when O’Neill joined the journal in 2012. successful How to Spend It magazine (now called HTSI), which will publish a whopping 37 issues this year.

The physical magazine averages 74 pages of ads per issue, while its Innovator special and event (last year’s Innovator Awards recipients included Kardashian, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, novelist Colson Whitehead and Lil Nas X) attracted several new non-endemic sponsors including Samsung and Cadillac.

“During their tenure, Kristina and WSJ. Magazines have helped the journal expand into new areas of coverage and reach new audiences, broadening our view of the world and increasing our relevance – at a time, it should be said, when magazines have faced upheavals of all kinds,” said Journal Chef editor Matt Murray in an email.

Indeed, those who have worked with her say that O’Neill has a knack for generating revenue, which is arguably the top priority for media brands given the ongoing digital disruption. The magazine added 41 new advertisers last year, O’Neill said, as luxury fashion brands expand their advertising footprint, particularly in the US, the industry’s main booming market. And O’Neill noted that the journal’s readership of wealthy individuals has been enviably stable at a time when subscriber churn is flipping businesses from legacy media to streaming services. This could help brace the Journal against the looming recession.

“The WSJ. The magazine launched in 2008 during a very real recession,” O’Neill said. “I think the company has always had a very strong belief that our audience is recession-proof. Even in times of economic uncertainty, we don’t see people unsubscribing from The Wall Street Journal.”

Those who work with O’Neill say that she is collaborative and democratic, not a micromanager editing every inch of a copy. But she knows how to maintain relationships with the right people.

“I’ve always thought that Kristina was one of the most talented women in our industry,” said Delphine Arnault, Louis Vuitton’s executive vice president, who O’Neill reported on in her very first issue of the magazine.

“In the 10 years she has spent at WSJ, she has guided the magazine into an era of great relevance and modernity with a timeless vision of fashion, art and society. I was thrilled to be in her very first issue and it’s inspiring to see how important she was to the WSJ. Magazine very successful.”


Gwyneth Paltrow was photographed by Lachlan Bailey for the December 2018-January 2019 issue of WSJ. Magazine.

O’Neill grew up in Woodbridge, Virginia, a remote suburb of Washington, DC. She came to New York in 1994 as a student at New York University and has lived here ever since. She got her start in journalism at the New York Observer, where she worked as an assistant to Candace Bushnell during her studies. There were stints at Time Out New York and New York Magazine, and 12 years at Harper’s Bazaar, where she rose to editor-in-chief under Glenda Bailey before joining the journal in 2012.

“I’ve always been very responsive to fashion coverage related to cultural storytelling,” says O’Neill. “And I’ve always felt very strongly that it’s important to reflect well beyond the echo chamber of the fashion industry, which I think can be quite limiting. We compete with very reputable fashion publications. But I think our variety of coverage makes a fashion brand’s story really stand out. The curation is very well thought out. And I think that’s what sets us apart. My personal interest is to contextualize fashion in a broader context of cultural reporting.”

Upon joining the journal, she hired Magnus Berger, who was then running his own advertising agency, as the magazine’s creative director. Their marriage dissolved and O’Neill and Berger became a couple. (They have a six-year-old son; O’Neill has a 15-year-old daughter with her ex-husband.) Colleagues invariably describe Berger as O’Neill’s eternal plus-one. Their respective Instagram accounts are adorned with gossamer family photos. And O’Neill shows no awkwardness working so closely with her significant other.

When asked if they ever disagreed, O’Neill said in a follow-up email, “Magnus and I are so in sync that we rarely disagree. We’re currently having a debate on one of the Innovator covers, so I’ll have to update you on who wins.”

Perhaps due to her southern upbringing, O’Neill comes across as down-to-earth, an undiva in an industry crammed with editor monsters. She spends weekends with her family in Brooklyn, New York, where she lives, or in the warmer months on Shelter Island, where Berger has a home. Her personal style is classic. Her first designer purchase was of course a Chanel 2.55 handbag in black. And she’s still capable of being star struck; She recalled rolling under a garage door to see Amy Winehouse at the Fendi Paris Fashion Week show in 2008.

“It was me, Ingrid Sischy and Sandy Brant,” she laughs. “[Winehouse] was about to move on and they knocked down a rolling garage door. And we had to roll under the garage door, but we saw Amy Winehouse.”

As for the next decade, O’Neill still has a few cover gets to land, though she says they haven’t changed much in 10 years. “For so long I really wanted Meryl Streep and then we got Meryl Streep. I wanted to work with Oprah, and then we got Oprah,” she said.

She still pines for Adele and Rihanna.

“And Rihanna would be a better story today than she was ten years ago,” adds O’Neill. “The goal is to have a team structured like the rest of the editorial team, made up of smart, fast-paced writers, with the aim of bringing more style to the Journal as a whole, which historically has been a business and financial newspaper. to provide reporting. Style was an area that was frankly understaffed at the WSJ. And I think we’ve seen over the last few years that it’s all a style story now. “


Tom Brady on WSJ 2021. Men’s style magazine photographed by Mario Sorrenti. WSJ. Magazine Editor-in-Chief Kristina O’Neill on breaking out of fashion’s echo chamber – WWD

Sarah Y. Kim

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