South Africa’s magazine doyenne unedited
It is not often that the doyenne of magazines writes her autobiography, but it is rare for another leader in the same industry to be reviewing it. Here is Sandra Gordon’s impression of ‘Jane Raphaely unedited’.
For me, there are two distinct parts to Jane Raphaely’s long-awaited autobiography.
The first nine of 23 chapters require no more than a skim read. They cover her life in England and a stint in the US. The ‘demon aunt’ chapter lends no substance to her aunt Billee’s intentions. Also, the father-daughter relationship appears full of contradictions. There’s constant references to ‘being Jewish’, being flirtatious and being filled with angst in a post-war England. These concepts gave little insight into Raphaely. I felt cheated because she kept titillating readers with something that appeared to be very important, but then she didn’t explain the significance or how she felt about them.
Such titillation continues after chapter nine. By then, however, the story picks up pace and Raphaely reveals more of herself. Her drive and ambition dominate what is a story as much about South Africa’s socio-political journey over 30 years as it is about her career. She reveals the secrets to becoming a successful editor and publisher of magazines through her personal experiences. It is apparent that despite numerous attempts by authoritarian figures and co-workers to derail her efforts, she always found a way to sidestep them gracefully and with a perky dose of humour. In fact she exhibits the traits of a master manipulator, a factor that separates great magazine editors from the also-rans.
For me, the real story began with her editorship of FAIRLADY. At that point Naspers was a fledgling publisher of magazines and Perskor/Republican Press published a bunch of growing and successful titles. Naspers wanted in on the English magazine game. What Raphaely lacked in hands-on experience she made up with a relentless passion for magazines. In describing the positioning of the title she comments that the magazine “was far from flaming flagrant feminism”. Instead it became a vehicle through which she chose to oppose inequality and prejudice while appealing to the femininity of her millions of readers. Magazines are the most intimate of media types and Raphaely understood that at that time in South Africa’s history, her readers were keen to improve their lot. To do so they needed a best friend. That friend was FAIRLADY.
Her praise of individuals within the Naspers Group, including the late Hubert Coetzee and legendary Ton Vosloo, suggest that they identified the massive role she would play in establishing FAIRLADY as a formidable title. She in turn clearly relished the challenge of flouting convention and tackling issues close to her heart.
Another skill required of editors is rallying creative and often egotistical individuals towards a common cause: a magazine that will appeal to readers and advertisers and turn a decent profit. Raphaely mastered this throughout her career with aplomb. It is common knowledge that she created a training ground in the magazine sector for editors, writers, photographers and designers.
Of course it did not end there. She went on to establish her own business with the full support of her husband and the legendary sales supremo Volker Kuhnel. With it, she launched the South African version of COSMOPOLITAN. Thus giving up her FAIRLADY column ‘Last Word’ and the magazine she had nursed from infancy into a healthy adult.
She went on to refashion the struggling Femina and in 2001 was granted the first licence outside of America to publish O, The Oprah Magazine.
Raphaely was advised when trying to write this book that she should “stop telling other people’s stories and force myself to tell my own”. I am pleased that she deviated from this. The chapters that inform of her friendship with Barbara Zoellner-Barnard, her strong relationship with her parents-in-law and sister–in-law, her countless friends and those she has worked closely with, made the book for me.
The chapters covering her battle with censorship, interaction with Charlize Theron – who flew out for a photo shoot and ad campaign for women opposing rape – and how she landed the licence to publish O Magazine are noteworthy.
A book full of life, family, friends and how to publish first class magazines will appeal to all who hanker after changing the world one chapter at a time.
This story was first published in the August 2012 issue of The Media magazine.