When people talk of being in the family business, you don’t imagine they are talking about the media. But, surprisingly there are many families where there is at least one journalist in every generation or a sibling working in the industry at the same time. It is hardly about keeping a family business afloat, so why would people follow familial footsteps into this, an industry of individuals and eccentrics?
The Media spoke to a number of those in our ‘family business’ in part two of a story first published in The Media magazine.
The late Sunday Times editor, Tertius Myburgh’s daughter Jacquie Myburgh Chemaly has become a reputed magazine editor, having edited Food&Home, Style and Elle magazines and is now at the helm of Visi.
Despite have felt the ‘wonderful privilege’ of having a father in the media, a teenaged Jacquie had no plans to become a journalist.
“As a child, I was always informed about what was going on in the world and our country and although I was too young to appreciate it, there were often interesting people visiting our home,” she says.
“I always knew that as a journalist, you were the first to get information and meet and talk to people who were changing the world and it was a tremendously privileged position to be in. I also have memories of my father coming home some on Saturday nights with a bodyguard, when the next day’s lead was obviously of a controversial nature. I realised it was a responsibility that shouldn’t be trifled with.”
Her father discouraged her from a life in the media. “All I remember him saying was that the only job worth having in journalism was that of editor and that since there were so few editor positions around, I shouldn’t consider newspapers as a career.”
But when her plans to work in France didn’t pan out after her BA and she chose to join a friend in studying journalism at Stellenbosch University and then enrolled in the Argus Cadet school, he gave her his total support. “I can remember clearly the day I graduated, top of the class nogal, and ran around to Diagonal Street in downtown Johannesburg where the Sunday Times offices were to tell him the news,” she says. “I was still a child but I think he realised then that I was serious about this career.”
Jacquie says she would support youngsters and her own children if they chose this life. “Now more than ever, media is tremendously exciting and challenging.”
Chairman of Associated Magazines, Jane Raphaely, is the doyenne of women’s magazines in South Africa and her two daughters are not far behind. Her daughter Julia has become the MD and Vanessa is the editorial director and the editor of Cosmopolitan.
Jane started out in this industry as the PA to the editor of the Bolton Evening News and wrote the book reviews as well. When she moved to Cape Town in 1960, she wrote a shopping column for the Cape Times women’s page while working in advertising and PR. In 1965, she was asked to launch Fair Lady for Nationale Pers and the rest is history.
Journalism and writing were always around Jane, whose cousin is a good journalist in London and both her sister-in-laws are accomplished writers. Despite that, she says, “I was astonished when our daughters went into magazines. I thought that living with a magazine editor as a mother would have warned them off it for life.”
Having said that, she didn’t discourage them because of her love of magazines. “I always try to encourage really bright, creative people to go into this field. Even though the creative demands and deadlines are ferocious, this kind of work seeing into the future, reading readers’ minds, telling them what they don’t know and want to know, encouraging excellence in writers, artists and photographers is very satisfying for creative optimists, a vital character trait if you want to work in the magazine industry.”
Her daughter Julia has become the MD of Associated Magazines (the family business) and Vanessa is the editorial director of Associated Magazines and the editor of Cosmopolitan. “I think I have learned more from them then they have from me,” Jane says.
Julia was in New York where she was working in the Joan Rivers Show and at Ogilvy NY as an intern when she returned to work in magazines. “I came back for a relationship and because my mother said she was tired of employing other people.” Had she not returned, she says she would have pursued a career in television in the US.
Vanessa knew she would land up in the media because she says: “I was not very accomplished at anything except creative writing at school and got through university thanks to my superficially impressive but deeply shallow writing skills. So I thought, right, clearly I am destined to be a tabloid journalist.”
Julia’s childhood impressions of the media was that ‘it was lots of fun’ while Vanessa liked the idea of being a fiction editor because of all the free books they got. But neither dreamed of being part of the magazine world. But now, says Julia, “Publishing feels like it is part of my DNA, as much of your natural instinct is honed through many conversations around the dinner table about magazines, the business of publishing, etc. And having a family member with a well-known name, especially a very visible active member of the media has made it easier for me to go on and build on her amazing reputation and relationships with our partners.”
Julia adds that having the best person in the business to learn from can only be the greatest advantage for anyone but after that you have to form your own leadership style and business opportunities to take the organisation to the next level.”
There are many more ‘media families. Here are just a few more:
- Pippa Green whose mother was a Cape Times journalist and father was the editor of The Friend. Like Pippa, her dad also became a Nieman fellow before editing the Daily News in Durban until he retired 15 years ago. She has a 25-year history in the media, including serving as deputy editor at Sunday Independent; acting editor at Pretoria News; head of SABC Radio News; political editor at the SABC and associate deputy editor at the Financial Mail. She now heads up the journalism department at the University of Pretoria and sits on the SABC board.
Green says she had no intention in following the family profession. “I went into journalism quite by accident despite my parents rather than because of them, although of course I grew up with it.”
- Charl du Plessis, the son of Beeld editor and former Rapport editor Tim du Plessis, on the other hand writes on his blog: “I grew up surrounded by journalism. Newsprint paid for the food I ate and the clothes on my back. Despite my mother’s best efforts, it is all I want to do.” He is a reporter on The Times.
- Then there is the mother and son duo, Gwen and Andy Gill. Gwen, now retired, was initially the secretary to the then Sunday Times news editor, Steven Mulholland. She later became a household name with her television column, then her consumer columnist and finally her social column. Andy got his first taste of the media when, as a teenager, he would help sort out photographs in the newspaper library. Having worked as a journalist, becoming editor of The Times, he is now general manager of Avusa’s business development.
- Fair Lady editor Suzy Brokensha’s father was a journalist. Then there are the Tysons. All three Craig, Barry and Helen – former editors of The Star Harvey Tyson’s children went into the media.