‘I re­alised I had to sprint to the top’

Mag­a­zine edi­tor Far­rah Storr says she knows her de­ci­sion means she’s ‘al­most cer­tain to die alone’. By An­gela Win­tle

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Money -

Far­rah Storr, 39, is the award-win­ning ed­i­torin-chief of Cos­mopoli­tan, which she took over in 2015 and whose cir­cu­la­tion she in­creased by 59pc. Be­fore that, she was launch edi­tor of Women’s Health. She lives in Kent with her hus­band, the jour­nal­ist and novelist Will Storr.

How did your child­hood in­flu­ence your at­ti­tude to money?

My fa­ther brought up my sib­lings and me to be­lieve that money had to be spent on ed­u­ca­tion. He moved to the UK when he was 17, start­ing out as a green­gro­cer and end­ing up as a prop­erty devel­oper. De­spite be­ing a self-made man, he was aware that a good ed­u­ca­tion was vi­tal for his own chil­dren’s suc­cess, so money was never lav­ished on hol­i­days or frip­peries.

Like most Asian fa­thers, he be­lieved there were only three le­git­i­mate ca­reer op­tions – doc­tor, lawyer or en­gi­neer – or else be­come a fail­ure. Work­ing as a jour­nal­ist didn’t en­ter into the equa­tion – and I do un­der­stand that. I al­ways ad­vise as­pir­ing writ­ers not to go into jour­nal­ism for the money be­cause they’ll be bit­terly dis­ap­pointed.

What was your first job?

My first proper job was as a Satur­day shop as­sis­tant at the women’s cloth­ing store Jig­saw in cen­tral Manch­ester. I was paid about £4 an hour and spent ev­ery penny in the shop. I was the best dressed 16-year-old in Salford.

Why did you choose jour­nal­ism?

It came down to a choice be­tween prag­ma­tism and pas­sion, and pas­sion won. My sis­ter trod the “safe” ca­reer path that my fa­ther had set out for her and be­came a so­lic­i­tor, de­spite han­ker­ing af­ter a job in mag­a­zines.

When she en­tered a com­pe­ti­tion run by More mag­a­zine in the Nineties and won a date with a male model, she re­alised there was an un­tapped world of op­por­tu­nity. She took a job as a ju­nior mag­a­zine writer for £14,000 a year. De­spite her meagre in­come, it was the hap­pi­est I’d ever seen her and, three years later, she be­came edi­tor. It gave me hope that I could do the same.

How did you break into mag­a­zine jour­nal­ism?

My first job, aged 24, was as a fea­tures as­sis­tant on Wo­man & Home in 2004, on roughly £23,000 a year. It was a lot of money back then and, sadly, still con­sti­tutes a lot for that sort of po­si­tion.

To at­tract the bright­est brains and strong­est voices, the in­dus­try should re­ward them prop­erly. My hus­band and I al­ways laugh that if we’d been do­ing our jobs on Eight­ies rates we’d own a town house in Is­ling­ton. As it is, we live in a field in Kent. It’s a very nice field, but it’s a long way from the of­fice.

How did you climb the ca­reer lad­der?

I moved around a lot. At the be­gin­ning, I did this to in­crease my earn­ings – I started in jour­nal­ism quite late and re­alised I needed to sprint to the top. I stayed at Wo­man & Home about 18 months be­fore get­ting a job as a fea­tures writer on Good House­keep­ing, on around £25,000 a year. A year later, I moved to the now de­funct

Eve mag­a­zine as a se­nior writer on £26,000 and, six months later, moved to Glam­our as deputy fea­tures edi­tor on £28,000. They were small in­creases, but I was edg­ing for­wards.

How did you be­come one of Bri­tain’s youngest women’s mag­a­zine ed­i­tors?

I launched Women’s Health when I was 33. It sounds im­pres­sive, but they took a chance on me (I was an un­proven edi­tor) and I took a chance on them be­cause the mag­a­zine had to sell 100,000 copies from launch.

I worked 14-hour days and was so sleep de­prived that I nod­ded off over my 33rd birth­day din­ner. My salary was £58,000 – way below the mar­ket rate for an edi­tor – but I knew it would rise if I proved my worth. When I was of­fered a more lu­cra­tive job in Amer­ica, the mag­a­zine of­fered me a sig­nif­i­cant pay rise to stay.

What fi­nan­cial chal­lenges do women face in jour­nal­ism?

This isn’t a gen­der is­sue. Jour­nal­ists across the board face huge fi­nan­cial pres­sures. Salaries are stag­nat­ing, free­lance rates are shrink­ing, any­one and every­one is a “con­tent pro­ducer” who will write for free.

Peo­ple talk about in­creas­ing di­ver­sity in the me­dia and, for me, so­cial mo­bil­ity is a fun­da­men­tal part of that. Most of the creative in­dus­tries re­quire you to be Lon­don-based, but if you’re a kid from a small back­wa­ter whose par­ents are strug­gling to pay the mort­gage, how can you pos­si­bly af­ford the nec­es­sary work ex­pe­ri­ence or sur­vive on the low start­ing salaries? That’s why Cos­mopoli­tan now of­fers highly sub­sidised hous­ing to young pro­fes­sion­als who need to live in the cap­i­tal.

What are your thoughts on the gen­der pay gap?

Women’s mag­a­zines are one of the few sec­tors where women prob­a­bly earn more than men, so some­times it feels a bit rich of me to be­moan the pay gap in my in­dus­try. The big un­spo­ken is­sue is the “mother­hood pay gap”. That’s when the gap be­comes a gulf.

I’ve never as­sumed there’s some evil pa­tri­archy con­spir­ing to pay me less than a man for the same job. It’s not help­ful. Nev­er­the­less, I’ve al­ways been very aware that my de­ci­sion not to have chil­dren meant I was far less likely to face the pay gap that many women face in their 30s.

Life is about sac­ri­fices. I sac­ri­ficed hav­ing a fam­ily be­cause nei­ther I nor my hus­band were pre­pared to give up our ca­reers. I cer­tainly couldn’t do the hours I do if I had chil­dren. Maybe that’s fool­ish, and we’ll al­most cer­tainly die alone, but that’s my choice. It’s prob­a­bly one of the rea­sons I have a rel­a­tively well-paid po­si­tion now.

‘I started my ca­reer quite late so I re­alised I needed to sprint to the top’

Are you a gen­er­ous tip­per?

Yes, be­cause money, like sex, is ac­tu­ally bet­ter when it’s given rather than re­ceived.

Far­rah Storr’s new book, The Dis­com­fort Zone: How to Get What You Want by Liv­ing Fear­lessly, is out now (Pi­atkus, £13.99)

‘My fa­ther be­lieved there were only three le­git­i­mate ca­reer op­tions – doc­tor, lawyer or en­gi­neer. Other­wise you would be a fail­ure’

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