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In Stella We Trust

Q&A
Portrait of Stella Bugbee by Victoria Stevens.

By Tali Minor

Tali Minor: I wanted to begin with how your role has changed since being promoted from editorial director to president and editor in chief. Does that mean you’re now engaged with both editorial and publishing concerns?
Stella Bugbee: It does. As you are probably aware we are in a complicated publishing environment in the sense that the old rules and methods are still somewhat in place, but everything is changing in a very rapid way. The ground is sort of moving underneath our feet. My title change is sort of like an acknowledgement that a person in my position needs to play a role that is forward-thinking and business-oriented, but also editorial.

TM: It’s all about the brand.
SB: Well, I think to be a successful media company, everyone is thinking about all aspects of the business, like growing editorially or growing in a business capacity. And I think it’s also a sort of acknowledgement that a lot of people in our space already operate this way—whether they have the title or not. I wouldn’t say that my job drastically changed, it certainly meant that externally it did, but internally I’m not doing things super differently than I was.

TM: I noticed there was a flurry of Bugbee interviews around the relaunch of The Cut, which also coincided with your promotion. Was that part of your overall strategy?
SB: We did a pretty big push with press around relaunch. That was necessary because it was a redesign. We didn’t fundamentally alter our DNA, but we reorganized ourselves pretty drastically, so there was a bit of explaining that needed to happen. I worked pretty closely to re-architect the site in the sense of coming up with the four new categories: Style, Self, Culture and Power. And those words needed a little explanation. I think we really saw this as an opportunity to introduce the brand to some more people—or reintroduce the brand to people who thought they knew it. I did a huge push around that, which I think I would have done regardless of my new title.

TM: How much of what we see is your vision? For instance, are the column ideas your own, or is it all collaborative?
SB: It’s really hard to say. I mean, any person running a project is just in charge of a big giant collaboration. I have really great team members, so I wouldn’t say that like 50 percent of The Cut is me, me, me. It’s really just a sensibility thing, a hiring thing. I’m a big part of it in terms of my sensibility. I make a lot of choices editorially and visually.

TM: And you set the overall tone.
SB: Yeah. My background as a visual person plays into things a lot. I think about things visually, as well as packaging ideas into stories and coming up with rubrics. It’s a giant collaboration; my coworkers are really amazing creative people who are all the time coming up with their own creative contributions.

TM: Some of the columns are just so spot on. There’s an intimacy that you create with the content that feels as if it has evolved from the best conversations I ever had with my girlfriends.
SB: Well, that’s really good to hear because that’s what we are going for. We do talk a lot about conversation and about what kind of conversations people are having. In a very modern way, we just try to mimic the sound of the time.

TM: As a women’s magazine, have you reflected on how the idea of feminism has changed over the last five years?
SB: It’s been a really amazing time to get to cover feminism and women’s politics. I can’t imagine a more interesting moment, honestly. We’ve had the first female presidential candidate run, so much sexual harassment, we’ve had crazy setbacks in abortion rights, it’s like a moment where...

TM: ... everything is up in the air.
SB: Ten years ago I was working at Condé Nast at an interior design magazine. That felt really timely and great at the moment; it was the housing boom. It was the place to be at that moment. Well, lucky for me, I feel like I’m in the feminism boom—well, at least it certainly is where the national conversation seems to be focused. And I get to be within the conversation. It’s really nice.

TM: How much of your staff is female?
SB: About 99 percent of it; we have one guy on staff.

TM: So do you ever have a moment where you think you might be going too far? With your headlines, for instance; they can be pretty edgy!
SB: We work on our headlines a lot. We work on them as a group. We’re trying to sound like nobody else. I don’t think we worry too much about offending people. In the sense of, has it gone too far? We know what would offend us, and we don’t do that. It’s very intuitive, I hate to say it but it just really is. And in terms of the whole site, it’s very much run by analyzing data and then making intuitive decisions based on that. We’re definitely not writing for computers. We’re writing for people, based on what we think they want and they need.

TM: It’s so nice to hear someone say that. So, SEO is not your driving force?
SB: It’s obviously an important consideration when you’re publishing online. But it is not the only consideration that we make when we are considering what to assign.

TM: What’s your communication style? Do you have a lot of face-to-face interaction or is almost everything via Slack?
SB: I’m in meetings all day. I’m also on Slack all day. Constantly using both.

TM: So how do you turn off or disconnect?
SB: I do not. I’m always on.

TM: Does that make you happy?
SB: I don’t look at it as whether I’m happy or not. I’m engaged in what I do. It’s a privilege to get to work here; it’s a privilege to get to do what I do, to be this engaged and want to work the way I want to work here. I think this is slightly generational but it also might be unique to me. I really enjoy what I do, so I’m thinking about it 24 hours a day. And in no way is that a complaint. I feel like [New York Magazine editor] Adam Moss is the same way. He’ll go on vacation and come back with all these great notes because he’s been thinking. The reason I chose this job and not any number of other things is that I wanted to be creative all the time and get to work in that way. And I guess I’m just very lucky that I feel that way.

TM: Where do you get your news? What do you like to read on a daily basis?
SB: I look at twitter a lot, I read all of New York Mag for news, I read The New Yorker. I basically get my links from Twitter and from our Slack channel. I get newsletters; I read The New York Times newsletter. I see the news alerts form Apple News. I would say I’m not a newshound in the sense that I’m waiting for the news to break like all the time. There are people on my staff who are more like that. I’m in meetings all day, and then I’ll catch up to the news when I get out of them.

TM: Were you responsible for building most of the team as it is now?
SB: Yes. There’s nobody here who I have not hired.

TM: What’s your hiring process like?
SB: I would say that creativity, ambition and a sense of humor are the things everybody has to have if they work here.

TM: Looking at some of the greatest macro-changes online, are there things that really stand out, that really rocked your world?
SB: We’ve watched the whole process improve, in terms of the content getting better, the writing getting better, people being more ambitious. And at the same time, we’ve watched an over-reliance on social media-driven traffic. I think we’ve yet to see if this is a sustainable business model, honestly. I don’t think anybody knows yet. This is a very interesting time to be alive and doing what we are doing.

 

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