Hello! editor Rosie Nixon: 'We sell the good news...we're not in the business to cause anybody distress'

The new generation of royals, from princes Harry to George, have been the “gift that keeps on giving” for Hello! magazine editor-in-chief Rosie Nixon.

Despite strong competition for stories from the likes of Mail Online, Hello! still sells more than 230,000 copies per week (down 9 per cent year on year), according to the latest ABC figures.

Nixon (pictured top), was appointed editor-in-chief last summer and will have been at the magazine for ten years next year, when it also marks three decades in print.

She told the Press Gazette Journalism Matters podcast that the longevity of Hello! is partly down to the fact it has never changed its “unique selling point”.

“We take our readers inside the lives of the rich, the famous and the fabulous and we’ve been doing that in a kind of unrivaled way for the last 30 years.

“I think we think of ourselves as a magazine of record, looking back over that time you can pick up any issue of hello and see who were the movers and shakers of the day, what were the fashions, what was happening in politics – a kind of taste of zeitgeist really.

“We’ve spent careful amounts of time over those years building up trusted relationships with the stars themselves and their agents and managers so we can get this unrivaled access into their worlds, which is why they open up their wedding albums, allow us to take the first photos of their babies and invite us into their homes.”

She added: “That trusted environment, that’s at the core of everything we do. We’re not going to build you up to knock you down.”

Nixon, 42, said that while the cheque book did “occasionally” open up for “unique access that goes beyond promotional activity” – examples including wedding coverage or a baby’s arrival – the fees offered “are not anywhere near the level some stars may have enjoyed in the past”.

She also admitted that copy approval – where a story is seen by its subject before being published (frowned upon in news journalism generally) – is “sometimes” given “to check accuracy”.

She said: “Those rumours about Hello! having a sort of never ending cheque book and spending a million pounds here and there is completely untrue, I’m afraid to say – sorry to burst that bubble.

“I think the magazine would not be here 30 years later if that were the case – I mean that’s not sustainable.”

“We recently celebrated Rod Stewart’s wedding anniversary and we’ve been with him at his wedding then at the birth of his children and then renewing his vows recently.

“So we play the long game, we’re there for people when the times are tough and we provide a stable trusted environment for them to talk about difficult topics sometimes.

“We’re not afraid to ask the hard questions, our readers expect that from us, [but] we work closely with the stars so we’re on their side.

“And we sell the good news, and I’m really protective of our philosophy of positive reporting, I think there is enough bad news going on, we’re flooded online and in newspapers. Hello! provides a bit of escape, some glamour, some unashamedly positive reporting.”

When it comes to the British royal family, Nixon said Hello! had been able to harness the popularity of the new generation of royals – namely the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – unlike any other publication.

She said: “I think that image of the buttoned-up monarchy is completely different now, it’s about talking about your feelings, opening up, showing that were all human – and I think the position they have in the bedrock of British society is stronger than ever.

“And that of course has been good news for Hello! on the newsstand. I think actually it has breathed new life into the newsstand completely.”

The latest issue of Hello! (below) features a large picture of the Duchess of Cambridge on its cover. The week before it was Meghan Markle (above) – Prince Harry’s American actress girlfriend.

Last month Prince Harry successfully brought a complaint to press regulator the IPSO – of which Hello! is a member – against the Mail Online’s use of pictures of the couple on a private beach.

With a large number of paparazzi pictures featuring in the magazine, how does Hello! balance the privacy of the VIPs it is writing about with its readers’ desire to know more about their lives?

“It’s not normally too much of an issue for us here,” she said.

“We have a very strong moral compass at Hello! and that is so far within the guideline or the Editors’ Code [of Practice] anyway, that I know instinctively whether something feels right or wrong to publish and I simply wouldn’t go there if it didn’t feel right.

“It might upset the Palace and as I said before we play the long game with the people that we feature and we’re not in the business to cause anybody any distress.

“We rarely come up against situations where we’re unsure whether it might be a breach of privacy, of if we are unsure we contact the palace through the usual channels, and we have a good working relationship with them.

“But obviously there is a protocol when we are covering royal events. I wouldn’t say we get any particular favouritism, but they are respectful of the way that we cover royal stories and we know that we’re read in all of the households and we want that to be a happy experience.”

So is there a line that Nixon won’t cross when it comes to paparazzi pictures?

“Anything that shows someone in a particularly negative light or that felt hurtful or really invaded privacy – clearly a private moment on private property – then I simply wouldn’t go there,” she said.

Print is still the “kingpin of the business” at Hello!, according to Nixon, with 96 per cent of its readership deriving from active purchases – meaning people actually picking up a copy or subscribing.

While it continues to sell well against a difficult media market, the magazine has seen sales steadily decline over the years, in line with the rest of the industry.

In the first half of 2001, Hello! sold more than 840,000 copies a week on average.

Said Nixon: “I’m happy that although that part of readers is getting smaller, Hello! is still retaining an increasing share in it.”

Despite the decline, Hello! – which is owned by an independent Spanish family, who also run Hola! Magazine in Spain – launched a new title two years ago in Hello! Fashion Monthly, which Nixon said was “doing very well” and “holding a strong position in a challenging marketplace”.

The monthly title’s circulation is up 3.5 per cent year-on-year to 68,476 copies, according to the latest ABC figures.

Nixon said: “I think that print isn’t going anywhere – I think the fact that it’s a luxury experience makes it even more important and something that’s certainly at the forefront of my mind when we are creating the magazine each week.

“That cover needs to look really inviting and look great on your coffee table. It needs to provide something you simply can’t get elsewhere – ideally an exclusive wedding, in my dreams we’d have that every week.

“And then that content will create videos and there will be extra photo galleries online and then it’s sort of divvying it up so there will be something available on every platform.”

Asked whether she worried about competition from the likes of Mail Online, Nixon said: “I think our offering is different, we go for different markets, I mean they run our PR stories to the media every week, and that’s kind of good, because people still come to Hello! to see the full photo shoot.”

She said that not all the articles that make it in print are published online, but Hello! is looking to invest “heavily” in digital “in the years to come” as part of a “roadmap for the future”.

She added: “In the magazine we try to keep it as A-list as possible, we try to focus on the established personalities and people who have earned their fame, years of hard work or special talent, so we’re less interested in reality stars.”

“We are a Love Island free zone pretty much for the time being, although I’ll never say never. I guess we want to fulfill the things that our audience are interested in, but those personalities would probably do better for us online or on social media, so it is cut up differently.”

Asked what she would say to critics who label celebrity news as “lightweight”, Nixon said: “You know what, I think don’t underestimate the power of it. As I mentioned before there is a lot of bad news in the world and I think there is a place for some good news.”

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