David Weiss
David Weiss

It’s rare that a commercial magazine reprints an academic paper, but the British magazine Gym Class is reprinting an article, “’That’s Part of What We Do’: The Performative Power of Vogue’s Anna Wintour” that UNM Assistant Professor of Communication & Journalism David Weiss wrote on Vogue Editor-in- Chief, Anna Wintour. The paper was originally published in the “Journal of Magazine & New Media Research.”

Gym Class is a magazine for magazine lovers. A review on “Stack” says Weiss’s article on Wintour is brilliant and fascinating – the sort of enthusiastic review professors rarely experience.

“What interested me in this project is how media or in some cases, executives, like Anna Wintour at Vogue shape the institutions that their outlets cover,” said Weiss.  “What I came to discover is that Anna Wintour is publicly called the most powerful person in fashion. As a media scholar, I find that fascinating because she is not a designer. She is not a manufacturer. She is not a retailer. She is a magazine editor. So what is a magazine editor doing being the most powerful person in another industry?”

Weiss is now searching for other media figures who move beyond reporting on a particular aspect of the world. “Are there other people and other media outlets that actually shape – that are deeply and directly involved in the workings of the world that they cover, not just cover it?” he said.

Wintour seems to go further in actively shaping fashion than other editors or publishers do. Weiss said, “She runs a contest similar to that on Project Runway. She has been running a contest in association with the Council of Fashion Designers of America for the past 12 or 13 years to identify new up and coming designers and get them jobs in the fashion design industry. She also created an event called “Fashion’s Night Out” to boost retail sales of fashion worldwide. Is that what a magazine editor is supposed to do?”

Weiss said he didn’t know anything about fashion until the fall of 2009. That’s when he went with friends to see a new documentary, “The September Issue” about putting together Vogue’s biggest issue of the year. That’s when he watched Wintour actively shaping some of the lines later displayed in the issue as she visited the showrooms of designers and told them what she liked and didn’t like.

This external activity is so far beyond the normal role of journalists that Weiss thinks it is worth studying more closely as a media scholar. That’s where his current research is taking him as he looks for other examples of media figures who alter the worlds that their outlets cover.

Students interested in Weiss’s work can find him in the Communication & Journalism Department at UNM where he teaches undergraduate courses in strategic communication, political communication and media criticism and graduate seminars about the media industries and mass communications theories.