By Laura Whitcombe, WiJ Committee Member & Freelance Journalist
HELLO! is the magazine that shook up the magazine market and the world of celebrity reporting when it launched in the UK over 30 years ago. Its critics have called it lightweight – but it has consistently secured celebrity and royal exclusives followed up by press and media outlets worldwide.
The distinctive style of reporting has made it hugely popular on newsstand with the Kate and Wills Royal Wedding issue selling more than a million copies in three days.
Rosie Nixon has been at the title for 12 years, becoming editor-in-chief in 2016, and the latest PAMCO figures, an audience measurement for publishers, show HELLO! has grown its total brand reach by 28 percent to 12.2m during the pandemic but she admits the last six months have not been easy.
As part of our Editor Under The Spotlight series Rosie is offering a commission to a Women in Journalism member who has never written for the title before . Scroll to end to find out all about the £400 HELLO! commission Rosie is offering.
Rosie has also drawn on her experience of covering red carpet events to write two best-sellers – The Stylist and Amber Green takes Manhattan. Her third novel, Just Between Friends is out in November.
Here she shares an insight into life as an editor and offers advice on how to thrive in journalism, even in these challenging times.
How did you start out in journalism and how did you get your current role?
I’d always been quite a prolific writer as a child. My mum says I was constantly writing letters and notes. I kept a diary in my teens and read Smash Hits and Sky magazines.
I went to Sussex University, where I studied history majoring in history of fashion in my final year. My tutor was an inspiration as she had written for many women’s glossy magazines. I thought it sounded like an interesting career.
After graduating, I stayed in Brighton and went to work for a local book publishers for work experience. Then I became editorial assistant and eventually an editor of children’s books. My first job in magazines was a segway from there.
You worked for a number of smaller titles before you joined the often controversial teen sector – what was that like?
I worked on Bliss which was an iconic title at a time when teen magazines were booming – there was a responsibility to portray responsible images and information to girls; the magazine was a lifeline for learning about your body, boys, navigating friendships, relationships with parents, and everything else.
It was a time when media was becoming more obsessed with celebrities – how did that change your career?
Celebrity was beginning to sell. The days of putting models on the front cover were coming to an end; brands were looking to celebrities to sell their products and magazines were no different – a really interesting back story to a personality was just as important as their look.
At Bliss, they offered me a role as either features editor or celebrity editor, which was a newly created position. There was a feeling we needed to be doing more personality-led features. I went for the celebrity role and I’m very glad I did, as it set me up for the rest of my career and I started developing my little black book.
I went on to New Woman magazine, which doesn’t exist anymore sadly. Then I went to Red as celebrity director, producing all the cover shoots. Next, I went to Glamour as associate editor. I would be the person that would go to LA and report on the Oscars and arrange cover shoots in New York.
“When you work for a magazine these days, you don’t just work for a print title – you work for a media brand. I’m very focussed on promoting what our brand stands for.”
My next move was to Grazia, which was just launching as a weekly glossy. I had gone from the monthly world to the faster pace of weeklies in the formative years of Grazia, which was an exciting place to be. The magazine was evolving and it was a really dynamic team. The mix of news and glossy magazine features was unique. I was executive editor and edited entertainment and showbiz content.
How did you join HELLO!?
HELLO! got in touch with me when I was at Grazia. I didn’t know a lot about it because it’s a family business but when I arrived, it quickly got under my skin.
I joined as assistant editor and the editor left a few months later, so I was kind of an acting editor along with the deputy editor. Eventually we became joint editors for a number of years and then I became editor-in-chief, which is a role across the brand.
While I don’t do much writing for the issue anymore, I’m still very hands on with the magazines – we have HELLO! weekly plus HELLO! Fashion. I do the cover every week and see all of the layouts. I’m very involved in the direction of the magazine. I’ve really worked on the ethos of our brand and what our values are.
When you work for a magazine these days, you don’t just work for a print title – you work for a media brand. I’m very focussed on promoting what our brand stands for.
I know this brand inside out and that helps enormously when you go through difficult times, like Covid 19. I knew exactly how our brand should react to lockdown and what our audience wanted – and that is positive, uplifting content to offer some respite from the worries of the wider world.
Although I never thought I’d be editing a surprise royal wedding issue from my bedroom!
Some celebrity commentary in print and online has come in for criticism – especially since Caroline Flack’s tragic death – what is your editorial policy?
A couple of years ago we launched our HELLO! to Kindness campaign in response to growing negativity we were seeing online, especially aimed at the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex, or Meghan Markle, as she was at the time.
There was a lot of negativity across our social channels between fans of the Duchesses turning on each other. There were racist, bullying comments and so much unkindness that members of our staff were having to spend time policing – deleting and blocking – users. We felt we needed to make a stand and say that this type of bullying behaviour doesn’t have a place in our world.
“We felt we needed to make a stand and say that this type of bullying behaviour doesn’t have a place in our world. We launched our #HelloToKindness campaign in response to that and to open up the discussion with social media companies about how to police this negativity.”
We welcome freedom of speech and commentary, of course. That’s one of the great beauties of social media – to create a community and have a dialogue with your audience. But it isn’t okay to post abusive comments on our platforms.
So we launched our #HelloToKindness campaign in response to that and to open up the discussion with social media companies about how to police this negativity. National statistics show that suicide rates are rising and mental health issues are growing –and bullying online is one contributing factor.
What’s a typical day as editor-in-chief?
It’s a juggle. The routine is very different to what it was pre-COVID but I’m up anytime between 6 and 7am with the kids. I’ve been trying really hard to exercise every morning because I find that I’m sat at my makeshift office desk, which is in my bedroom, looking at the screen for hours during the day so I have to get out and do something, even if it’s just a 20-minute run or Zoom class.
I’m at my desk by about half 9, catching up on emails and then we have a conference every day as a team at 10 o’clock, which I join whenever possible, where we’ll go through the features and the stories we’re putting in that week’s issue, discuss the shoots we’ve got lined up, key elements we might be working on for a cover idea, new photos and news stories of the day. It’s a chance for the team to ‘see’ each other and feel connected.
After that, generally, I have back to back meetings – there are a lot of video calls at the moment. I’m connecting with contacts, working on content, liaising with our commercial team on strategy and plans to reinvigorate the commercial side of the business because it has been a difficult time during COVID. The boundary between work and home life has been very blurred – and I am still catching up and replying to emails at half past ten at night. It has been very hard to feel like I’m ever switching off.
“I am still catching up and replying to emails at half past ten at night. It has been very hard to feel like I’m ever switching off.”
I’ve struggled with that and just the pressures of this time. Magazines sales and commercial revenues have taken a hit, although I’m very thankful to our audience because HELLO! has climbed to the top of the weekly market, which is encouraging. I think people are buying in to the positivity we provide. But the business has had to adapt and sometimes it can feel lonely in a management position.
Unfortunately, a number of events we had planned weren’t able to take place so we’re constantly generating new ideas and exploring potential new opportunities for partnerships. We work across platforms now so there’s more communication than ever between the digital side of the business, print and commercial. For every feature we run, we have a 360 discussion about the video element, the digital element, the print and whether there’s any partnership potential for commercial to follow up.
What’s your advice for journalists worried about job security or career progression in these turbulent times?
I think virtually every publishing company has been looking at restructuring during this time and there have been jobs that have sadly gone from the business. That is always really tough. Magazine sales have been in decline over a number of years but they will always be an important part of the British media. I don’t think they’re going to disappear all together. We saw an uplift in our July sales as travel points re-opened, which was encouraging.
I think you have to look to diversify as a journalist. Just focusing on print isn’t going to see you through a long career. Be interested in all sides of the business and look for new and developing areas.
Partnerships and campaigns is a growing area at the moment, where commercial partners can be teamed up with editorial ideas. Commercial partners aren’t interested in just taking out a page of advertising in a print title anymore. It’s about coming up with concepts or events – physical or virtual – or campaigns that can be sponsored and are multi-platform.
“For every feature we run, we have a 360 discussion about the video element, the digital element, the print and whether there’s any partnership potential for commercial to follow up.”
Gaining experience in the digital side of the brand and working on your own social media presence is really important. Practice seeing yourself as a brand and working out what you’re about, what are your values and expertise. Experiment with video because experience of different media will really help you. Employers will be looking for a more diverse range of experience now. Creativity is key.
What makes a good editor?
It’s a combination of knowing the story and motivating a team. As a journalist you have to have a strong desire to get the story and an interest in people. that has been a very key part of my role. Those skills go hand in hand with writing and editing.
“I have been the person out and about writing the stories, standing on a cold, wet red carpet for hours aiming to get the scoop from the big star when they finally come along. I’ve done all of that groundwork.”
I don’t do much writing anymore but I’m really glad that my career began that way. I have been the person out and about writing the stories, standing on a cold, wet red carpet for hours aiming to get the scoop from the big star when they finally come along. I’ve done all of that groundwork. I think that has made me a better editor.
You have to be able to build trust so that people come to you time and again. It’s so competitive out there – especially now with social media and stars taking more control by releasing their own information on their terms.
A lot of communication between teams is involved in my job and I love the creative freedom I have.
Rosie on the £400 HELLO! commission she’s offering Women in Journalism members
When Women in Journalism asked me if I would offer a commission to its members to help create new opportunities for writers starting out or looking to break into titles or topics they haven’t previously been able to, I was delighted to say yes.
It’s very important to me that we use our platform at HELLO! for good as we have a vast audience. I’m keen to champion people who need to have their voice heard. We launched our Star Women Awards a few years ago for that purpose: to champion the amazing stories of women who have done extraordinary things – some famous and some not – life stories that needed to be told.
I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity at the moment and one of the things that makes journalism brilliant is having a variety of voices and backgrounds in the publications that you read. It’s really important that we hear from a more diverse range of writers.
All Women in Journalism members – and particularly those from a BAME background – who have never written for Hello! before are invited to pitch a 1,000 word interview on an inspirational woman from a BAME background who has done something extraordinary in her community and deserves to be publicly recognised. Her story must not have appeared elsewhere in national media.
The writer can choose the format – either an introduction followed by a Q&A or a write through. Hello! will facilitate a photoshoot to accompany the piece so the subject must give consent to be photographed and make themselves available.
The pitch must include a headline in the Hello! style and I’m looking for a strong news line.
Tell me why this person is relevant now, why they will appeal to the Hello! audience and give me a really emotive story. And be realistic. Make sure you have access to the person and that you can deliver the interview before you pitch.
All Women in Journalism members who have never written for HELLO! are invited to email pitches to Rosie at email@example.com by 31 August, including the month your direct debit is paid to Women in Journalism or the month you joined if you are a new member.
The writer whose pitch is selected will be profiled by Women in Journalism after publication.