A Fashion For Reporting

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 19 July 2010

I’m midway through one of my occasional trawls of the world’s newspapers and magazines, searching for new markets for my work. It’s a dispiriting exercise. Every year publications seem to devote less space to hard-hitting foreign features and photojournalism, with one apparent exception.

Women’s magazines are better known for fashion than foreign corresponding. But browsing the online tear-sheets of the celebrated photo agency VII, I was struck by how many of its clients were magazines such as Amica, Chatelaine, Sara, and D la Repubblica delle Donne. Australian Marie Claire runs about three foreign stories in every issue.

None of this will surprise my colleague Abigail Haworth, Senior International Editor of Marie Claire (U.S.). She has written over 50 features from 26 countries for the magazine. Many of Haworth’s stories are powerful exposes of human rights abuses. She recently received a prestigious award from the Overseas Press Club of America for her investigation of the Mauritanian practice of force-feeding young women. It might seem incongruous to have such matters explored in pages scented by free perfume samples, says Haworth, but the bottom line is that women’s mags wouldn’t run these stories if readers weren’t interested. “Readers want to know about serious issues, and the huge response we get to many of our stories proves it,” she tells me.

Haworth & Pesta

This month’s issue of U.S. Marie Claire includes an investigative story by editor-at-large Abigail Pesta about an Iraqi father who murdered his American daughter in an apparent honour killing. At 4,000 words, it is almost New Yorker-long. Published last week, Pesta’s story has prompted an online debate and a petition to the U.S. Congress.

Contrast this with a 4 July cover story in The Sunday Times Magazine, about the death of photojournalism. When a British magazine that is justly famous for its reportage makes such a gloomy claim, you have to pay attention. Still, I disagree. Photojournalism and reportage are alive and kicking; it’s the newspapers and magazines that once published and paid for them that are flat-lining. Are women’s titles, with their fashion and beauty tips and the advertising such content generates, more inured in these troubled times and better able to fund foreign reporting? Or do they just have more faith in their readers’ interest in global issues?

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