Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Hacks versus ‘hobbyists’

From the President’s Desk

I must admit I was rather taken aback by the Editor’s column in the last issue of The Journal. If I had known such snobbery existed in the Institute during the 1980s, I might never have joined!

It was Bill Tadd who introduced me to the Institute. President in the early ’80s, I had known Bill from when we were both writing for Choice Magazine, a specialist publication for the over 50s, which could itself perhaps have qualified as a ‘hobbyist’ publication.

I became a member in defiance of the political pushiness of the NUJ which I had joined of necessity when first going into magazines in the 1960s, at a time when anything print-related was a closed shop. You joined NATSOPA and then switched to the NUJ when you became a writer. All a bit ‘Catch 22’, as you weren’t allowed to be a journalist without becoming a member of the NUJ, but you had to work as a writer before being allowed to join, so timing was crucial, but the transition was possible. And, at the time, the Institute had a specialist Magazine Division.

Today, I would say to those who in the 1980s were snobbish deriders of ‘hobbyists’ that it is the specialist magazines that are actually continuing to be profitable in these difficult publishing times. Magazines work because they target their audiences so precisely.

It is possible to find a magazine about anything you are interested in, and to learn a great deal about your chosen subject, whether it’s science, sewing, sailing or anything and everything in between. And these magazines still sell, unlike the glossies and the women’s weeklies which are in sad and possibly terminal decline, due to lack of investment and publishing corporations who believe they can keep recycling content.

Typing pools

They force creative people like journalists to work in what amounts to ‘typing pools’ where they have no loyalty to, or much knowledge of, the title they are writing for, and editors are expected to edit up to four rival weekly titles at once. How can such cost-cutting practices ever result in a product with a ‘heart’ that people will actually want to buy?

As a well-known editor once said to me, “Magazines are special, like a wonderful box of chocolates, a real treat; you can’t read an iPad in the bath.” Many of my beloved magazines are now but a shadow of their former selves, I still believe they will rise again but, in any case, the B2B (Business-to-Business) and specialist titles will inevitably continue to flourish.

Now that I am President of the Chartered Institute of Journalists – and proud of it – I don’t ever want to hear that magazine journalists aren’t the equal of their newspaper opposites. Some years ago, I wrote and taught a pioneering post-graduate programme for the NCTJ and the PTC (Periodical Training Council) that encompassed the learning of many more skills than newspaper courses offered.

It included law, news writing, sub-editing and shorthand, of course, but also feature writing, photography and magazine design and layout, because magazine journalists need that vital extra sense of the visual to ensure the words and pictures work together on the page. They are also of course expert at predicting the ‘zeitgeist’, the next big thing – which I sincerely hope I am accurately foretelling here for the Magazine Industry and all those who work in it.

Janice Shillum Bhend