By Laura Whitcombe, WiJ Committee Member & Freelance Journalist

In this second instalment of Women in Journalism’s new Editor Under the Spotlight series, Josephine Forster, editor of the Daily Mail’s Femail Magazine talks about what it’s like working for the number one selling national newspaper – it knocked The Sun off the top spot in June after 42 years.

Josephine also explains what Femail Magazine looks for from writers and pitches and outlines an exclusive opportunity for Women in Journalism members who have never written for the Daily Mail to pitch for an exclusive commission of up to £750. For more details – and to hear from Ashlee Elizabeth-Lolo who secured a £400 Hello! commission through our first Editor Under the Spotlight, courtesy of editor-in-chief Rosie Nixon – scroll to the bottom of the interview.

Josephine filming with MailPlus earlier this year.

The Daily Mail was the first UK newspaper to actively target women readers, who make up the majority of its audience. As of March this year, 55% of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday’s readers were women.

Josephine became editor of the Daily Mail’s Femail Magazine last year, after a year as deputy editor.

She says working on the 50th anniversary of Femail Magazine in 2018, which brought together its best writers, including launch editor Shirley Conran, was a real career highlight. As was redesigning the section when she took over as editor, which Josephine describes as “a rare opportunity to give a household name a modern new slant”.

The weekly 14-page section runs in the Thursday paper and targets busy women in midlife as its core audience. It offers readers a mix of powerful personal stories and sometimes controversial opinion pieces, the latest lifestyle, fashion and beauty trends, as well as regular slots including What I Know About Women.

Here she shares insight into her career trajectory and offers advice on how to acquire the skills needed to become an editor…

How did you start out in journalism and what was your path to becoming Femail Magazine editor?

I’ve always been driven by a love of writing. I studied English at university, then just looked for a way to keep going. Doing journalism work experience, I got hooked on the mix of creativity and practicality: you’re telling real stories, and you craft them in a way that helps them reach more people.

After I’d earned my stripes, I decided Femail was where I wanted to be and asked for a trial. That was nearly five years ago; I loved it from day one.

I eventually scrounged some shift work at The Independent and did a Master’s at City University. I spent a summer at Bloomberg News and then got onto the Mail’s graduate scheme. Within the Mail, I’ve moved around – I even worked on the launch of our Snapchat channel, which was a total change of pace.

After I’d earned my stripes, I decided Femail was where I wanted to be and asked for a trial. That was nearly five years ago; I loved it from day one.

How has your role changed since becoming editor?

I’ve been commissioning since starting at Femail Magazine. But as editor I spend much more time thinking about the long term.

In any given week I might plan the following week’s section, meet with someone I hope will give us a great story in a month’s time, and work on building relationships with new writers.

Plus managing the team, which is a real privilege – they are seriously talented, and brilliant to be around.

One of Josephine’s highlights was working on the 50th anniversary issue. (Image Credit: Daily Mail)

What do you look for when commissioning freelance writers?

Striking, genuinely new ideas. Whether it’s a crime investigation or a fashion trend, the best pitches are clear about what’s headline-worthy. What makes this pitch unique, controversial or exciting? Why will our readers care?

“From a practical point of view, I dream of pitches that are well written, fewer than 400 words and include pictures.”

From a practical point of view, I dream of pitches that are well written, fewer than 400 words and include pictures. And that suggests the person pitching reads Femail Magazine! I’d rather pitches didn’t come in on our busiest days – Tuesday and Wednesday.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Telling a story in a powerful way that does it justice is the main thing. (Image Credit: Natasha Pszenicki)

Telling a powerful story in a way that does it justice – whether it’s the first interview with a former Isis bride, a politician opening up about her miscarriage, or a celebrity revealing she’s going topless on TV for breast cancer awareness (as Jenni Murray did two weeks ago).

At our best, we put out a section that is sharp, gutsy and warm. It’s a real reward when readers tell me they flip straight through the paper to our pages.

What’s the hardest part?

Working in newspapers means everything can change right up to the last moment. You might have a perfect edition planned, but if there’s a breaking news story, you just get on with it and rip everything up.

At times that’s hard for everyone – but it’s exhilarating too. I’ve become an adrenaline junkie.

What are the skills you rely on most as an editor – and how can they be acquired?

I’ve got a top three…

  • Decision making: You need to be confident about what’s a good idea, what will fit with your publication’s style and tone, and how it should look on the page.
  • Communication: I work with lots of outstanding freelancers, and I know how tough it can be for them, sending off pitches and copy to some distant email address. Staying connected is vital.
  • And copy editing: The need for this one’s obvious. I started at the Mail as a sub-editor, which was great training in how to lift a piece of writing without mangling it (I hope).

But the best advice I can give, apart from endless practice, is to read good journalism from the publications you want to work for, and then think about how it was created. What made you read it? What’s the killer line and how did they get it?

If you’re in a staff job, read any raw copy you have access to, then see how it changes through the editing process. If you’re freelancing, pay attention to how your copy is edited and what ends up on the page.

Do you ever feel imposter syndrome?

I’m not sure I’d call it that. But I’ve often looked at people above me and thought, ‘Wow, I have absolutely no idea how they do X’. Then, a few months or years later, you find yourself doing it – or at least you start to see how it would work.

It’s all about experience. So if you’re just starting out and you feel that way, TRY NOT TO worry.

Recent Women in Journalism research revealed the shocking lack of diversity in British newsrooms. How is the Daily Mail and Femail Magazine responding to the need for media to more inclusive?

Josephine Forster, Editor of the Daily Mail’s Femail Magazine. (Credit: GWB Visuals)

This is crucial and the whole industry needs to act on it. The events of this year have made that clearer than ever, and it’s so important to me that Femail plays a part in change.

One of the ways the Mail is taking action is with the Stephen Lawrence scholarship, aimed at BAME students who can’t afford post-graduate training. Last year’s intake included a young man whose parents who fled the Somali civil war. Another graduate was fast-tracked from the scheme and is now our night news editor. We also support the Journalism Diversity Fund, both financially and with Mail journalists acting as mentors.

In terms of Femail Magazine, we are actively seeking out more diverse voices in all aspects of what we do: editors, writers, the experts we turn to in our articles, and the women whose stories we share. I’d love to hear from you if you want to work with Femail!

Women in Journalism’s 2021 mentoring scheme is about to open for applications. Have you had a mentor?

I’m lucky to have had a few really smart and generous informal mentors. I’m still in touch, for example, with the editor I met on work experience who gave me my first shifts. Their fresh perspective has helped me work out what I want from my career.

Equally important has been finding people around my own level to compare notes with. Look out for peers who are doing well, say hello and see what you can learn from them.

Equally important has been finding people around my own level to compare notes with. Look out for peers who are doing well, say hello and see what you can learn from them. Often they’re the people you feel most comfortable asking tough questions about pay and speaking up at work.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in journalism?

Don’t be afraid to ask anyone – politely and respecting their time – for advice. At worst, they won’t be able to help, in which case you’ve lost very little. At best, they could be the person who remembers your name and puts you up for a role.

Before you go into a meeting, think about what you have to offer as well as what you want. For example, do you have contacts among young people, or ideas that more established writers don’t? Are you outstanding at a specific type of reporting or part of the job? If you’re really just starting out, are you happy to do the ‘grunt work’ to get your feet under the table? Tell them so.

The Commission

I’m always keen to hear from writers, especially those who bring a fresh voice and new ideas to the section.

So I’d like you to tell me about a lifestyle trend you think would work for Femail. It could be anything from taking your cat to a therapist, to a test of new consumer products, or your take on the rise of the ‘lockdown boyfriend’.

Is there an expert or real-life case study you’d speak to who is happy to be named and photographed? Do you have a personal link to the story? Map out how you see the piece working – and make sure you can follow through with what you’re offering. If the piece will rely on an expert being interviewed, check they’re happy to take part.

I’ll be looking to commission 1,000 to 1,400 words and the fee will be at least £450 but as much as £750, depending on word count.

Email your pitch to wijpitchtome@gmail.com by Sunday 15 November, including a suggested headline, a photo of any case study and proof of your Women in Journalism membership – either the month your direct debit goes out, or for new members the date you joined.

Why should I pitch?

Ashlee Elizabeth-Lolo, who last month secured a £400 Hello! commission in our Editor Under the Spotlight – and her first byline in the national press – says: “Editor Under the Spotlight has rekindled my love of journalism. It’s led to paid job opportunities, exposed my skills nationally and filled me with confidence. It’s a wonderful initiative and I fervently encourage BAME writers to apply in the future!”