Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Secrets From The Magazine Industry

I've been catching up with news from the past two months, particularly media news, much of which I've missed while overseas. And I was shocked to see that glamorous heads had rolled at News Mags. Vogue editor in chief Kirstie Clements has gone (10 years reign), and Inside Out editor Richard Waller has been pushed out too. (2 years). Several others I know have also lost their jobs on other mags, or resigned from the industry in terror.

The current period of radical social and media upheaval in Australia feels a little like the French Revolution, don't you think? Only more articulate. And without the powdered wigs. (And the "off with their heads" is coming from the execs, not the peasants.) I'm nervous for friends in the media. It's not a comfortable time.

(Perhaps the coverline above should read: BEFORE + AFTER: 'BEFORE: Editorial staff numbers 20; AFTER: Only the model remains'.)

I was particularly sad about Inside Out's Richard Waller. I knew him briefly years ago when I appointed him as my successor on a lifestyle magazine. He was a great editor. Although IO has become a bit more 'hard-edged industrial' and less 'hand-made / pretty' in its aesthetic, it's still a good read.

On the upside, I was thrilled to see that a publisher has quickly snapped up Vogue editor Kirstie Clements, who is now writing a non-fiction book about her life in magazines. (I'm guessing a memoir.) I really hope she writes an open-handbags-style tell-all about her years. But I suspect she has more class than that.

I've been reluctant to do many posts on the magazine vs online media debate. I don't want to kick the industry while it's down. Especially because it was so good to me, both here and overseas. But I will direct you to Mia Freedman, who has written one of the best posts on it here, entitled Are Fashion Magazines Endangered (warning: she doesn't mince words). She has polarised people, but it's a good post.

So instead of offering my opinion, I'd just like to offer some humorous insights into the industry. Because not everything is what it seems.


Editors Have Feelings Too
Editor #1: "The worst part is dressing for the Paris Fashion Shows. The amount of nervous packing that goes into the trip is incredible."
Editor #2: "And whatever you wear, you always wish you'd worn something else. Especially if you're sitting in front of Anna [Wintour]."
{Source: An interview I did many years ago with the former editor of Tatler and the former editor of Mode}

Editors Don't Make a Lot Of Money
New York Editor: "I've just been to London to visit XXX. She's very down. Her husband just lost his job."
Me: "Oh, how awful. Are they going to be okay?"
NY Editor: "Well she doesn't have any money. She was editor of XXX for 10 years but everyone knows editors don't make any money. Even she admitted it. The husband will have to go back to work. There's nothing else for it."
{Side note: Ita Buttrose also touched upon this. Even worse, when she was fired, Packer reportedly kept all her superannuation.}

Editors Make Up For The Bad Pay By Taking Advantage Of The Glossy Perks*
Editors have been known to instigate motoring columns, so they can ask their PAs ring Bugatti to to send over a brand new Veyron to test drive.  (Insert prestigious car brand here.)
Editors have been also known to instigate travel columns, so they can ask their PAs to ring Chiva Som for a freebie.
Ditto with alcohol, clothes, food and cosmetics. Although these freebies usually come into the office anyway.
{*Not all editors, you understand}

Editors Have No Time. For Anything*
That's why they get their PAs to pick up their dry cleaning / buy their family's birthday presents / doing their weekly shopping / text their boyfriends love notes during the day.
{*Not all editors, you understand}

Editors Believe An Understated Manner Is Best
It wouldn't do, for example, to jump up and down like Tom Cruise on Oprah if Karl Lagerfeld asked you for dinner. A polite, hand-written note is sufficient. And possibly a whisper of the visit to friends. As in: "Seeing KL when I'm in Paris. Should be lovely." Similarly, they don't understand the modern blogger's penchant for exclamation marks. Or effusive lines such as this: "I am SO SUPER EXCITED about today’s interview! I have waited a really looooong time to interview this person!!!" They don't understand that at all.

Mastheads Matter
Many editors spend more time agonising over the cover than the contents. Colours are particularly important. Readership figures for every month are analysed, and are often blamed on masthead colours. Yellow is a risk. Pink is always good. Using a fifth colour (metallic gold or silver) is expensive, and really only used for special issues.

Some Journalism Is Fiction. True.*
If there are not enough Letters to the Editor, an editorial assistant will be called upon a whip up a few fake ones. If the editorial assistant has been fired due to budget cuts, it will fall to the intern.
Similarly, if a journalist doesn't have enough sources for a story, she will ask the same assistant / intern for a quote. (As an anonymous source.) And then give her a couple of free Chanel lippies from the Beauty Drawer as a bribe to stay quiet.
{*Not all journalism, you understand}

Editorial Offices Are Dangerous Places
It is not unheard of for editors* (magazines and newspapers) to ask interns to spy on staff, so they can assess how long people are at lunch / what time they start work / what time they finish / how many personal phone calls they make / how many coffee breaks they make / what cosmetics they sneak home at the end of the day. If you see an intern watching you and then scribbling furiously, be afraid. Very afraid.
{Not all editors, of course}
Most Editors Are Workaholics
One famous Sydney editor expects her staff to work late. Every. Single Night. If they want to leave on time, they have to slide their handbags across the floor, then crouch down and crawl underneath the editor's window, so she doesn't see.

The Stories You Hear Are Usually True
The former editor of US Harper's Bazaar: "Did you hear the story about Anna Wintour and XXX?"
Me: "No? Really?"
Former editor: "My spies tell me it's true."
Me: "Your spies?"
Former editor: "Of course. We all have spies on the other side!"

Once Upon A Time, Editors Didn't Have To Worry About Budgets 
There is a famous story, perhaps long forgotten now, about a certain Australian magazine that folded because its Launch Issue was way over budget. For the cover, the editor flew 22 people to Bali*, including all the editorial staff, the models, several stylists, several photographers and assistants, several make-up artists, and (so the story goes) her sister, her mother and her boyfriend too. Everyone was treated to hotel rooms / airfares / meals / associated expenses. The budget for the shoot was supposed to be $30,000. The CEO received an Expense Spread from Accounting two months later for $160,000. When he hit the roof, the editor said" "But that's how XXX magazine does it!" The CEO pulled the plug on the magazine a month later.
(*Could have been Africa. Or Fiji. The story changes every year. But the magazine still folded.)

All of this madness, of course, makes for some truly dazzling magic at times. In fact, the creativity of magazines was what set them apart from anything online. Just look at these spreads.

Vogue's 'My Brilliant Veneer' shoot with Elle. March 1995. This still stands as one of the most glamorous shoots of the 1990s, in my opinion.

Vogue's Pleasure Island shoot. August 2007.

Vogue's Barbara Palvin shoot, which channeled classic 1940s glamour in Paris. September. 2011 

Let's hope magazines stay around for a little while longer...

Oh, and here's an eye-opening (and often funny) story by Kirstie Clements on phobias that fashion people suffer. If I hadn't read it on Vogue's site, I wouldn't have believed it!

I was chatting with some friends at a party recently and we were talking about phobias and what, if anything, sets us off. I started the conversation by saying I can't drink out of a mug that has words written on it. Or drive behind cars that have poles, pieces of wood, surfboards or anything pointy attached to the roof that is aimed towards my windscreen. I get nauseous and have to pull over. Given that our office is in an industrial area, it takes me ages to drive to work these days.

My friend admitted that when she stays in hotels, she puts towels down on the sheets and pillows and sleeps on those because she believes they are dried at hotter temperatures and therefore more germ-free. She stays in top hotels, may I add. The group was a tad surprised at these lengths, but we all agreed that hotel bedspreads are a big no-go and need to be removed with a coat hanger, not with your hands. 

"Oh, and I'm scared of perforated fabrics,'' I added, which I thought was reasonable but made a few people start to edge away.  I also feel a vague unease around clothes or jewellery with skull motifs, devore velvet, fake fur or the colour burgundy.

I decided to ask the Vogue fashion team if they had any fashion neuroses, which I secretly knew they did. It was hilarious. Our fashion editor Meg kicked off. “Jeans''. Audible gasp from the office. Who hates jeans? "And high tech-trainers,'' she said emphatically. 

"Yeeuccch.'' Voices started to chime in from every desk. "White sunglasses. Mules. Lace tights. Jeggings. Anything that Katy Perry wears.''

I have personal phobias about fashion shoots too. The poor Vogue team has to put up with my hatred of models on rocks or cliffs, models on rocks wearing evening gowns, models on rocks in high heels. Models who look moribund lying in long grass. Models who look moribund lying in long grass shot with a yellow lens filter. The list goes for days. It also includes maxi dresses, fishtails and strapless bridal gowns.

Not only are we clearly phobic, we are really fickle.


  1. Yes it's like that here too, it's like being a miner in Thatcher's 80's

  2. Oh My Goodness - you have TOTALLY nailed it! I nearly fell off my chair with laughter at this post. Having spent 8 years on British Elle magazine (now a country bumpkin), I can hand on heart say that 99% of what you've written here is true - and the other 1% doesn't go far enough! Absolutely brilliant stuff - Oh - and another thing - it's a blessed relief to be able to use as many exclamation marks as I want to now - ha ha!!!!
    Paula x

  3. Whilst this post is a delight to read the reason behind it is not. I think that Australia will be a much poorer place when this round of print media madness is over.

  4. Wow all the delicious goss for outsiders like me. Who do you think Kylie is standing on to get that Vogue Cover? I knew we were kindred spirits can't stand strapless wedding dresses either.

  5. Yes thanks for the gossip - who would have thought that these things go on with editors? And I love your green and navy and grey post previously - what a fabulous combination! X Have a great weekend, although I am sure VERY busy... x

  6. This was such a cool post. I love all the information you have here! Have a wonderful weekend!

  7. Australia is very magazine heavy per capita then anywhere else in the world, isn't it? Hopefully some changes in the media will be positive (I'm not sure that the changes at Fairfax can be viewed as that by anyone other than an investor in the company though....) and it will give a new lease to some of those publications.

    1. Yes it is, I understand. Checking out the groaning shelves in a small newsagents today I'd believe it Heidi.

  8. Oh Janelle, what an eye-opener of a post for me. Just fascinating. You are such a goldmine of interesting tales. J x

  9. Oh gee mate, after reading this I'll have to think twice about the job offer I've received to become editor of The Annals of Interventional Vascular Radiology. I'm not sure I could handle a workplace full of such intrigue & as for those Radiologists well they are a wild, wild bunch in the Lab, just imagine them on photo shoots somewhere exotic!
    Millie xx


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