Radhika Jones grew up around music. Her father, Robert L. Jones, a singer and guitarist, was a prominent figure on the Cambridge, Mass., folk scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s. When he decided he wanted to travel less, she sold T-shirts and worked the box office at the many events, including the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, he helped produce.
“One thing I really learned from my father,” Ms. Jones said in an interview on Sunday night, “was the kind of excitement and rush of discovering new talent and keeping an open mind to new voices and bringing artists together.”
That love of discovery will come into play for Ms. Jones, the editorial director of the books department at The New York Times and a former top editor at Time magazine, now that she has accepted one of the most high-profile jobs in media: editor in chief of Vanity Fair.
Condé Nast, the company that owns Vanity Fair, made the formal announcement on Monday. Ms. Jones, 44, will become the magazine’s sixth editor since its founding in 1913 and the fifth since it was revived in the early 1980s. She will succeed Graydon Carter, 68, who said in September that he would step down after a 25-year run at the helm. Her appointment takes effect on Dec. 11.
It is a remarkable transfer of power at a magazine long defined by Mr. Carter’s sensibility — a stew of Anglophilia, liberal politics, old-style Hollywood glamour and a sense of mischief. Unlike Mr. Carter, a co-founder of the satirical Spy magazine who went on to become an establishment fixture and gatekeeper, Ms. Jones is hardly the gallivanting celebrity editor many media observers assumed would end up as his successor.
Whip-smart and unassuming, with meticulous handwriting and an erstwhile fondness for Tetris, Ms. Jones seems suited to a new era — of transformation but also of restraint — at Vanity Fair and Condé Nast.
“In Radhika, we are so proud to have a fearless and brilliant editor whose intelligence and curiosity will define the future of Vanity Fair in the years to come,” Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue and Condé Nast’s artistic director, said in a statement.
A compendium of culture high and low, politics and distinctive visuals, Vanity Fair was resuscitated in 1983, after a 47-year absence, to add some swank and intelligence to the Condé Nast stable in the days before the company had purchased The New Yorker. Its pages have featured the combative essays of Christopher Hitchens, the dishy features of Dominick Dunne and the high-production portraits of Annie Leibovitz — but the magazine has also remained a holdout as its publisher looks to become leaner and less tied to its print titles.
Mr. Carter has said he mulled leaving the magazine earlier this year but for the election of a longtime foil, Donald J. Trump. (The magazine saw a spike in subscriptions after Mr. Trump tweeted last year that the magazine was “Way down, big trouble, dead!”) He had balked at Condé Nast’s belt-tightening and resisted efforts inside the company to consolidate its design, research, photo and copy teams.
It was not a good time at Condé Nast, or anywhere else in the cash-strapped magazine industry, to scoff at cost-cutting. The company expects to bring in $100 million less in revenue this year than it did in 2016, and it is in the middle of laying off 80 employees. This month, it said it was reducing the print frequency of titles like GQ, Glamour and Architectural Digest and shuttering the print edition of Teen Vogue.
To follow Mr. Carter’s long run, executives sought an editor who could carry on Vanity Fair’s journalistic traditions and travel seamlessly between the spheres of Hollywood, Washington and New York. At the same the new editor would be charged with taking the title beyond its printed form — and with fewer resources — according to an executive briefed on the selection process.
Guessing Mr. Carter’s replacement became a parlor game at media industry parties. Among the names that surfaced were Adam Moss, the editor of New York magazine; Janice Min, who revitalized Us Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter; and Andrew Ross Sorkin, a columnist at The New York Times and a host of CNBC’s Squawk Box.
The decision was ultimately up to Robert Sauerberg, the chief executive of Condé Nast, who oversaw the search along with Ms. Wintour. David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, was also heavily involved.
It was Mr. Remnick who brought in and championed Ms. Jones, the executive said, and she eventually won over the others.
“We didn’t need a name for the sake of a name or a celebrity,” Steven O. Newhouse, a nephew of the late Samuel I. Newhouse and a top executive at Condé Nast’s parent company, Advance Publications, said in an interview. “We really wanted someone who could do the job and be a worthy successor to Graydon, and I think we found someone.”
“She has vision and energy and a very active mind,” Mr. Newhouse added, “and I think that’s what Vanity Fair needs.”
Ms. Jones was the only candidate Mr. Newhouse met.
A product of Ridgefield, Conn., by way of New York and Cincinnati, Ms. Jones, graduated from Harvard College and received a doctoral degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University. She has lived in Taipei and Moscow, where she got her start in journalism as the arts editor at The Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper. (Her Russian, she said, was rusty.)
Many editors in her position would proclaim their love of magazines, particularly the one they are about to sit atop, but Ms. Jones was characteristically candid.
“It’s hard for me to exactly figure out when I became obsessed with magazines,” she said.
Did she read Vanity Fair growing up?
“On and off,” she said.
She declined to describe her plans for Vanity Fair. “I need to get oriented first — there’s a lot to take in,” she said. She also demurred when asked about any writers she was considering. “I’m just really interested in discovery,” she said.
Ms. Jones, who joined The Times last November, is not the first person to make the move from Times books coverage to the top editorial position at Vanity Fair. In 1981, as Condé Nast announced its plan to revive the Jazz Age title, it appointed Richard Locke, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, to run it. “We take risks,” Alexander Liberman, then Condé Nast’s editorial director, said when asked about the selection.
Mr. Locke was replaced by a Conde Nast veteran, Leo Lerman, four issues into his run.
Those who know Ms. Jones believe she will thrive, citing her literary and academic background as for the breadth of her interests. Before she joined The Times, she was a deputy managing editor at Time magazine, where she transformed the Time 100 franchise into an eclectic mix of celebrities and unheralded visionaries. After the issue’s corresponding annual gala, she would host an all-night karaoke party at a Midtown dive. At The Paris Review, the literary quarterly able to make a young writer’s career, she served as managing editor.
“She once referred to herself as a ‘formerly shy person,’ as someone who had to learn how to speak out,” said Nancy Gibbs, who recently stepped down as the top editor at Time. “She doesn’t come on incredibly strong. She doesn’t overpower you with her ideas — she’s a different kind of presence.”
In his quarter century at Vanity Fair, Mr. Carter parlayed its editorship into elite social status. A party host, producer of documentary films and Broadway shows, political commentator and restaurateur, he became part of the very celebrity fabric. On his watch, Vanity Fair’s annual post-Oscar party became one of the year’s most glittery, star-studded affairs.
It is perhaps inevitable that Ms. Jones will invite comparisons to Mr. Carter, just as he had to live up to the expectations of readers who had grown to love the version of Vanity Fair created by his predecessor, Tina Brown. Some in the media world are already scrutinizing her experience for signs she will not measure up, particularly when it comes Mr. Carter’s ability to navigate Hollywood.
Her supporters reject any notion she will not succeed on every level. And in case anyone was wondering, yes, she will preside over the 2018 Oscar party.
“The reality is, she has incredible credentials to direct a magazine that’s so focused on culture,” Mr. Newhouse said.
“I think that she’s fully capable of all the elements of Vanity Fair,” he added. “Obviously, you don’t start out — as Graydon didn’t start out — the way that Graydon ended up.”