Stella Bugbee, Kristina O'Neill and Joyann King.

Let the guessing game begin.

With the news of Glenda Bailey’s departure from Harper’s Bazaar after just shy of 20 years as editor in chief, first reported by WWD, a trio of names have been mentioned as among those most likely to be her successor. Kristina O’Neill is one, Stella Bugbee is another, as is Joyann King.

King, the executive editorial editor of Bazaar’s web site, is said to be the frontrunner. Elevating her fits in perfectly with the apparent strategy employed by Hearst Magazines president Troy Young of promoting successful web editors from within to take on editor in chief roles. King could not be reached for comment.

The magazine’s digital numbers are up, too, according to the most recent report from the MPA-Association of Magazine Media. Web traffic rose 5 percent in the second quarter and video rose 100 percent, although mobile dipped 18 percent. Subscribers to print dropped 6 percent. But that hasn’t stopped advertisers from spending on the magazine, as it’s been one of the consistently bigger fashion books in recent years.

While King is seen as the frontrunner by many, it’s said nothing is decided yet. And with Bailey’s move to become global fashion consultant for all of Bazaar’s global editions (allowing the company to continue making use of her many fashion and advertiser relationships), she said she’s helping to find her successor.

In a memo to staff, Young even pointed to the relationships Bailey has cultivated over the years. “She has collaborated with and discovered designers, celebrities, artists and photographers, whose careers have been impacted by the cultural influence of both Glenda and this incredible brand,” he wrote.

While there is no formal timeline to find a successor, considering the apparent planning around Bailey’s exit, rumored in earnest since last year, it seems unlikely that the position will be open for long.

The lack of an official decision has given way to talk that O’Neill, the editor in chief of WSJ. magazine, and Bugbee, the editor in chief of The Cut, New York Magazine’s fashion vertical, are also in the running. It’s unclear if both women are in serious contention for the role, but both are said to have spoken at some point with Hearst about taking over Bazaar. It’s typical for people to be brought in for relatively casual meetings well before a major editorial move is made public.

With her success with advertisers and events at WSJ, O’Neill, who could not be reached for comment, seems to be a good option for Bazaar, but a source pointed to her relative lack of digital experience, something Young and Hearst chief content officer Kate Lewis are hyperfocused on. WSJ is building out its online presence for the first time, and O’Neill’s name tends to be brought up often in conversations about who’s moving up in the media world. She also knows Bazaar well, having been its executive editor prior to joining the Journal. O’Neill has in the past denied being interested in leaving WSJ.

Bugbee, meanwhile, has the digital content chops, as The Cut produces almost exclusively for the web with a popular mix of fashion and culture content, and it’s said she’s been putting her hat in the ring for more than one media job. She’s said to have become somewhat frustrated since being passed over for the editor in chief job at New York Magazine after the departure of Adam Moss, as well as with the suddenness of the title’s sale to Vox Media. Bugbee however said she is not taking up with Hearst and denied industry talk that she’s experiencing any frustration.

“For the record, I am thrilled to be running the Cut, especially at a time when we have merged with Vox Media,” Bugbee said. “Harpers Bazaar is a wonderful fashion publication and Glenda is a legend. I can’t wait to see who takes the helm, though it will not be me.”

If King is chosen, it would be the latest example of Hearst executives’ strategy of replacing veteran editors and executives with successors they see as being more digitally savvy. In December, the magazine publisher said that its chief fashion director Aya Kanai would become the new editor in chief of Marie Claire, taking the reins from Anne Fulenwider, who had been in charge since 2012. The official word was that Fulenwider was stepping down to launch an entrepreneurial venture focused on women’s health, but various media reports pointed to falling circulation numbers at the magazine during her tenure.

That followed Michael Sebastian’s appointment during the summer as editor in chief of Esquire, succeeding Jay Fielden after his abrupt exit from the title. Sebastian was previously digital director at the magazine. A similar changing of the guard also took place at Cosmopolitan the previous year, with editor in chief Michele Promaulayko stepping aside in favor of digital director Jessica Pels, who has made no secret of her willingness to go to Instagram for inspiration for the magazine’s design, layouts and coverage. Her appointment also mirrored the goings on at its British counterpart as executives looked to digital director Claire Hodgson when it came to replacing Farrah Storr as editor in chief last April.

Nor is it only at Hearst Tower where this happening. Farther downtown at the World Trade Center, there have been similar shifts at Condé Nast. Perhaps grabbing the most headlines, longtime Glamour editor in chief Cindi Leive was succeeded by the relatively unknown Sam Barry and the former CNN staffer wasted no time employing her digital-first strategy, calling time on regular print editions.

But whoever gets the top job at Bazaar, they will be taking on the helm at a contentious time for the company as executives and hundreds of staffers, including at Bazaar and, are currently locked in a battle over the efforts to form a union at the publisher.

Staffers want to unionize in order to have some say over diversity, transparency, compensation and overall editorial standards, but Hearst executives are not giving in easily, refusing to voluntary acknowledge the union and reportedly taking a number of actions to thwart unionization. This has included setting up an anti-union web site, as well as widespread reports that it may have created union-busting social media accounts, which have since been deleted. There have also been multiple claims of management urging staffers to withdraw their union cards.

The case is now being decided by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal body that decides when an election happens since executives did not voluntarily recognize the union. Staffers currently expect an election to take place in late February.

Editor’s note: This item was updated after its initial publication to reflect the position of Stella Bugbee.

For more, see:

Glenda Bailey Steps Down as Editor of Harper’s Bazaar

Will Print Media End in the 2020s?

Dior’s Kim Jones Guest Edits Harper’s Bazaar Men

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