Change is afoot at Refinery29, the fashion and beauty-centric Web site, as it looks to focus more on breaking news.
WWD has learned that editorial director Mikki Halpin left the company earlier this week. Halpin, who joined Refinery29 last September, came from Glamour, where she served in a variety of roles during her 10-year tenure, including most recently editor-at-large.
A spokeswoman for Refinery29 confirmed Halpin’s departure, adding: “We have identified the issues our audience cares about most deeply. With that in mind, we are committed to breaking the news that matters to them and evolving trending stories into meaningful conversations. Over the past couple of months we’ve brought on an incredible team of deputy editors who are great talents in each of their respective verticals — from fashion to lifestyle to entertainment to politics. Mikki accomplished some amazing work during her tenure and we wish her all the best moving forward.”
Halpin had been charged with charting the editorial course for the site, which looks to grow by luring in a broader readership, primarily made up of women, interested in national and international news. The site is on a mission to cover the presidential elections, for instance, which at first blush appeared to be a natural fit for Halpin, who edited Glamour’s political blog at one point.
Halpin could not be reached for comment Wednesday on her departure, which comes on the heels of Kaelyn Forde’s hire as executive editor for news. Forde’s professional journalism career has included a two-year stint as a producer and reporter at Al Jazeera, as well as a handful of freelance producer gigs and internships at news and humanitarian organizations. Forde has been tasked with bringing originally produced content to Refinery29, not simply aggregated news stories to the site.
Helping Forde achieve that is a sparse staff of news writers, who have, up until now, largely reblogged stories ranging from the 10th anniversary of the London terror bombings to an item on a sea turtle wearing a GoPro while exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
The move to cover breaking news is one way Refinery29 looks to inject more eyeballs and clicks to the site, which, according to the company, lures in about 25 million unique visitors a month. Most of those visitors are Millennial women — a sought after group in the world of advertising. Investors have taken notice.
In April, the site said it raised $50 million from Scripps Networks Interactive and WPP Ventures, bringing its war chest of investor dollars to $80 million to date. With that money, the 10-year-old company has focused on video, as well as the continuation of native advertising, a significant driver of the company’s revenue generation.
Despite its bid to cover general news, Refinery29 is best known for its lifestyle coverage, and is looking to add original content there, as well. WWD has learned that the site has hired Alexandra Ilyashov, features editor from the Daily Front Row, as fashion news editor, for instance, and it looks to add a health and wellness editor next.
Still, the larger question is whether the site can successfully extend its reach beyond the lighter fare of style guides, how-to videos and listicles and produce insightful analysis across its broad coverage areas, which include fashion, beauty, living, food, weddings, technology, fitness, health, sex, music, art, film, celebrity and news.
Evolving to a new stage is tough climb for any media organization and Refinery29 is certainly not the first to make the attempt. Buzzfeed is perhaps the most obvious in its move to evolve past feline videos, gifs and listicles to breaking news. Perhaps a more direct competitor is New York Magazine’s fashion vertical, The Cut, which, like R29, is clamoring for female readers who want to read stories with a broader cultural and political appeal beyond the fashion bubble.