Newspapers are under huge pressure from government to transform but what about magazines? Transformation of the media is a source of heated debate in this industry. Parties from every quarter lament, are in the process of changing or trying to ignore the state of the media’s transformation.
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ data covering the period April 2012 to June 2012, there were 205 consumer magazines available in the country. Calculations by The Media show that 44% of these are led by white female editors, while white male editors lead 33%. At the other end of the scale, black female editors account for 4% of editorships, with their male counterparts holding 2.4%. These numbers account for 83.4% of the 205 magazines. This reporter was unable to ascertain the remainder at the time of going to print.
“These figures are shocking. They show a serious and worrying imbalance, suggesting the magazine industry to be the troglodytes of the media sector,” says Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Harber says the heat has landed on news media mostly because they worry politicians, but that “magazines are influential on issues of lifestyle and values, and should also be part of the conversation”.
But to see the full picture, “one needs also to look at management, full editorial staff and readership breakdowns”, he adds.
Esmaré Weideman, Media24 chief executive officer, disagrees in part with Harber’s sentiments. “The debate is taking place at an industry level and does not distinguish between newspapers and magazines, though government has focused much more on news media,” she says.
While print media companies typically have separate divisions for newspapers and magazines, Weideman says: “They are owned and managed as one organisation. It is one debate.”
Weideman says she finds the figures “not surprising, but they are certainly disappointing”. “Seventeen percent of Media24’s editors are black women and they are some of the finest editors I have ever worked with. I seriously don’t believe that any media company would deliberately overlook black female talent. Good editors are hard to find and good black editors are in serious demand. One could argue why there is a shortage, and we certainly should focus intensely on the training and mentoring programmes we offer to increase the pool of potential black editors,” she says.
These numbers are also not a bolt from the blue for TRUELOVE features editor Melinda Ferguson. “Content on offer is still very white-driven and it’s little wonder the stats reveal these figures,” she says.
“I am one of two white people on a black female title and I sometimes forget how white it is out there, but once I go to award ceremonies or industry events it becomes blatantly clear that the magazine industry has stayed almost as white as it was pre-1994,” she says.
Hoosain Karjieker, chairperson of Print and Digital Media South Africa (PDMSA), made similar observations after the 2011 Pica awards, but noted some changes in the recent 2012 ceremony.
“It was disappointing at that stage to note that the magazine environment was still largely white dominated and I had hoped the remark would stimulate thought and action for a broader diversity in future. Yes, there were changes noted [at the 2012] event, but this could hardly be used definitively to evaluate the progress that has or has not been made in this regard.”
He also says the stats are not surprising. “Historically, the print media has been white-owned and -controlled, creating the imbalances that exist. Predominantly, the target market for magazines is female. Also, initial capital investment and inherent costs to establish magazines are high,” he says.
Media consultant and founding CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) Libby Lloyd says: “[The figures] just confirm what we know – there has been little or no meaningful transformation in the magazine space.”
Associated Media Publishing managing director Julia Raphaely says the numbers are “obviously worrying”.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the appropriate talent in our industry regardless of colour. Combined with the challenge to transform print media to take full advantage of digital opportunities, transformation should be part of the media’s DNA. The challenge is to find the talent that could keep up with this change and also drive it,” she says.
Raphaely adds that while the magazine industry is having an ongoing “conversation regarding transformation, it’s not strong enough”.
Media24 magazine’s general manager of strategy development, Egbert de Waal, says transformation in magazines is a complex issue, and it’s “a bit simplistic to take only race into account when reviewing the overall profile of the editorships at large”.
“From a publisher’s point of view, the qualities which make for a good editor go way beyond just that or the match between the race of the potential editor and that of the title’s target market,” he says.
Raphaely agrees. “Race and gender do play a part, as it is naturally easier to talk to the market that you yourself are absorbed in, but there are many other factors that make for a successful editor.
“An editor, if a true professional, speaks to her readers in the tone, style and content of the brand. COSMO, for example, is not about the editor but about providing content across platforms that is essentially relevant to that COSMO audience,” she says.
Weideman says: “Transformation is many things to many people, but in my view it generally means change to do away with any form of discrimination as a result of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability or any similar mark of identity.
“For media, there are two dimensions – transformation in terms of people who own and operate the businesses, as well as (those who create the) content. As a consequence of past discrimination, ownership, staffing, markets, content and consumption are skewed and reflective of that discrimination. Transformation is about removing the legacies of past discrimination.”
Lloyd agrees that media diversity needs to delve deeper. “While [the reporting of transformation] is often reduced to being only about BEE [Black Economic Empowerment], the actual debate goes far deeper than that. It is about diversity of ownership and content and ideas and not only about the race and gender of board members and editors.”
Karjieker believes that transformation should permeate the length and breadth of any organisation. “Certainly, this is the case in other functional areas of the magazine business. Notwithstanding this, a special focus should and will be made in areas that are lacking,” he says.
Anton Botes, general manager of Caxton magazines, says transformation is an important and ongoing process at his organisation, and while historical race divisions used to matter with regard to content – those lines have shifted. “Historically, most whites didn’t understand black people’s lives, so black editors and journalists certainly understood their readers better than most of their white counterparts,” he says.
“Today many more people share the same hopes, fears and aspirations, which means editors, regardless of their race, can concentrate on producing content relevant to their target market,” he says, citing among other examples a 57% black, coloured and Indian readership of Woman & Home magazine.
“While a heritage magazine like Bona will always remain an essential read for many black South Africans – reaching 3,4 million people – it is relevant editorial content that will attract readers, irrespective of their race.
“Just as gender is hardly relevant, so race should also not be relevant when it comes to editing and staffing in magazines,” Botes says. While notions of gender and race populate the debate, they are little understood, says Rhodes University’s media and society specialist, Dr Lynette Steenveld.
“Race and gender are the key social divisions that people think about when talking about transformation. But magazines need to consider the intersectionality of class, race and gender. This approach would offer readers a more complex understanding of social identity – which is rooted not in our biology, but our social and economic circumstances.”
Steenveld says because magazines target upper LSM groupings, they are “profoundly ‘middle class’” and that “very few magazines are aimed at working class people – who in this country are mainly black”.
She adds, “A black woman editor could come up with great ideas to incorporate more features regarding black women’s lives or choose advertising that has more black people in them, but the class content will remain the same.
“The editor can make a difference in terms of journalists hired, perhaps the kinds of stories, and the culture of the magazine – but these are limited vis-à-vis the economics of the business,” she says.
To complicate the space even further, Weideman says that one also needs to take into consideration that magazines “write for a specific audience and very often that audience is defined by race or gender. Take TRUELOVE – aimed broadly at black women, or Kuier – with a strong focus on coloured women, as examples. Print media products operate where the market for products exist.
“I am proud of the efforts Media24 have made in launching products for the benefit and enjoyment of very specific markets – Kuier and Move being two recent examples. Of course, we are in the business of making profits, but it is also a source of much joy to know that we are offering consumers publications they can relate to,” says Weideman.
“We all look at life through our very own specific set of spectacles. Good editors know their shortcomings and surround themselves with people who bring a different perspective, a different experience, people who complement them. The more ‘transformed’ your editorial team, the more ‘transformed’ your content.”
Says Harber: “There have been magazines that have shifted with social change. Those who don’t will die. Maybe this is why so many titles have passed on,” he says – a notion Raphaely does not share. “I believe there has been a significant shift in the editorial, reflecting the diverse nature of South Africa. Some brands like Move are very clearly targeted at the emerging market and their growth in sales reflects this.
“Other brands like O, the Oprah Magazine, have naturally evolved to talk to an audience, which is 68% non-white. I believe publishers are very aware of this and have made a big effort to make the stories they tell reflect the diversity of South Africa. This is certainly what we have always focused on throughout the stable of our magazines. COSMO, for example, was one of the first glossies to have a black cover model in the ‘80s and our content has always been to reflect a mind-set and not a skin colour,” she says.
When asked if enough had been done to transform magazines, her answer is a decisive “No”. But, she adds, “It’s going to take a while, but there is no doubt it’s on everyone’s radar and the goal of any publishing business with a future in SA is to try and find the best talent and potential talent, train them up and keep them.”
Harber sees a need for intervention as “natural or market-driven change is too slow. Magazine owners and editors should be more active in pursuing transformation in their own self-interest. The industry should take the lead in setting transformation goals”.
Karjieker agrees. “The PDMSA Board has determined that transformation in the print media must be actively pursued and a roadmap will be created to assist us in achieving our transformation objectives. The Print Digital Media Transformation Task Team (PDMTTT) process will suggest a standard level of achievement in terms of transformation targets.”
Ferguson balks at the idea of enforced regulation, dismissing it as too “Big Brother-like”.
The mandate for PDMTTT is to tackle the issue of transformation head on – to research, define and solicit submissions from the industry at large. PDMTTT project leader Mathatha Tsedu would not go into what transformation means from the viewpoint of his organisation. “Having asked for information, it would be incongruous if we were to be the ones going into the public arena spouting opinions about the very issues we have asked for information about,” he says.
“It must be understood as a process of repositioning media from its current state to being a truly South African industry… that resonates with the aspirations of the country for its present and future.”
Whatever the outcomes, most would agree that diversity of the media matters in a country where the media have tremendous influence and where the powerless were once denied a voice and representation.
This story was first published in the March issue of The Media magazine.