Friday, March 1, 2024

Cashing in the Carte Blanche: Finding Freedom in Change

Let’s be clear, losing your job on week two of lockdown sucks, big time. It is not great to be flung into the crumbling world of media to job hunt at the same time as, say, multiple award-winning journalism heroes like Donna Chisholm and Diana Wichtel. These are the kind of women people dedicate statues to; I’m someone who once wrote a piece called ‘does your tampon match your nail polish?’ for a teenage girl magazine. In my defence, it was sponsored content and my editor and I tried to make it clear to the (probably male) ad exec that those two things (tampons and fingernails) would be seen by very few people at the same time.

I joined magazines in early 2007, a year before the Global Financial Crisis. It was a time when anyone under the age of 40 was very, very aware that the internet was about to change the way the world received content forever. Interestingly, anyone over the age of 60 – e.g. the entire leadership team at both media companies I worked for – continued to openly insist the internet was going to be ‘a fad’ until about, oh, 2016. The point is: I was expecting to be made redundant for 13 of the 14 years I was a magazine journalist. I’ve worked for six magazines in that time; none of which now print in New Zealand, and five of which Bauer shut down. !!


Working in magazines in the 21st century felt a lot like what I imagine living in Venice feels like. Your surroundings are beautiful, glamorous, the kind of things dreams are made of. And yet, day by day, you’re slowly sinking. You cannot plan ahead more than six months, because there is no job security. People disappear into the night – one day they’re at their desks, the next day, gone. You watch former journos skip over to corporate comms where they double, or triple, their salary (if I sound bitter and/or jealous, know that it’s because I absolutely am).

And yet, working in magazines was the best job in the world. As a journalist, you are nosy for a living; you get access to some of the most weird and wonderful people the world has to offer, and you get to talk to them for an hour and ask them anything. The work stories were ridiculous. Did I ever tell you the one about the supermodel and the terrifying monkey in the palace in the middle of India? No? Well, I could.

And then there is the best part, where you get to stand behind people in the supermarket line, or sit behind them on the beach, and watch them read stories you wrote. Last December, on the bus into work, I was on the top level of a double decker, staring straight at a giant version of our Jacinda Ardern Christmas cover that was on the back of the bus in front of us. (Yes, the #turnardern one. No, it didn’t hurt sales at all, thank you for asking). And the entire time I was staring at the cover, I was thinking: I made that. I wrote that.

And now, just like that, they’re gone. Not all of the magazines in New Zealand, by any means, but a lot of them. A huge amount of our history, of the stories that belonged to the women of New Zealand… poof. It’s an extraordinary loss, one that is only going to get bigger, I fear.

But in the wreckage of this, one thing has emerged. And that is: carte blanche to start again. Quite possibly carte blanche to fail, who knows.

Redundancies were never a rare thing in this industry, in this world. And even though they’re inevitably decisions made by the top brass, there’s always something that feels personal, punishing, isolating about them. But not this year.

There is nothing less personal than losing your job because of a global pandemic, let me tell you.

Particularly when people are losing so much more than just a job. If I had left the industry of my own accord, I would have suffered from permanent FOMO because I knew how good, how insane, how creative and how incomparable it was. But you can’t have FOMO for something that doesn’t exist anymore. All you can do is try and patch together a career that picks up aspects, here and there, of the job you once had. A career that gives you the same child-like joy of being able to look at something physical, something you can hold in your hot little hands and say: I made that. I wrote that.

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