The Devil Wears Rhonda

This article was first published on Media Musings in May 2013.

Summary: ‘Rhonda’ swaps AAMI for the ABC in new magazine drama Paper Giants: Magazine Wars charting the 80’s rivalry between Aussie mags Women’s Day and New Idea. But with the recent closures of Grazia and Madison, what does the industry looking like now?





The Devil Wears Rhonda

She may have kissed Ketut looking “hot like a sunrise”, but Rhonda (aka actress Mandy McElhinny) has swapped AAMI for the ABC, starring in a new drama about the 80’s rivalry between Australian magazines Women’s Day and New Idea.

Paper Giants: Magazine Wars, which premieres on ABC1 this Sunday at 8:30pm, focuses on the rivalry between the two magazines’ female editors – Nene King and Dulcie Boling.

McElhinny plays King, deputy of Boling (played by Rachel Griffiths) at Murdoch’s New Ideauntil she jumps ship to edit Women’s Day for (gasp!) Kerry Packer.

The two 90-minute telemovies were commissioned following the success of Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, the story of editor Ita Buttrose and media mogul James Packer’s launch ofCleo , a magazine that would cause “one of the most dramatic sensations in Australian publishing history.”

I loved the series – as an aspiring journalist who one day hopes to work in magazines (I wasn’t quite scared away by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada!) it was interesting and inspiring to see just how hard women fought to give themselves a representative voice in the media.

Women’s magazines are often taken for granted – deemed superficial, filled only with headlines along the lines of ‘How To Lose 10lbs By Doing Nothing!’, ‘The 5 Moves Your Man Will Love You For’ and ‘The 6 Eyeshadows You NEED to Own This Summer’.

Sure, some of us like to read those articles (or am I the only one?). But that doesn’t mean we don’t also like to read more “intellectual” things too. Many of Australia’s most successful magazines emerged at a time where no-one else was paying any attention to what women thought or wanted to read.

And as someone who wants to work in magazines, I’m quite worried about their future in Australia.

Grazia, the fashion weekly, was closed earlier this year followed by the announcement that fellow fashion magazine Madison would cease publication after its June issue.

The cuts come after rapidly falling sales in what publisher Bauer Chief Executive Matthew called a “challenging time” for the market, yet other data suggests readership of those magazines were actually on the increase.

Bauer is/was the publisher of both magazines, with their closure leaving up to 45 people out of a job.

And what’s it doing now? Focusing on the launch a new magazine. Of course!

The highly anticipated newbie in question is the Australian version of international successELLEVarious talents have been chosen for the small editorial team of 20, lead by formerShop til You Drop Editor Justine Cullen.

ELLE’s first issue will hit shelves in September, while it’s online sister will go live in August.The first twelve issues are already promised to be 300+ pages.

The magazine has some concerned about just how much original Australian content it will produce, given the tendency by large magazines to use material from their international sisters.

Only time will tell how well it will succeed in the space freed up by Grazia and Madison. In the meantime, please hire me?