“I’m absolutely thrilled. This truly is my dream job. I’ve loved Essence since I was a kid,” Vanessa Bush, the new editor-in-chief of Essence, told theGrio.
The new head of the black women’s lifestyle bible has worked for numerous publications over the course of her career, including Life and Glamour, but none other has drawn her passionate devotion.
In her new role, Bush is thrilled to take her decade-plus years of experience in journalism and apply it in service to African-American women, at a magazine that inspired her both as a black woman and budding journalist as a child.
She even remembers her first encounter with the glossy.
“It’s something that I will never forget. I can remember creating mini-magazines with my mom,” Bush reminisced. “One of the few places where I could actually cut out pictures of women who look like me was Essence magazine. So to be able to bring that full circle decades later is just a dream. Essence is the embodiment of the quintessential black woman who is empowered and that’s an achiever, that’s looking for inspiration, that’s looking for wise counsel. That’s always trying to be the best that she can be. Essence has always been that guide book that shows us how to do that.”
The backstory of the new Essence chief
The Columbia School of Journalism graduate began her career as a staff writer before moving into editorial duties. In 2000, Bush began working at Time, Inc., now the parent company of Essence Communications.
Simultaneously, after operating independently since its founding by Edward Lewis in 1970, Essence began its initial partnership with Time in 2000. Bush made her move at that time, and joined the Essence team as a beauty and fashion features editor.
“The beauty of working at Essence is that as my interests have changed, I’ve been able to move into different areas,” says the tome’s new lead, who has covered health, wellness and parenting for Essence, in addition to penning longform pieces of journalism on important social topics, such as childhood obesity. “I’ve worked in practically every department at the magazine!” Bush said with a merry laugh. “I think it’s prepared me really well for actually running the publication.”
In her new role, Bush intends to address the fact that many black women, while more optimistic about their lives than ever according to various reports, are still dissatisfied with their representation in media.
“It just isn’t doing a very good job of portraying our true selves, the complete picture of who we are,” she told theGrio. “I still see Essence as that place that helps illuminate, inspire, educate, empower, and elevate black women. There’s still a clear need for that. Our new direction is all about the promise and the joy of our lives, and celebrating that, continuing with our tradition of bringing awareness to the issues in our community as well as our tradition of journalistic excellence. We want to be a part of those critical conversations that are happening right now.”
Bush has been in an acting editor-in-chief role since February 2013. In this capacity, she has used the pages of Essence to address issues such as gun violence and racial profiling, and will continue to lead the magazine in such a way that it can not only provide an accurate mirror of black life, but will also create dialogues that move discussions surrounding critical issues in positive directions.
Bush on publishing business challenges
With the online arena exploding, in addition to the existence of upstart books such as Sister 2 Sister magazine, there are many more choices for black women today–and greater competition for this audience, which is a lucrative one, particularly for beauty and fashion advertisers. Black women bring billions of dollars a year in revenue to both industries. In addition, magazine publishing overall is facing declines in ad revenue. Essence has been duly impacted.
“While its circulation remains strong, hovering near 1.1 million in 2012,” reports The New York Times in a July 2013 feature about the magazine’s future, “like many magazines it has been hurt by declining print advertising. Essence had an 11.7 percent decrease in ad pages and a 5.5 percent decrease in ad revenue, to $24.6 million, in the second quarter, compared with $26 million in the second quarter of 2012.”