|Women’s Magazine Editors:
Story Tellers and their Cultural Role
This is an ethnographic study of contemporary Australian women’s magazine editors and their perceptions about their role and function within their workplaces and, as creators of media products, within culture itself. It explores and finds support for the premise that they don’t perceive their role purely as journalism or in the way that feminist scholars critical of their cultural influence and morality see them. The core motivation behind the study is the notion that it is important to understand what women’s magazine editors do, from their own perspective, before calling for them to change.
Seeking to expose editors’ intimate understandings of their work, the study begins by looking at autobiographical material written by the author and two other Australian magazine editors. It draws questions about the role and function of editors from these autobiographical materials that are then put to seven West Australian editors in qualitative interviews. Quantitative substantiation of their responses is then secured through a questionnaire completed by editors of 30 of the top 50 magazines in Australia, ranked by female readership figures. Six key media figures were then asked to comment on the results of the questionnaire and their responses indicate that some aspects of the role and function of women’s magazine editors in Australia are hotly contested and viewed from a range of perspectives.
Some of this contention centred on the extent to which the work of women’s magazine editors fits the definition of good journalism and questions are raised about what functions, other than journalistic purposes, magazine writing may serve. Most editors said that they consider themselves to be journalists but they don’t think their work is well understood by other journalists. Most editors said they were more interested in influencing culture than reporting on it and, asked which issues they were promoting cultural change on, they listed several.
While confidentiality measures were employed to enhance the honesty of the participants, the data gathered was not evaluated on the basis of its claim to truth. All material was handled using an approach inspired by Foucault’s concept of the statement. It was deemed to be illustrative of what could be said from the position of editor and therefore, taken collectively, the participants’ responses show the parameters of what can be said from the position and illustrate where the position of editor sits in relation to others involved in the production of women’s magazines.
It is hoped that this project will inform debate about the changing role and function of women’s magazines in contemporary Australian culture.