October 27, 2011
One of my employers died last night.
Homemakers Magazine was 45 years old, but her time had come. A combination of factors did her in: the economy, the rise of digital media, questions about her relevance in the face of competition (Canadian Living, Chatelaine, Good Housekeeping). D.B. Scott’s obit is worth the read.
Despite her pre-Friedanian name, Homemakers was a trailblazer in women’s rights. Her content was always relevant and never frivolous. Former editor Sally Armstrong travelled the globe filing stories on the state of women’s lives in the developing world, often compromising her own safety to do so.
Truth be told, it’s not a fun time to be a staff journalist. I doubt the average citizen knows that. Many assume the romance of journalism continues based on the Woodward/Bernstein plucky model. But too many printed magazines and newspaper are hanging on by their cuticles right now. Budgets are down, work is up and shareholders and publishers are pounding fists on desks demanding results. At the back of the office, digital departments are wailing, “Throw more money our way. Can’t you see the future is now?” Too many people in power, though, continue to be invested in the old way of doing things, hoping this is just a blip in the profit margins because print still feels sexier, more prestigious.
Meanwhile, the landscape continues to explode and burn like the oil wells in the first Gulf War. Talented staffers are being spit out on the street. But after the drama of trying to hang on, and sacrificing so much in their personal lives and health to make it happen, the silence is welcome in many cases.
This was my final article for Homemakers. (* P.S. fellow writers: I only agreed to sign a “one-off” contract with Transcontinental provided they pay me considerably more money for the rights they took back. For those of you who feel timid asking for more, I recommend joining Derek Finkle’s agency).
And here’s a reprint of related post about living the dream (and frying out in the process) written last spring. If you’re under 27, this won’t make any sense. Go back to blogging for free. :)
In your twenties, that’s fine. You’re happy to let your job define you. You’re also totally thrilled to be giving yourself over to the romance of print media. Your friends who work at the bank couldn’t be more jealous.
In your thirties, the life you’ve chosen can start to take its toll. But you never admit that (your friends still want to be you). Dashing around town collecting swag bags begins to feel empty.
By your forties, the pace can become unacceptable, even if the act of writing is still meaningful.
Getting fired is sometimes the only way to escape this life of relentless deadlines.
This is what happened to Dominique Browning (pictured above at her home in Rhode Island). Browning is the former editor in chief of the now defunct House & Garden, and she writes with searing honesty about her life before and after Condé Nast in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.
Here’s a taste:
The thing about running a magazine is that there is always too much to do. I liked not being in control of my time — I was always busy. I didn’t want time to think things over, things like feeling guilty about spending more time with my office mates than with my children; feeling sad that those children were leaving home; or feeling disappointed in love or frightened by terrible illness. Everything else, in other words. The demands of my job kept me distracted.
A lot of actors say they get into film and TV because they don’t want to play themselves.
I wonder how many editors can relate?