Sue Peart is the multi-award winning editor of The Mail on Sunday YOU magazine.
It may be unfashionable to admit it, but I love my daily newspaper. I know I could get the same – or similar – content on my laptop, iPad or smart phone, but for me, nothing quite beats the thrill of sitting down with the Daily Mail (my newspaper of choice, though I read and enjoy the others too) and really savouring the experience ahead of me.
Not wishing to be over-dramatic about this, but the moment when I sit down to read my newspaper is like that moment in the theatre when the orchestra starts to play, before the curtain goes up. You’re not sure exactly what’s in store, but you know you’re in for a thrilling ride that will leave you with plenty of thoughts and opinions running through your head, and that will take you out of yourself for a while.
I discovered the Daily Mail when I first moved to London in the late 1970s. Every morning, I would take the No 19 bus from my flat share in Putney to the office where I worked as a secretary, just off Carnaby Street. While the bus would take me on a geographical journey of about 45 minutes, the newspaper would take me on an emotional journey of the about same length. At the end, I would fold my paper and tuck it into my little basket, step off into the sunshine on Regent’s Street and walk the last few yards to the office feeling uplifted and informed, and with at least one thought-provoking idea itching at my brain.
I now realise that this was down to two things. The incredible talent of the writers and journalists, and the genius of the editors. While I often look at Mail Online to get the latest news, it is not quite the same as turning the pages of a newspaper and appreciating (albeit subconsciously) the pace of the articles, the alternating weights of the pieces, the contrasting light and depth between stories, the different tone and style of the writers. The paper is paced in such a way as to lead you on, to keep you turning the pages, ever onwards until you reach the end.
People who make gloomy predictions about the ‘death of newspapers’ don’t realise, I don’t think, the very different experience between the product you hold in your hand, tuck into your bag, pull out again to read over coffee, tuck away again, and then take out again later for a last read before you go to bed … and the thing you call up on your computer screen for a quick scan.
There’s an entirely different level of engagement. While most of the 100m+ (and counting) unique users who check onto Mail Online every day spend, at most, probably 10 minutes scanning the stories, the 3m or so readers of the Daily Mail are likely to spend anything up to an hour reading and re-reading the articles (and, if you’re like me, cutting out interesting snippets to send to my mother and daughter).
All of which brings me onto magazines. From as long ago as I can remember, I’ve loved magazines. At the age of 11, I was sent to a girls’ boarding school in a far-flung corner of the country. Newspapers (apart from the single copy of The Times placed each morning on the lectern in the school library, which I pounced on every day) and magazines were banned. There is nothing like banning something to add to its allure, and the wonderfully cool, silky feeling of a forbidden magazine in my hands was infinitely more thrilling than an illicit puff on a cigarette or an illegal swig of vodka.
Back then, my magazine of choice was the long-since defunct Petticoat. Why is Petticoat defunct? This is a question I can’t answer because to me that magazine had everything. It understood its readers – and the power of the emotional connection – better than any magazine I can remember before or since. Each week, I was never quite sure what Petticoat would have in store for me. Which is why I bought it week after week … it was never predictable, and it always left you wanting just a little bit more. Even now, several decades later, I still remember the haunting story of the ballerina whose affair with another dancer led to her pregnancy and jeopardised the career she’d trained for since a young girl. It made a tremendous impact on me and gave me food for thought … all the things you want a magazine to do.
I never dreamt that the very thing that was banned at school, that wasn’t on any subject list I could study for A level, the thing I enjoyed as a guilty pleasure, could one day provide me with a career that is as fulfilling and stimulating as anything I could ever imagine.
With every issue of YOU, we work and work to get the right mix of articles, the right level of visual impact, the right pace and flow to lead our readers on a journey that will connect with them intellectually and emotionally in some way, and leave them feeling rewarded for coming on this journey with us. I never take it for granted that our readers go to the trouble of going out on a Sunday morning (in all weathers!), to the shop or the supermarket, and pay money for The Mail on Sunday. It is my responsibility to make sure they feel their effort was worthwhile, and that they never ever feel short-changed.
My job is a privilege. (‘Job’ is the wrong word. It is what I do, what I love.) After all, which other role could possibly bring you into contact with such inspiring women as Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company, or Geraldine Howard, the entrepreneur who started Aromatherapy Associates, who has recently suffered from cancer of the eye and drew on that traumatic experience to create a new blend of oils called Inner Strength? I have been lucky enough to meet so many extraordinary women over the 13 years I have been editing YOU that I do really feel in a uniquely privileged position, and I never – not for one second – take that for granted.
Lately, I’ve noticed that the people who used to spread doom by talking about the death of newspapers have become less vocal. In recent years, newspapers (and magazines) suffered an inevitable decline in circulation while readers sampled the exciting digital offerings, but recently I’ve sensed a ‘bottoming out’ of the situation. I believe that people who might have dabbled with digital are gradually returning to the more uniquely satisfying experience of the newspaper and magazine, the one they can hold in their hands, turning the pages at their own leisure, pass on to their mother or their daughter, show to a colleague at work … in a word: share. Because, of course, the internet is a very isolating experience; reading a newspaper or magazine is the opposite.
Last Christmas, I did something I’ve never done before. I decided to give everyone close to me books as presents. I didn’t buy them from Amazon; I went instead to my local independent book store. I spoke for a while to the owner, patted his dog on the head, and spent a very fulfilling couple of hours browsing the shelves to select different books for the different people in my life. I can’t remember another Christmas when my family were so delighted with their individually chosen gifts.
While digital may be brilliant, clever, quick and flashy, for me nothing will ever quite match the power of the printed word, the smell of a new book, the anticipation of an unopened magazine, the satisfaction of a well put-together newspaper.
And while on the subject of the power of the written word, let me leave you with a little thought from The Art of Being Brilliant by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker, which, incidentally, I highly recommend to cheer up your day.
What is the difference between ‘try’ and ‘triumph’? Just a little ‘umph’.