Remembering glory days


I can’t quite believe CLEO magazine is gone.

Rumours swirled last week that the iconic title was getting the chop. While a spokesman swore it wasn’t true, it was pretty hard to ignore the cold, hard facts.

Circulation was scarily low – women in their late teens and early 20s don’t read magazines the way they once did. They’re on Snap Chat and Instagram and whatever else they do on social media.

The writing was on the wall when CLEO’s website closed down before Christmas. How can a magazine have a future without a website?

Yesterday, Bauer confirmed media’s worst kept secret: it was shutting CLEO down.

I suspect Kerry Packer’s heart would be just a tiny bit broken by CLEO’s demise if he were alive today.

It’s the end of an era. CLEO was so much more than a magazine about sex and shoes. It started out – waaaay back in the ’70s – as something close to revolutionary.

As  writes at The Conversation:

Cleo was a translating machine. The women’s liberation movement was mainly in the hands of educated middle class women who used the language of revolution. Most ordinary women found this terrifying.

It took a magazine like Cleo, with an inspired and inspiring editor, a supportive mainstream publisher in Kerry Packer, a talented staff who tapped into the young and liberatory zeitgeist of the seventies, to take the threat out of feminism and sex, and package politics in the pleasurable pages of a glossy magazine.

I loved watching the fictionalised version of its conception in Paper Giants – one of my favourite TV shows EVER.

Working on young women’s mags was something close to revolutionary for me too. It’s the moment my own career got interesting.

While I started out at the Newcastle Herald, magazines were my dream. Scoring a job at Cosmopolitan magazine in the early 90s blew my mind.

Nine amazing years followed as I worked my way up to deputy editor. My specialty was interviewing celebrities – everyone from Alyssa Milano to Shannen Doherty to Salma Hayek to Kylie Minogue to Portia Di Rossi to Christina Applegate.

And I often conned the editor into letting me fly to Los Angeles to meet them!

I also got to do crazy things like report on the Mardi Gras on the back of a motorcycle while clutching a Dyke on a Bike.

But, eventually, it was time to move on. I headed to Singapore to edit the local edition of CLEO. That was bulk fun, though it started out pretty scarily, with my first issue being almost banned for including the coverline “Blow like a pro” (oral sex tips from a prostitute).

The Singaporean government is a little/lot on the conservative side and totally FREAKED. (There was also the unfortunate time we had to pulp an issue because it included a penis ruler that announced Asian penises were the smallest. WHAT was I thinking?)


I loved that job and it loved me back. I doubled the circulation within a year with a combination of titillation, fun and local colour.

It didn’t hurt that I had the most wonderful, passionate staff and an incredibly talented deputy editor called Corinne Ng.

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Around 18 months into the job I was asked to help launch Singapore Harper’s Bazaar. I’m not really a high-fashion gal, but I AM very adaptable, so I got to work.

The morning after the launch party, I was offered the job as editor of Woman’s Day in Australia.

It was a tough decision. I’d had two wonderful years in Singapore – the food, the parties, the friendships, the designer freebies – but being offered the job as editor of Woman’s Day was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

At the same time, I was nervous. Editing a title that big never ends well. When things get wobbly, there’s usually someone lurking behind your back with a big knife.

But that’s a story for another day.

Franki Hobson – the former editor of Cosmo Pregnancy- is one of the most creative, positive journalists I know. She’s written a blog about the pain of being the editor of a title that closes and offers hope to those facing redundancy.

“I feel for the staff at Cleo.  They have worked tirelessly for something they believe in. They wanted to give a voice to Australian women with limited staff, limited budget and maximum red tape. The speculation of the magazine closing will be devastating news for them. It’s awful to tread water tirelessly for something you truly believe in. To go beyond the call of duty and pull out all the stops in their own time and be the last to know. But if I have one word of advice it’s this: your passion and dedication to story-telling, journalism, fashion and beauty advice or entertainment transcends and translates to any medium. Be creative. Be passionate. Do what you love and pursue your dreams to reach Australian women in the way you know how. You will land on your feet.”

I often wonder what the next decade holds for me in journalism? I know I can edit something big and get results. I also know I’m happy doing something small … as long as that gets results too.

I’m addicted to the “crack” that is sales (in print) or clicks (in digital).

I love seeing a cover story or a digital post go berserk.

I’m not sure I could handle a job that didn’t include those giddy pleasures.

So what does the future hold? The universe – as I’ve often gratefully noted – keeps her eye on me.

Two years ago there’s NO WAY I’d have believed what my life would look like now.

I was in a baaaaaad place back then – frantically trying to hold the shreds of my marriage together.

Today is a very different, lovely story.

So I’m with Franki.

If we’re creative and passionate, we WILL land on our feet.

Song of the day: Cold Chisel “Ita”


11 thoughts on “Remembering glory days

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    1. My grandmother bought Woman’s Day and New Idea every week. She called them her “books.” She was beside herself with pride when I became editor of Woman’s Day and was still boasting to people in the nursing home years later.

  1. Wow…that’s some insight into Alana! 😄
    I loved Paper Giants, as well….a ripper tale, told and acted brilliantly.

  2. I have very fond memories of working on Cleo twenty five years ago when Lisa W and Deb T where at the helm – we were a small, dedicated and very passionate team!

    Magazines are still in my blood and for a while it appeared to be in my daughter’s also – she was always swiping my mags before I had finished them. She is 13 and as her facebook/snapchat/instagram world has exploded, her interest in glossy magazines is no more. Now I put them under her nose (not Cleo obvs!) but she doesn’t even turn the cover.
    I don’t think anyone has the answer on how to engage GenZ with print media…

    1. My daughter insisted I buy her a copy of a David Bowie tribute magazine that Bauer rushed out … but I think she’s unusual. Oh, and also, she hasn’t discovered Snapchat yet!

  3. Wow you’ve had a fascinating career so far. All that experience! And I love that quote – if we’re creative and passionate we’ll land on our feet.

  4. I totally understand that rush. I used to work in advertising and I thrived on the rush that would come working long hours to meet a crazy client deadline or working on a campaign with Richard Branson. I love that rush, I actually think that I am actually a little bipolar (I mean I know I have mental health issues!) but I have typically worked in roles where I could get that rush and use my manic episode to my advantage so was able to hide it but I always found the come down incredibly difficult.

    I loved reading magazines. I started with Dolly in the early 80’s when I started high school and my parents wouldn’t allow me to buy them so I would read them in the school library or we would buy one cry between us all to share and do the quizzes. By yr 10 (1986!) I had moved onto Cleo and I used to work for A & R Bookshops in Pitt st mall so I could buy my own copy to read on the train to work on Sundays. Then in 1987 my parents bought a news agency so I had free access to lost of magazines! I can remember being a little shocked at playgirl (women’s version of playboy – so full of naked men lol) but my favourites were always Cleo & Cosmo. I always had one or the other in my bag when I used to catch the train to work and being in advertising in the mid-late 90’s there were magazines everywhere!

    When I had my first somehow I got into reading O – Oprah’s mag I think I thought that by 30 i needed to grow up but really didn’t feel that I was even close to being old enough to buy AWW! Plus mum bought it so I could read hers and I was in 3rd yr uni so in my head I was only 20 even though I was married with a teeny bub! Since having the twins 11yrs ago this year I actually can’t honestly remember the last time I bought a magazine that wasn’t a cooking mag like Donna Hay, Delicious or a couple of cheap recipe/meal planning ones. Actually there was a fortnight when I actually bought just about every magazine published mainly because my twins were in them! The last time Princess Mary was here on an official visit they presented her with flowers at Sydney Kids and they made every single publication out! I don’t remember the day at all so I am very glad I did buy them all. Then I just looked I have a Royal Souvenir AWW mag they are in and there was another mag that had a snapshot of Princess Mary’s last 10 yrs and they used that photo of my girls for 2013 and they even made an International Royal mag!!

    All of that said I do love to read magazines and feel the pages as I turn them but when I read AWW I feel like I am turning into my mum (which isn’t a bad thing I am just not in my 60s!) and when I flick through Cosmo or Cleo they are all about how to be uber skinny and get great sex so they aren’t aimed at me. I almost feel like there is a target market that is completely forgotten in the print mags. That generation like us who still love magazines but are too old for Cleo & Cosmo but not ready to retire to AWW.

    OMG I clearly haven’t spoken to adults for a couple of days! (Broken tooth hurts to do anything!) Sorry about the blurgh. Perhaps that is the future for you Alana to find that magazine that fits in the niche the 35-55 women (OMG my brain is spilling over lots of thoughts around that!) but would it sell?

      1. You would know more about that than me. I have only self published an in-house magazine for a niche market that didn’t need to turn a profit, tiny circulation so advertising etc wasn’t an issue. Perhaps that is something we should investigate. There are lots of creatives around that could get this to work somehow. I have another HUGE project idea that I have no idea how to get it happening but I need to recover from this tooth op first.

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