Working Week 17.02.06

June Smith-Sheppard
Editor, Pick Me Up

02.02.06

My PA hands me a press release with the words: "You might like to read this."

It’s about living obituaries. Nice. And so the week begins, with its usual mix of shallow, juvenile humour, much talk of food and a workload of biblical proportions.

After two large cups of black coffee it’s time for flatplan. At one point, our features editor Kate offers me the choice of a man who was swallowed whole by a hippo and came to, somewhere "warm, musty and slightly moist" and a woman who paid for her teenage son to have a sex change, only for him to be horrifically beaten to death by a gang of boys who couldn’t cope with the fact the girl they’d all dated had once been a boy.

Competition for these kind of stories is fierce. Magazines are launching into the real-life sector at the rate of knots.

Bidding wars are not uncommon with some of the new titles going straight in with ludicrous offers — £6,000 for a case history alone. You’ve got to have very deep pockets to sustain that kind of generosity.

Flatplan done, I check my emails. Some students from the University of London want me to appear on their radio show.

The training department wants to discuss producing a Real Life Workshop and a mirror I’ve ordered is in at Laura Ashley, Bluewater. The day is unfolding nicely.

03.02.06

One of those days when you’re spat back out into the street at 7pm thinking: "What the hell happened there?" The pace on a weekly is always fast and relentless, which is what most of us here like about it. But it only takes an unexpected meeting or a sudden up-page to push you over the edge.

Today we have stories falling out like confetti as case histories go flaky and rival magazines persuade people to rip up contracts they’ve signed with us, telling them they’re not important. This is the cosy world of women’s magazines.

As stories move, the flatplan changes and we shuffle things around to make sure we have the right mix. In the middle of all this a stripper turns up promoting a DVD. As everyone else clears off quickly, I find myself in the slightly awkward position of rubbing baby oil into the chest of a man I was shaking hands with two minutes earlier, and discussing promotional opportunities.

06.02.06

Spend the morning working with people I can’t name on things I can’t mention. This is always a good thing because it makes you look far more interesting than you actually are.

Back to the desk at lunchtime to judge entries to the annual IPC editorial awards. Everyone’s talking about who this year’s celebrity compere will be. Last year it was Matt Lucas, as his alter-ego, Marjorie Dawes. Somewhere there is a truly horrifying photo of the two of us together looking like long-lost sisters.

One of our writers has just taken a call from a woman we signed up weeks earlier to tell her story regarding the tragic death of her young daughter. She has decided she doesn’t want to go ahead with it. At times like this you have a moral obligation to back off.

Later, I find myself crying as I go through a marked-up issue. This isn’t due to the sums we’ve had to pay out, it’s because I stopped to read, yet again, the story of a woman whose husband took her to the cinema for her 60th birthday.

They arrived when the lights were already down and took their seats just as the film started. Only the film was the story of our lady’s life and when the lights went up the audience was all her friends and family, who stood and applauded.

It’s not uncommon for me to cry over our stories — maybe it’s my age. But if a story does that to you, then you know the writer has done a very good job indeed.

07.02.06

Good news. My PA, Jane, has flattened her ganglion. It’s been a talking point for weeks now, sitting there on the back of her hand like a boiled egg. When the excitement dies down, it’s time for coverlines. With the market sector reaching saturation and the newsshelves dangerously overcrowded, it’s every coverline for itself out there.

When Pick Me Up launched we deliberately used colours and designs that the traditional titles weren’t using. Bright pink, blue, yellow and fluoro gave us a point of difference and we stood out on the shelves.

Since then, more and more magazines have started using the same colour combinations. Real People launched looking strangely familiar and today we have love it! with, yes you’ve guessed, more fluoro, pink, blue and yellow.

If we’re not all going to blur into one big mass on the shelves, coverlines are going to have to work harder than ever. We kick off with ‘I ran naked from a serial killer’. It’s as good a place to start as any.

08.02.06

Someone dumps a copy of Zoo on my desk, pointing out that Pick Me Up is in it yet again. Every week they feature three women’s magazines and take the piss out of something they do. Or more to the point, take the piss out of the readers who feature in one of their stories.

I don’t get it. As an editor you know that readers are everything, without them we’re all redundant. So take the piss out of them? I don’t think so.

Good news this afternoon when Jeremy Kyle signs up to host our problem page. There are sighs of relief all round when he signs on the dotted line.

Our art editor, Nikki, talks me through some of the changes she has planned in through the coming issues. Lead from the front, that’s what I say!

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