Long before female chief executives were common place among Australia’s corporate giants or we had a female prime minister, the most powerful woman in this country was arguably the one at the helm of the most trusted magazine in the land: The Australian Women’s Weekly.
But becoming the editor-in-chief of the Weekly is no longer the glittering jewel in Australian publishing it once was, as the sudden departure of its latest editor, Kim Doherty, after barely a year into the job, has revealed.
Indeed Doherty’s successor, new editor-in-chief Nicole Byers, can expect a baptism of fire when she takes control on Monday morning.
“The politics can be ruthless … it is a very different climate under the Germans [Bauer Media] than it ever was when the Packers ran the place,” one of the magazine’s many former editors confided to PS on the grounds of anonymity.
“While you are in the chair there are those who want to tear you down and those who want to put you on a pedestal, then there’s the internal politics and the ever-present pressure of meeting budgets. A lot of the Weekly‘s editors have had their careers defined by their time in that job … which is not always a good thing.”
An extraordinary line-up of women have helmed the Weekly over the years, including Ita Buttrose, Deborah Thomas, Nene King, Robyn Foyster, Helen McCabe, Julia Zaetta and Dawn Swain.
“It was an incredibly intoxicating environment, you wielded extraordinary influence with powerful people, from politicians to the readers, the influence of the Weekly was quite breathtaking,” Thomas reflected this week.
According to Bauer, Doherty resigned “to take some time out with her young family and pursue other opportunities”.
Her departure followed the equally sudden resignation of Bauer’s chief executive officer Nick Chan and once again raised concerns about the management structure inside what was once Australia’s pre-eminent magazine publishing house.
Under the Packers, the Weekly editor was in total control of the magazine in its entirety, from what went on the cover to how much money it was making from advertisers.
Under Bauer Media, which bought the old Packer family magazine business for $500 million in 2012, publishers have been elevated to a more senior role, which one insider described as “effectively putting the bean counters in control rather than giving readers what they want”.
This year Bauer changed its digital strategy for magazines like the Weekly, which rather than focusing on individual mastheads carrying their content online, means stories from the Weekly are now folded into a new online entity curiously called Now To Love, which critics say is confusing consumers and underplaying the inherent value in a brand asset such as the Weekly.
Staff on the Weekly have quietly told PS that Doherty’s departure was a complete shock. “We were making budget …she was organising frocks for a function next week, no one saw it coming,” one said.
The demise of traditional media in the age of social media is well documented, but it should not be forgotten that when the first edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly appeared, it was during the height of the Depression in 1933. The magazine reportedly sold out before lunch.
The Weekly once lay claim to having the highest per capita penetration of any magazine in the world.
Those days are long gone, though the value of the brand remains a potent force in a quickly fragmenting market.
And, just as it was the case back in 1933, the Weekly‘s brand is nothing without a strong editor at the helm, fingers crossed Byers is that woman.