Joanna Coles On Covering Politics the 'Cosmopolitan' Way

How the lady mag's EIC plans to introduce a new generation of voters to the weighty issues affecting young women today.
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How the lady mag's EIC plans to introduce a new generation of voters to the weighty issues affecting young women today.
Coles at New York Fashion Week. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for TRESemme

Coles at New York Fashion Week. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for TRESemme

When Joanna Coles first took the reins at Cosmopolitan in 2012, the former Marie Claire editor-in-chief vowed to bring the sex tip-laden glossy back to the front row at Fashion Week. Now she's set her sights on some other much fought-over seats: Those in the U.S. Senate, and how to make the issues discussed in those stuffy Washington, D.C. cloisters feel more accessible to her magazine's core audience -- millennials. 

I ran into Coles Thursday night (literally -- I actually stepped on her shoe. Sorry!!) at Refinery29's putt-putt and Country Club-themed Fashion Week party in SoHo -- where we chatted about Cosmo's recently announced plans to cover politics, her unusual office setup, and her newfound affinity for golf carts.

Fashionista: Hi! Will you be indulging in any mini golf tonight?

Joanna Coles: I actually just had my first golf lesson on Saturday, so I'm thrilled to be here! 

How'd that go?

It was very, very hard! Much harder than I'd expected. I think the part I really enjoyed most was riding around in the golf cart... 

Speaking of exercise (kind of)... I saw somewhere recently that you've been using a treadmill desk at your Cosmo office. How long have you had one?

Probably about a year, and I really love it. I very rarely sit down during the day now -- I really find it very enervating when I do sit down. The key thing, when you get a treadmill desk, is to set up your computer and your phone on the desk so you're really always standing up.

So do you keep separate shoes to change into at your office?

Yes, yes. I have a pair of Céline flats that I use a lot, but sometimes I just wear sneakers. 

I've heard that Cosmo is going to start covering politics this fall. What can you tell me about that?

Yes! We're going to be covering issues that directly impact our readers' lives -- like, equal pay for equal work. Sixty-two percent of college intake is now women, and no woman currently graduates from college and thinks it's OK to be paid less than a man for doing the same job. We're also very keen on access to contraception. Those are the two things that we feel really strongly about.

I think there's a really big divide between older voters and millennial voters, and our readers are really kind of surprised that there are still all these old male politicians, like Thom Tillis in North Carolina, who feel they can kill the equal pay acts, and who don't believe in access to contraception. I mean, Tillis is fighting a very close race with Kay Hagan, and he's a supporter of Personhood, which means he'd like to remove a lot of the contraception options that are currently available, including the IUD. And I think millennial readers -- men and women, Republican and Democrat, look at politicians like that and think, 'We're not on the same planet. I don't understand.'

Will you be bringing on any specifically political writers?

Right now we have two very good political writers on our website: Jill Filipovic and Lori Fradkin, and we have Nell Scovell, who co-wrote "Lean In," writing for our November issue -- we've done a big piece on women candidates and why they get treated so differently from male candidates -- including Republican female candidates. 

I really think it's a generational thing, that young voters are turned off by the gridlock in Washington, and the old men they feel are holding up people from getting stuff done. And [this coming election], there are a lot of key seats -- like the Wisconsin governor's seat, like [Kentucky Senate opponents] Alison Grimes versus Mitch McConnell -- where it's a really close margin. And I think young women voters are going to be the voters that actually turn the election. We want them to know what's at stake.