Magazine Wars: What it was really like to work at Woman’s Day.

Magazine wars
Mandy McElhinney as Nene King and Rachel Griffiths as Dulcie Boling on ABC’s Paper Giants



BY ALANA HOUSE, editor of iVillage Australia.

After drying my tears from Paper Giants 2 on ABC-TV last night, I started reminiscing about my own Mag Wars.

I was working at Cosmopolitan magazine (as deputy to my current boss, Mia Freedman – ah the more things change the more they stay the same) when Nick Chan approached me to be deputy editor of Woman’s Day.

He told me being deputy was safer, less scary than being in the direct line of Kerry Packer’s fire. He sent me to meet the editor, Bob Cameron, who freaked me out with his talk of fax machines under the bed for late-night photo bidding.

I like my sleep, I didn’t fancy late-night photo bidding and fax machines under my bed. So I turned him down.


I was also young and foolish and ridiculously snobbish about weekly magazines. If I was going to make the move – downmarket, as I regarded it – I would be editor, nothing less.

Magazine wars
Alana House

I can’t quite believe my arrogance.

A few years later, I was offered the job as editor Woman’s Day, working with editor-in-chief Phil Barker. But I’d just moved to Singapore, to edit Cleo. So I said no. I’d uprooted my whole life – and my husband’s – and moved to a new country. I couldn’t go back. Not so soon.

About 18 months later, I went to breakfast with the publisher of Woman’s Day – Pat Ingram – the morning after launching Singapore Harper’s Bazaar. She offered me the job again.

I knew I wouldn’t get another chance. This was my last. So I took it.

When the enormity of it sank in, I was completely beside myself. I was going to be editor of Woman’s Day! Nene King had been editor of Woman’s Day.

Nene King!

My grandmother and mother – both lifelong Woman’s Day fans – were giddy too. Who needs a brain surgeon in the family when you have a Woman’s Day editor? Way more cudos at the nursing home.

Magazine wars
Yes, that is Alana on a tram

Fortunately the fax machine only needed to be in my hallway, not under the bed, by the time I walked through the doors at Woman’s Day. Though I’d love to know if Nene really wore a miner’s lamp to check it.

I knew nothing about weekly magazines when I arrived, but I had the most awesome mentor to teach me – Lorrae Willox.

Lorrae Willox is one of the great, unsung heroes of weekly magazines. And she taught me everything she knew. Bless her. (She still sends my kids birthday presents every year.)

As for editing Woman’s Day … it was exhilarating, it was terrifying, it was gutting.

I loved it. And I hated it.

I was never Nene King. Both in the good and the bad ways. But I’m proud of the job I did.

When Nene finally beat New Idea’s circulation figures in Paper Giants, I wept. I felt her joy. I literally fist-pumped the air. Circulation figures have the ability to make your heart soar or crush you to dust when they arrive on a Tuesday morning.

I finally met Nene a few years ago. Lorrae organised a cup of tea.

Nene was lovely to me. Nothing like the horror stories all the old guard told me.

The Nene they knew was tormented by grief and drugs and fear of failure.

And the Kerry Packer I knew was a husk of the man you saw in Paper Giants.

Watching them both in their prime on ABC-TV last night was awe-inspiring. Richard Walsh, not so much. Too much smirking.

Ah, Paper Giants. You were wonderful.

Next Sunday is too far away.

 Alana House is the editor of and also blogs daily at She was the editor of Woman’s Day magazine for five years. This post was originally published here.

A couple of years ago, Mamamia published an interview by Mia Freedman with Nene King. Mia’s interview  starts at 11.44.


More articles