Australian Women's Weekly editor Helen McCabe shares more than a few similarities with her September cover girl (lady, woman), Ita Buttrose: both scrub up nicely for the telly, both look good in white jackets. But beyond the superficial comparisons, and the obvious (they both have edited the Weekly at ACP), there's their nose for news.
This newsy nous, which both achieved working in News Limited newspapers (though arguably part of Ita's genetic fibre given her father was a newsman – is a journalist born or bred?), imbues the publication with a timeliness and so-rightness that saw the title suffer only marginal falls in circulation and readership in a challenging market. Put simply, The Weekly tells good stories and packages them up real nice. The September issue, on sale today, might be McCabe-and-team's finest work to date.
The editor's letter points to exactly why my mother (and your mother, too?) loves McCabe so much...
"One of the many challenges of this job is that I am following in the footsteps of Ita Buttrose. There is little point in anyone trying to emulate her. Yet the revival of the Ita brand has made me stop and think about a few things – such as tracksuit pants. For example, Ita apparently never goes out in public in tracksuit pants. She quite sensibly argues you never know who you might run into. Now, if I could, I would only go out in tracksuit pants. As that isn't possible, I generally make do by wearing them at every other available moment, such as immediately after work and all weekend...
Then there is the question of Ita never being seen without make-up. One day, I arrived at the office with professional hair and make-up, and the staff made such a ruckus, I had to ask them to stop. The truth is I am not sure I was even aware of how this might look to the outside world until (the also stylish) Lisa Wilkinson began discussing Ita's impeccable sense of style during a recent feature on ABC TV's Australian Story.
Yet etiquette and grooming have been just a small part of Ita's appeal. Her return to the Nine Network through the Today show is now showcasing her formidable media skills to a whole new audience. She definitely qualifies as one of Australia's most influential women..."
Inside the issue you'll find Jordan Baker's excellent seven-page profile of Ita (with a scoop – it was businessman Peter Abeles who backed her Ita magazine); Collette Dinnigan doing a 'Dear Me...'; Katie Nicholl's story on princesses Beatrice and Eugenie; a moving interview with Daniel Morcombe's twin, Bradley; a profile of Arwa El Masri hooked on the launch of her book (Tea With Arwa: One Woman's Story of Faith, Family and Finding a Home in Australia); an extract from That Woman, The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba); a colourful story on Hamish and Andy (with words from their mums); a stunning portfolio of Australian female art talents (with an opening image of Margaret Olley); 'Annabel and Leigh: Babies, Books and Baking' (for fans of the ABC newswomen); David Leser's profile of Ingrid Betancourt; one family's tree-change story; pages (and pages) of spring fashion, beauty and health advice, and the Weekly's famous recipe pages (mince dishes, children's cakes, spring lamb); home, pet and gardening pages; Jennifer Byrne and Leila McKinnon's book reviews; and, rounding out, David Penberthy and Pat McDermott's columns. Phew!
At a time when magazines are struggling to keep up with the Jones' (oh, let's just call them the Mias!) on the web, The Weekly is as formidable as its 69-year-old September cover-lady itself. It has held onto its readership (2,166,000) and circulation (491,352) for the most part, by giving us a reason to buy: to get the story behind the story, in much the same way a good current affairs program does. Its packaging might be glossy, but there's more to this old dame: she's on the beat. And despite temptations – and occasional questionable behaviour – she hasn't sold her soul, which makes her like, well, Ita, of course!
"If you hang around long enough and don't make any major stuff-ups and aren't desperate for fame, you retain your dignity," John Singleton tells Jordan Baker. "If you crave fame and you're prepared to sell out, you don't. Ita's never sold out. She's just stayed Ita Buttrose." No doubt the Weekly will hope this issue is a sell-out, much like the Ita branded treadmill.
Girl With a Satchel