Media Interview with Diane Kenwood, editor of Woman’s Weekly
"I never had any kind of career plan at all, I just kept saying yes to things," says Diane Kenwood, editor of the 100-year-old (or so) mountain of women's interest magazines, Woman's Weekly. Though originally trained in stage management, Diane's path has taken her to the editorial team of Good Housekeeping, the editorship of Your M&S magazine, fronting programmes for the BBC, Sky News, Channel 4, and hosting her own radio show. Now holding the reins (or, rather, knitting needles) at the IPC weekly, Diane's appointment as BSME Chairman for 2013 ensures a busy year ahead.
Now we've set the stage let's hear how Diane and her team create each issue of the magazine, working to its original pattern, while tailoring to its modern readership.
About Woman’s Weekly
What makes Woman’s Weekly the best magazine in the women’s interest sector?
I believe what makes it so successful, as it has been for so long, is that it’s stayed true to its original principles. For our centenary, a year and a half ago, we went back to the original editor’s letter, which laid out the remit for the magazine when it was launched, and it was exactly the same as it is today. We’ve stayed absolutely true to the principles of being useful, helpful and inspirational to women in their homes, in their families and in their lives.
With that in mind, how do you also keep it current and interesting to the modern woman?
That’s absolutely critical – saying that the remit is the same doesn’t mean it still looks and reads like it did a hundred years ago! We’re constantly reinventing it to make sure it’s current, up-to-date and relevant for the market it’s talking to. So, just as women have changed over the last hundred years, so the magazine has changed along with them. I compare it to being like a house: you can redecorate inside or move walls around as much as you want, as long as you recognise the importance of the foundations and the need to keep them solid.
Do you tend to read a lot of the other magazines in the sector?
I try my best to read all of them! I look at everything in our competitive set in the weekly market, and I include in that all the lifestyle titles. For advertising purposes we are put in the mature market, though clearly we are very different from The People’s Friend, and we sell twice as many copies as My Weekly, every week. So we look at those, to keep an eye on what they’re doing.
The magazines we read more closely are Woman and Woman’s Own, and Bella, Best and Yours, which is fortnightly. We look at the TV titles, to see who our market are most likely to be interested in in terms of celebrities, and we look at the monthlies, because of all the women’s weekly magazines, ours is most like a monthly in terms of the breadth and style of its content. I came from the monthly market to Woman’s Weekly, and I always say that it is a monthly magazine, but every week.
Do you ever see an article in those other magazines and think, “I wish we’d done that!”
Everyone in the industry looks at what everyone else is doing and gets inspiration from it, though very rarely do I see a feature that I wish we’d done, because we get all the features that we want, and we have great contributors. We get tremendous co-operation from celebrities because we are never unkind, never underhand and never cruel. We tell good solid stories, we do it honestly and openly. We are immensely trusted by our readers for the quality of our content and that’s a responsibility we take extremely seriously.
Do you feel that a lot of the women’s interest sector can be quite cruel to female celebrities? And has that become worse over the last few years?
Yes, I’m afraid I do. It can be tremendously cruel. Also, there simply aren’t enough celebrities doing enough to generate new stories every single week. It’s a really tough market. I take my hat off to everyone working in it, and I’m very glad I’m not!
We have a celebrity on our cover every week but, unlike the other celebrity-focused weekly titles, we have a huge cast list that we can draw from, because our readers aren’t fundamentally interested in ‘celebrities’, per se. They’re interested in well-known people who’ve had interesting, productive lives and have gone on journeys of their own; people who they can respect and admire.
Describe a typical day at work (if there is a typical day for you)…
At the moment, they’re rather atypical because this year I’m the Chair of the BSME, so I have a lot of work for that on top of my day-to-day stuff.
Roughly, on any given day, I’ll be forward planning with my department heads. We are very unusual for a weekly in that we plan very far ahead, and work much more to a monthly magazine schedule in terms of print. So I will be discussing long-term scheduling and I will be having meetings where we’ll be talking about specific features, visuals, and the editorial approach. I will be looking at initial stage copy on our server and passing that through to our designers, I’ll be looking at layouts and approving those, and I’ll be checking final proofs and putting them through to the subs team.
I write a small amount of original copy every week; there’s my editor’s letter, and I contribute to and blog on the website. My day is made up of a combination of those things, plus any larger company-wide initiatives – which involve endless meetings!
Is there anything you’re particularly excited about that’s coming up in the magazine?
We’re doing an up-paged issue, in May, devoted to knitting; a pull-out 16-page magazine, and we’ve got some very exciting plans around that. Later in the year we’re doing two more special up-paged issues dedicated to craft, in time for the summer holidays, and then one later in the year which will be devoted to recipes from our talented cookery team.
About Woman's Weekly and freelance journalists
Do you pay for contributions from freelance journalists? Which sections do you commission them for?
We use freelancers for a reasonable amount of our content – all in the features area; including celebrity, real life, health finance/consumer and general features. Everything else is produced in house – all our fashion, home, and food content.
Interviews are done by freelancers 99% of the time. Very occasionally they’re done by someone on the features team.
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with Woman’s Weekly directly to pitch ideas? Should they contact a certain member of the editorial team?
Yes, absolutely. Quite frankly, if they pitch to me it’s just a waste of time. I do try and trawl through my inbox as carefully as I can but it gets absolutely rammed so it’s much better for them to pitch to the correct individual. Although we don’t have a ‘flannel panel’ printed in the magazine, it’s not difficult to find the right person to contact. Just look at the ‘meet the team’ section at the bottom of the home page on our website that tells you who everyone is.
Do you think traditional journalism training is still important, or is it better to have a blog or an online portfolio of some kind?
The best training of all to have is a PTC-accredited magazine journalism qualification of some kind – that’s the absolute gold standard. Those are the best, whether it’s a BA or an MA. Graduates come out of the good courses well-prepared and ready to take on the challenges of producing a magazine, which is very useful to me as an editor. I sit on the accreditation panel for those courses, so I know that the standards set are very rigorous.
It’s absolutely vital to have really good fundamental journalism skills; they underpin everything. But you now also need all the multimedia skills that back that up; that’s the way the industry is going. We are about being content providers, not just magazine publishers.
How useful do you find contributions from PRs?
Generally speaking or to me directly? Of interest if it’s the former, almost entirely useless if it’s the latter! There’s almost no point in sending me PR stuff directly. The only exception is if it’s a product that I might be able to use in the ‘My Favourite Things…’ section of my editor’s letter. But my team are also looking for, vetting and editing these for me.
But if it’s ideas for features or interviews it’s absolutely hopeless sending it to me, so again, check out the right person on the team. And the thing I absolutely can’t bear is being rung! Its so not going to get you anywhere. So please don’t do it!
What’s the best thing about being the editor of Woman’s Weekly?
It is the best job I’ve ever had, it really is. And probably the best thing about it are the readers; they are the most wonderful, marvellously mad, brilliant, positive, kind, friendly people I’ve ever met. I quickly came to understand that the magazine ‘belongs’ to them and that we’re merely the custodians of it. It’s part of readers’ family DNA because it’s been around for so long and it’s been passed through the generations from mother to daughter. And once they knew I understood that, it became like having 300,000 friends buying the magazine every week.
I’ve worked on Good Housekeeping and edited the M&S magazine before this, so I’ve worked on three of the biggest brands in the country, and I don’t think I’ve come across any other people who are so passionate about their magazine as they are about this one. It’s a joy to do it for them.
Is there anything you’d change about the job?
No, I really wouldn’t. The readers give me permission to do what I want in the magazine, because they know I understand it. I write a letter every week and used to assume that only my mother reads it. Well, it turns out that almost all of them read it! People come up and talk to me about it, so it’s amazing.
So do you interact with readers a lot; do you use social media personally, or just on behalf of the magazine?
Our readers like communicating with us directly, either on our Facebook page, on our website, by email, or in person. And I do try and get to meet them as much as I possibly can.
Last year we had our first ever Woman’s Weekly Live show, and I was absolutely gob-smacked by how far some readers traveled to be there – it was astonishing. It was in Manchester and we had readers who flew from Scotland, from Ireland, who drove for hours from the South West, just to come and meet us all.
Are you planning another show?
We are! In September this year, from the 12th to the 14th, again in Manchester.
What kind of things will be going on?
Well, it’s going to be a slightly different – and even better – show to last year. But fundamentally, what we do is bring the magazine to life. We have cookery demonstrations, craft workshops, fiction workshops, fashion shows, gardening workshops, we showcase products that we made in the magazine, and the team are there en-masse so readers have the chance to meet us, talk to us, show us the things they’ve made – which they do, in their droves!
Are you good at crafting yourself?
Yes and no. I’m pretty good at making things, but I’m not very good at knitting! I can do it, but it causes an enormous amount of hilarity when I do it at shows; our readers can’t quite believe that I’m so cack-handed. I’m alright if my knitting editor is sitting next to me!
How did you end up with the career you have now?
I never had any kind of career plan at all, I just kept saying yes to things. I did two years of stage management training, then TV and radio production and presenting, I also did stints of PR, marketing, but when I fell into magazines I just knew I’d found the place I really loved being. Although I really enjoy broadcasting and would love to do more of it, I am incredibly happy in magazines and have been given the chance to work on some extraordinary titles. Your M&S magazine was my first editor’s job, and I had never worked at a weekly when I was offered this job, never mind edited one! So people have taken big chances with me in my career and I’ve been very lucky for that.
This morning on the Woman’s Weekly website I saw the knitting blankets for Battersea Cats and Dogs Home campaign and I think that’s amazing. I’m going to try and make one…
Oh, good for you – that would be marvelous!!
That’s the other thing about our readers, when we ask them to do something, my goodness they do it! In our centenary year, we decided that we were going to have a go at creating a world record for knitted bunting and we asked the readers to help. There was nothing in it for them, apart from helping us to break the record, and we got 13,500 triangles of bunting, knitted by over 900 people, all round the world – the first batch we got was from New Zealand. The Guinness Book of Records told us we needed a kilometer of it to set the record – we got 3.2 kilometres of bunting. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see!