Writing on, and about, an island

Getting A Magazine Job (Part 1)

In Career, Writing on January 11, 2012 at 11:27 am

I get asked a lot how I got my first (paying) magazine job – which, incidentally, was as a junior sub-editor/production manager on the very-cool-yet-short-lived Minx magazine, designed as the female version of FHM, or Ralph etc…

I’m not sure where my idea for journalism came from – I loved reading and writing, and art and style, and I’d wanted to be Tintin when I grew up… but I think it must have come from enjoying foisting my opinions on the wider world. And feeling a bit voiceless in Tasmania. Magazines must have represented a soapbox, a way to communicate my ideas and thoughts (and a way out of Tasmania, which was stifling).

The beginning (and end) at Dolly

Unlike today’s magazine world, where cool Gen Ys intern for a bit then get offered a job, things were a little different in early 1998, when I flew from Hobart to Sydney to do work experience as a designer at Dolly. (At that stage, I had vague notions I’d be a graphic designer, as that was what I was studying – I hadn’t yet realised I was better at writing than designing…)

Although I got to hang out on a shoot with the Heartbreak High boys, my time at Dolly did not end well. The art director took exception to my proactivity or something, and told me after two days that I was not welcome back (“And you can forget about ever getting a job in this industry, in this town” – I kid you not).

The delicate Tasmanian in me went back to my rental apartment in North Sydney, had a little sulk – and then the bolshy Tasmanian in me realised two things:

a) I could fly home and foregt about ever getting a job on a magazine

b) I could disagree with her opinion, and keep chasing my dream

Choosing ‘b’

I just couldn’t bring myself to give in. So I set about totally upending my life. I rang my parents and said I wasn’t coming back. I quit my fine arts degree at the University of Tasmania, and re-enrolled in a art history and curating degree at COFA. I worked for free at Marie Claire and other magazines. I did late-night jobs to make ends meet. I applied and applied and applied for magazine jobs.

And got nothing.

When people ask me today about how they can get a job in magazines, I always tell them about the year and a half I spent going about it the wrong way. I had thought, naively, that people would just recognise my skills and talents and bless me with a job.

The break

I stuck at it, through stubbornness and pride more than anything else.

Towards the end of 1999, the chief sub-editor at Marie Claire – Jana Frawley – took pity on me and gave me some invaluable advice: do a sub-editing course, as it’s the uncoolest job on magazines but they always need good sub-editors. (I saw Jana many years later, when she was editor at Donna Hay, and thanked her for her generosity and advice).

I promptly enrolled in the editing/publishing diploma at Macleay College. My lovely Nanny paid the $3000 fee. I studied what I already knew (surely this grammar and spelling stuff was obvious???), did really well, and the day after I graduated from my uni degree, I was offered the Minx job – it was the first job I’d applied for after completing the diploma, and I bloody got it.

The reality

My annual salary at Minx was about $20,ooo. I worked a second job at night. I remember times when I had nothing to eat – and I had to walk from Rose Bay to Chinatown and back each day, as I couldn’t afford the bus. But it was worth it. The team, led by the wonderful Alex Brooks (currently of Kidspot), was inspiring, I learnt more than I could have hoped (especially the fact that I was a good writer and editor) and, when Minx sadly folded, I’d enough experience under my belt to confidently apply for another position: at CLEO, when the stylish and visionary Paula Joye was the editor.

Oh, and I asked for – and was granted – double the dollars I’d been on at Minx.

Things were starting to get interesting…

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