Thursday, August 27, 2009

Anna Wintour Documentarian and the Professional Editor

Over at The Daily Beast, Kim Masters gives us a peek at the man who made the documentary that gives us a peek at Vogue and its iconic leader, Anna Wintour. R.J. Cutler directed the new movie The September Issue, the story of the creation of that annual mega-thick issue of Vogue, and he tells Masters his thoughts on Wintour and her myth. (Just a hint: He seems to be impressed with her.)

When I watched this trailer below, I didn't see anything in it that makes her look like the dragon lady she's supposed to be. She doesn't snap, she doesn't bite off any heads, and she is decisive. I will have to see the movie to get a better sense, but I also have now watched her on 60 Minutes and Letterman, and my general impression is that she's in an industry filled with people who have very large insecurities -- so their complaints about her might not be the most objective. When she says she doesn't like something they did, they take it as a personal insult. When she questions something her staff is trying to put into the magazine, they think they've been slapped in the face. But her job is to have the highest standards. An editor should question everything from the typeface on the cover to the various impressions that a model in a photo might give to readers.

I once worked with a woman who was a former U.S. News journalist. As she edited a newsletter I'd created, she noted that the phrasing of one headline created an unintended double entendre. Said she, "Editors have to have dirty minds." What she meant, of course, is that editors and writers need to be able to look at what they create through the eyes of their readers and to spot possible unintended impressions the readers might have. It doesn't necessarily mean you avoid using that photo or wording or design that might be troublesome, but you are aware of it and address it, if need be.

Watch the trailer. Wintour is looking at everything that goes into that magazine. That's what she's paid to do. The fact that she must do it very well is the reason why she has been at the top of the magazine profession for two decades.

Now, I don't know Wintour. I've never purchased or read a copy of Vogue. And I'm well-aware that my exposure to her is confined to her chosen public campaign. But if we understand that The September Issue is a documentary and The Devil Wears Prada was not, then shouldn't we be filled with more respect for all that she has accomplished and not imagine that she attacks dull-witted models with machetes?

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