Keeping mum is the best policy

Even if he’d thought it, even if he was seething at her betrayal, he should have never said it in public. And he certainly shouldn’t have written it down and issued it as a corporate press release.

Some remarks are best saved for the pub. And NatMags’ managing director Duncan Edwards’s attempt to diminish Lorraine Candy’s four-year editorship of Cosmopolitan by saying ‘she has been on maternity leave for a significant proportion of the past two years’ was probably one of them.

It may have been a statement of fact that Candy has popped out two babies in 17 months. And Edwards may have thought that bigging up acting editor Nina Ahmad would reassure advertisers that Candy’s defection to Elle will not throw Cosmo into a nose-dive. But his statement has had quite the opposite effect. As one industry insider put it ‘this is a management, human resources and PR disaster.’ Edwards’ press release, although mean-spirited, was nothing compared to the poisonous tone of his announcement to Cosmo staff.

Imagine how a heavily-pregnant features executive must have felt as she listened. Or even Cosmo Girl’s editor Celia Duncan, a few months from having her own first child.

NatMags retorts that it has one of the best staff maternity packages going. But that is rendered worthless if the message from the top is ‘take it at your peril.’ The dozens of messages Candy has received from rival editors, former colleagues and simply appalled fellow women journalists, reflect a strong feeling in the industry.

And the attack seems particularly unjust since Candy worked until a week before both births. Just six weeks into her first maternity leave she began meeting with her deputy every Friday, wrote coverlines, logged into the server from home, was involved with long-term planning and returned to work after four months. She is said to have been involved more and earlier during her second leave which began in February.

Moreover during her editorship Cosmo has remained almost stable despite the powerful forcefield of Glamour which has sucked readers from rival glossies, including 10 per cent from Marie Claire.

And since Cosmo has enjoyed little promotion or investment and has cover-mounted barely a flip-flop, this can only be attributed to editorial.

However diligent a deputy Nina Ahmad proved to be, she was working from a template established by Lorraine Candy: a Cosmo reinvigorated with humour, hard-hitting journalism and campaigning zeal. Duncan Edwards was sorry to lose such a good editor, which is why he made such an uncharacteristically hot-headed remark. I cannot believe this row played out in the national press has been good for the Cosmo brand.

Advertisers are less likely to be troubled by a change of editor – which happens thrice-yearly – than by a title losing contemporary edge. And Edwards’s remarks could not have been more uncool and out of step with the celeb-baby-tastic zeitgeist.

What’s more he has painted himself into a corner: NatMags traditionally trawls for a big name editor, but how can Edwards not give it to Ahmad after attributing Cosmo’s success to her? His outburst revealed what lies beneath the gloss of corporate political correctness: most publishers hate their editors having babies. You can tell by how reluctant companies are to reveal their maternity packages.

Several refused to tell me, so I had to call back later in a whiney voice and pretend I was applying to be a sub. The legal minimum a company can offer a pregnant employee is six weeks leave at 90 per cent of salary and a further 20 weeks at state maternity pay of £102.80 (which wouldn’t keep most editors in cab fares).

Both Condé Nast and H.Bauer offer the minimum: the former assume their staff have banker husbands, the latter are just plain tight. Most major women’s magazine companies give enhanced deals, particularly to employees of more than a year.

Loyalty is worth paying for when recruitment is so time-consuming and costly.

Hachette Filipacchi offers 12 weeks at full salary, four at half salary plus a fortnight’s wages as a return-to-work bonus. Nat Mags give 15 weeks at full salary with a five-week bonus. Emap offers 16 weeks at full salary and 13 weeks at half. And IPC offers a bootiebooty of 20 weeks at full dosh.

But as the Candy-Edwards’ spat reveals, it is not one’s contract which counts so much as the individual attitude of one’s employer. As an editor it is daunting to take maternity leave: if you take your hands off the controls will your magazine veer off course or crash? Or, worse, will it soar to greater heights without you? I didn’t pluck up courage to tell my md until I was 20 weeks pregnant and hiding my bump in ridiculous jackets.

His reaction was kindly, unlike that of another publisher who greeted an editor’s happy news with ‘how inconvenient’.

You go on leave feeling vulnerable and replaceable. You have a fax and home computer installed but still feel forgotten and out-of-the-loop. You wonder how you’ll ever again manage a staff of 40 now you can’t seem to master one crying infant.

But I would contend that motherhood can make women better editors of women’s titles. Even if you live in a privileged highly-paid media bubble, the emotions, concerns and experiences of having a child constitute a huge patch of common ground with your women readers, whatever their backgrounds Yes, but Cosmo readers don’t have kids, you might say. Not true actually: as a mass market title, many of its 1830-year-old readers have children early. So Cosmo might as well be edited by a mother as by an ageless free spirit like Marcel D’Argy Smith.

Or US Cosmo’s founder Helen Gurley Brown who said she never had children because she disliked them. Both of these were of a generation which felt it must choose between family and career. Yet Gurley Brown’s memoirs, containing a 13-page letter to a fantasy daughter she names Anna Maria, suggest poignant regret.

Today when women are audacious enough to demand both, a journalist who has reached editor level is likely to be in her baby-making years. Wise companies – and Emap is one of the most-praised by mag-mums – take a modern view of maternity leave for staff: stump up and shut up.

If, like Duncan Edwards, you employ 90 per cent female staff for the clever way they attract women readers and make you gazillions in profits so that your own hand-tooled company Jag and your own children’s winter mittens are brought to you courtesy of the female gender, the least you can do is not bitch when women do what women are wont to do. 

Janice Turner is a columnist for The Times, janice.turner@thetimes.co.uk. She is a former editor of That’s Life! and Real.

She’ll be back in four weeks.

Next week: guest columnist Bridget Rowe

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