Lena Dunham: guest editor

Photo of LenI just finished reading Stylist magazine’s fifth anniversary issue which was guest edited by Lena Dunham. If you haven’t heard of Stylist, it’s a free weekly magazine which you can either read online or find a hard copy outside of certain tube station entrances on Tuesdays, or from various clothing shops all week. Stylist is targeted at the 20-40 year old female commuter, and content covers fashion, homeware, travel, and food. If you want to read the issue, you can download the app here.

I read Stylist most weeks but this particular issue really stood out for me and got me thinking about the idea of the guest editor. Usually, Stylist is edited by Lisa Smosarski. As with most magazines, Stylist opens with a message from the editor. I am sometimes guilty of skipping over these as I am too keen to get to the rest of the content. However, Dunham’s issue made me re-think one of the roles of the magazine editor. Sometimes, the editor’s letter introduces a particular issues overall theme, which might get lost if it isn’t read. This is, from my point of view as a publishing student, something we shouldn’t overlook, as it guides our understanding of a magazine as a whole piece of work, as opposed to a collection of mismatching articles. Even if the theme is basic or unoriginal, for example a focus around Bonfire Night, knowing it and understanding the reason behind it is what brings the magazine together.

The Stylist anniversary issue had the unmistakable stamp of Dunham on it – a fashion spread featuring plus-size models, a focus on food, strong and political articles about abortion and birth control, and a travel section on Austin, Texas. Having a guest editor seemed to freshen up Stylist and allow the magazine to cover controversial issues without losing any easily shocked readers – anyone who didn’t agree with what might be considered extreme pro-choice views is safe in the knowledge that normal business will resume at Stylist next week. With a guest editor, a magazine can trial new things without causing too much commotion.

Understandably, there are some downsides to having a guest editor. As Dunham herself mentioned in her issue of Stylist, she is the focus of much internet hatred, so perhaps Stylist lost a few readers that week. I can also imagine some guest editors putting an inadequate amount of effort into an issue, or having too many wacky ideas and trying to pull a magazine in the wrong direction. This would be problematic and could cause much embarrassment if the guest editor was particularly adamant that their way is the right way. Issues might also arise if the guest editor tries too hard to plug a new product/book/TV show, as a magazine might turn into more of an advert. If this happened, people might be put off the magazine who would lose some credibility for allowing that to happen.

Overall, though, I think I would now consciously seek out guest edited magazines, as it’s really interesting to see the impact that the guest editor might have on a particular issue, and it’s a great to see how politics and personal views can shape a magazine through the features they add to an issue.

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