Say female editors of newspapers, magazines and books, as they share their stories and the challenges they face
I know most of you look at us as some sort of monsters, trust me we are not,” begins Archana Pai Kulkarni, journalist, writer and ex-editor of New Woman magazine, as she moderates the ‘Editor Speak’ session at the Women Writers’ Fest held at the city’s Teatro Bond art gallery last week.
Organised by She The People — a digital storytelling platform for women — the Fest put the spotlight on authors, writers, bloggers and editors. It focused on creative writing, gender in the digital age, engaging on social media, mythology and business writing. The aim was to bring together fiction, non-fiction, academic, creative writers, bloggers and the readers together.
Gracing the ‘Editor Speak’ session were Corina B Manuel, editor of Urbane, Sunanda Mehta, former resident editor of Indian Express Pune, Sucharita Dutta Asane, writer and independent fiction editor and Gauri Shah, editor of Creme Magazine, sharing their stories of being female bosses and the challenges of their respective mediums and the digital age.
Challenges of the digital age
Relevance is a huge challenge in today’s world with the advent of the digital age, especially for the print media. “True, but at the same time, newspapers thankfully are still the go-to option when it comes to getting facts. This is one medium where you can make out the fake from the real,” says Mehta, giving an instance of how rumours are the first to make it to social media and then people wait for the next day’s newspapers to fact-check. The advantage that newspapers have though is time. “We have an entire day to get our facts straight, get all sides of a story and package it well,” Mehta adds.
Magazines, on the other hand, face further challenge in terms of relevance, owing to their weekly/fortnightly/monthly nature. “There is major disparity between the issue time and the news. You have to overcome it with immense planning. You have to be forecasters too when it comes to magazines,” explains Manuel, who has recently shifted from a women’s to men’s magazine. Relevance to your target audience is very crucial, she says. “In this profession, you may have to unlearn at times to relearn, depending on which medium and what audience you are working for,” she points out.
Another issue with some niche magazines is also of getting sidelined. Elaborates Shah, “My reporters are often given a step motherly treatment, because ‘oh you are a lifestyle magazine that doesn’t come out daily’. We have to constantly fight this weightage given to newspapers. We too need relevant content.”
There are, however, benefits too, of being in the digital age. “I can connect with my writer in minutes and work out our differences and come on to the same page in a matter of a day or two,” says Asane, who has to constantly be in touch with the writer of the book she is editing.
Revenue vs vision
Another front that these editors have to constantly fight on is that of striking the right balance between their vision and the need for getting revenues. “It’s a tightrope walk,” says Manuel. “Let’s be honest. There are things that sell and we have to ensure they are covered to get the revenues. Because they get you your salaries.” But if you do stand up for your vision, the people managing resources do come around, adds Kulkarni, giving an instance of how she had to once bargain with the owners of a magazine she was heading, and the story she wanted ultimately did appear on a page towards the end of the magazine. “But at least it didn’t get scrapped, because I fought for it,” she stresses.
Shah also narrates one such incident where she was asked ‘where are the gloss and the parties?’ “Content was not very welcome at a point. So I have to constantly balance the two,” she tells us.
When it comes to books, Asane says that a “reader decides what sells”. If your content is strong, your book will sell, she says. As a writer, one needs to push one’s book. “Promote it,” she says, adding that it is crucial today.
Gender-based discrimination and other challenges
It is not so frequent in the English press, says Mehta. “Yes, earlier beats were gender-based to an extent. Areas like civic issues, politics, crime etc were given to the male reporters. But not any more. Females used to be given softer beats like education, health back then. Today, no such discrimination can be seen in media houses,” she points. Rather, there are advantages of being a woman too, she adds.
In a magazine, Manuel says that she faces the challenge of keeping her pieces short. “Nobody wants to read eight pages anymore,” she says. Shah, on the other hand, was told not to write at all once she took over the magazine. “That was very difficult for me.”
Retaining your team is also seen as a challenge by most of these women. Today, youngsters are constantly on the lookout for greener pastures. In such times, it is a challenge to retain your team, all of them agree.
For Asane, who is constantly working with writers, “breaking through a writer’s ego” is the biggest challenge. But at the same time, once that’s done, and “we are on the same page, the journey is worth cherishing.” Books, says she, leave an aftertaste, “with us writers and editors and with the readers”, unlike web reading. “Internet is a mode of instant gratification, but at least somewhere the youth is reading, so I am happy. I will be sad the day they stop reading altogether,” she says.
That said, unlike what many think, “books are here to stay. I don’t think they are disappearing anytime soon,” she concludes.