A Twist of Fortune

Alyson Shontell is not only the first woman to edit the storied business title but also represents a generational changing of the guard.

When Alyson Shontell was announced as Fortune’s new editor-in-chief, most of the headlines focused on the exciting fact that she will become the first woman to edit the exalted business magazine in its 91-year history. But her gender is far from the only thing that separates Shontell from the 19 previous people to hold the role.

Not only does the 35-year-old Shontell represent a generational change, but she’s also a bonafide digital native. She’s spent her entire career at Business Insider, joining as the sixth hire at age 22 in 2008 and rising up to become editor-in-chief in 2016.

The time when top editors were expected to simply shepherd a few dozen editorial pages each month was quickly fading when Business Insider got its start. Fortune itself has gone through a number of ownership changes in that span as well: Part of Meredith Corp.’s 2018 acquisition of Time Inc., Fortune was one of the titles quickly shopped to other owners, landing later that same year with Thai magnate Chatchaval Jiaravanon.

According to Fortune’s announcement, Shontell’s purview as EIC will include overseeing the magazine, its website, newsletters, executive conferences, video, podcasts, and a whole damn social network. Shontell doesn’t fear this new era of publishing. On the contrary, she told Off the Record, “There’s no more exciting time to be a business journalist,” highlighting her plans to create efficiency and synergy across platforms to make sure stories are reaching consumers in whatever format they prefer.

“There are a lot of things that I’ve learned from trial-and-error in helping grow a media brand from scratch and from a media landscape where the business model changes every six months,” she said. “It’s been a constant state of change since I joined [Business Insider].”

But while the mediums may be expansive, Shontell wants to keep Fortune’s areas of coverage streamlined. “I don’t want us to boil the ocean,” she said. “We don’t need to cover every aspect of business. I want us to pick our spots and become the best in a few key areas.” When asked to elaborate on those areas, Shontell listed, “Leadership content, tech coverage, making sense of investing and the markets… things executives need to care about.”

She also sees diversity, equity, and inclusion as essential to the mission of covering the business world—but not just because of her own identity. “Whether you’re a man or woman running the publication, you have to focus on diversity. You have to cover it, and you have to have it in your newsroom, so you don’t have any blind spots in your coverage,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who’s at the helm, you can’t serve a business audience without covering these issues that are on every business leader’s mind.”

With Fortune’s print base on the decline, Shontell’s startup mentality is what the brand needs. But unlike at Insider, where Shontell said, “I had to build traffic [and] a subscription business up from nothing,” she’ll go into Fortune with a bit of a head start. They count 40,000 digital subscribers since launching their paywall and tiered subscription plan in March 2020.