O Magazine’s work in SA is done

2014-08-06 16:00

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As far as memorable first days at work go, I doubt I’ll ever have one to rival the start of my tenure at Oprah Magazine.

I still remember with stark clarity the phone call I got from the then managing editor of the magazine on June 31 2008.

I was serving the final few hours of notice at my job at eNCA – already mentally preparing for the switch from news anchoring to magazine journalism.

The purpose of the phone call was to inform me that the following day I was not to report to the magazine’s Johannesburg office in Sandton, but to head straight to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in Henley-on-Klip.

A masterfully pregnant pause was then followed with the instruction: “We need you please to interview Oprah.”

I feigned calm then, and was able to hold myself together remarkably well for the ensuing hours.

That was until the seconds before I was due to start the interview, when I raced to the bathroom in a panic about my appearance.

Once I was certain my teeth were clean and the nasal coast was clear, I took a deep breath and went into the interview room.

Fortunately, I had just spent two years working in live television, so I was able to project confidence and mask any anxieties I felt.

I also decided to treat Oprah as I would any interviewee – with respect but not adulation.

Not one inclined to sycophancy or fawning, I tried to keep a clear head with all my stories over the next few years.

I interviewed incredible people and tried valiantly to hold on to my resolution to stay emotionally detached. It didn’t work.

Guided by the O Magazine brand pillars of authenticity, relationship and meaning, I started to find those very qualities in the actual work I did, and not just as a guideline to filter narratives.

Oprah Magazine is closing down.

It was this journey of telling the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things that prompted me to leave Oprah Magazine last year.

No longer content to be a conduit, I wanted to be an agent. I, too, wanted to be a part of the groundwork that is shaping our beautiful country one meaningful act at a time.

I left Oprah Magazine to volunteer at an education NGO, but maintained close ties with the title as I continued freelancing.

When I heard the news last Friday that it was closing down, I was saddened and, as a journalist, anxious for the publishing industry.

Once the initial, gloomy emotions had worn off, though, I came to an affirming perspective about the end of the magazine.

If South African readers are no longer buying the magazine, I don’t think it’s because we don’t have any more inspiring stories to share.

I think it’s because many readers of the magazine are doing meaningful work themselves.

They’ve gone through Grade 1 to matric of life lessons, and are no longer dependent on their teachers or school principal for guidance.

Twelve years of empowerment later, readers have learnt what can be learnt and have graduated to applying these lessons. They are doing the work of living their best lives.

Now they seek information, guidance and wisdom from multiple sources, and then act. If there’s no longer a need for Oprah Magazine, it’s because editor Samantha Page has completed her work.

While Real, FHM and Heat are just some of the magazines that have closed down recently, I believe O Magazine hasn’t been merely a casualty of the print-versus-online war.

Those realistic factors may certainly have played a role in Associated Media Publishing’s decision to close the title.

But I also believe the season of passive inspiration has passed because readers have passed on to the season of acting, activism and action.

I know that because of the stories I got to hear and write, I certainly have.

» Follow me on Twitter @norma young

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