Notes on the fall of Australia’s publishing industry

I can’t think of a non-cliché way to say that since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamt of being a magazine writer.

My mother never kept magazines in the house and I used to look forward to banal dentists and doctors appointments because I was allowed to leaf through the glossy pages as I waited.

This became a common theme in my adolescence as I battled bulimia and found solace in the heavily-used stack of That’s Life! and Cosmopolitan magazines found universally in every doctor and hospital’s waiting room.

I longed for the space those magazines created where traditionally snubbed, frivolous, hyper-feminine interests were celebrated, not dismissed.

Growing up in a cosmetics-free hippie household, on a farm fifteen minutes out of town, with no internet or commercial TV, it was an interest I developed completely independently (long before I ever watched The Devil Wear’s Prada).

In choosing to study journalism and pursue magazine writing classes, I got the odd comment about how print media was a dying industry. But a naive part of me thought people meant ten or 20 years down the track – and who knows what I’d be doing by then.

I took on extracurriculars like a role as editor of the student magazine, a course in fashion communications, and juggled as many internships as I could handle.

I squealed in delight when my writing appeared alongside Ita Buttrose’s column – the woman who launched Cleo – in a copy of our university alumni magazine.

If there were going to be a limited amount of magazine jobs around, I had to make myself one of the most competitive candidates possible.

But one by one, magazines began to close in Australia. Looking back now, almost every publication I took as gospel is now gone.

Cleo, Dolly, Grazia, Madison, Girlfriend, Shop Til You Drop, Cosmopolitan – but none hit harder than ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar.

I was thrilled to be offered an internship at ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar in my fourth year of university. In a giant sea of doubt, imposter syndrome, and invalidating comments about my career goals, I felt like I’d been handed a life jacket.

Though I’m sure I was timid, shy, and awkward the whole time, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

I worked under incredible writers and interesting women, some only a handful of years older than me. My boss told me about how she graduated into the GFC after having worked for years to make it into the magazine industry. I figured if she could go on to have an accomplished career in publishing, then surely I could too… right?

When I graduated, I took a writing job in the B2B industry. I was lucky to find any full-time writing role, and I figured I could use the experience to then pivot into magazines after a few years.

But then the pandemic hit and I was made redundant.

I was hurt and feeling rejected – but maybe this was the universe’s way of making space for me to actually pursue the kind of writing I was passionate about? Maybe I could use this time to pitch and freelance and re-align myself with the kind of future I saw myself having?

On Twitter one day, I saw ELLE Australia trending and of course clicked out of curiosity. My heart sank as I saw users speaking about the closure of the magazine and how sad they were. Knowing that ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar were manned by the same team, a quick Google confirmed they were both closing – along with five other titles.

More than anything, my heart broke for the men and women who had worked hard, persevered, and landed an incredible role that was now being ripped away.

How many people – just starting out or well into their career- had defied the odds, ignored the doubters, been the lucky few standing, and were now being forced to start over?

It felt selfish of me to mourn the loss of a career I hadn’t even had. An internship and hopes of being a magazine a writer paled in comparison to the real, tangible loss others were facing.

Ultimately, I felt sad that this little goal of mine never came to fruition. I didn’t get my love of magazines from my parents or family. I didn’t know anyone who was a writer or journalist. It was a far cry from my upbringing that I stumbled upon and loved.

It was something I knew I wanted that I never second guessed – the fact that for once I wasn’t copying some fictional character or aspiring to be like someone else, made it even sweeter.

For now, excessive consumption of the same content via other medium’s, will have to do.

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