This was an unusually emotional week for my career. Twenty three years after I moved on from Dolly, following the birth of my first child Jackson, it was announced this week that the magazine was closing.
I was Editor of 50 issues of Dolly, from January 1990 to February 1994. It was the job that gave me the wonderful media career that I have enjoyed. My book devotes five chapters to the Dolly years, so I thought I would highlight a particular extract that demonstrates the public importance of Dolly a couple of decades ago.
I was 23 when I took on the editorship of Dolly and 28 when I departed. A lot of the time I was making it up as I went along, learning constantly, leading with my heart, making decisions through the lens of passion, failing occasionally, every experience was a new one. It was my first management role, my first time as editor, and the constant and overwhelming media attention was where I developed the resilience that would become critical later in my career as CEO of Private Media, the company that published Crikey, and as Chair of the Wests Tigers.
During my Dolly years I was the first port of call for any news comment about teenage anorexia, suicide or fashion victim. I appeared on Midday with Ray Martin three times, Tonight Live with Steve Vizard twice, Beauty and The Beast about four times and The Today Show regularly. The ABC also made two documentaries about teenage body image, one about girls and one about boys, and I was featured as the ‘expert’. As well, I appeared on almost every breakfast radio show discussing every teenage problem known to man. In 1991, Dolly published the ultimate dictionary of ‘teenspeak’ and then I was called on to explain those terms to radio listeners across the country.
It was all a bit crazy. I often had ‘out of body’ experiences where I would just stop and become quite overwhelmed by my life. It was quite surreal.
At other times it was just a bit ridiculous. Take Midday with Ray Martin for example. I appeared on the show to answer questions about anorexia. Apparently it was because of magazines like Dolly that teenagers became anorexic. Thankfully the psychologist, who was also a guest, grabbed the blame from my shoulders (before I had time for a meltdown on national television – although god knows I nearly had one years later when I looked back at the tape that my mother still owns and saw what I was wearing!) and placed it at the feet of parents. Take that, Ray, I thought. Ray was having none of that and kept pushing the magazine line. Or maybe it was the fault of celebrities? Ray had a few theories.
My Steve Vizard appearances were more fun, although Steve always tried to get me to reveal more about my readers than I wanted to. For Steve and his team, the objective was to shock parents with tales of teenage sex. He always wanted to know about the Dolly Doctor letters and would love for me to have read them out on live television. Of course, the whole time that I edited Dolly, my loyalty was to my readers and there was no way that I was going to reveal their innermost secrets to a whole new audience.
My greatest experience during this time was speaking to schoolgirls about my career. Schools from under-privileged areas of western and south-western Sydney invited me to speak to their year 10 girls. And I never turned them down because I knew that they would listen to me. It was gut-wrenching though to hear from girls who wanted to have a career but whose parents insisted they leave school at the end of year 10 and get a job to help their parents out financially. I was particularly devastated after a visit to a school in Sydney’s south-west where a group of Vietnamese girls told me that they’d love to be able to stay at school and have a career like mine, but their parents wanted them to be cleaners until they married the following year to boys their parents had chosen for them.
I was also called upon to speak at conferences about teenagers and teenage trends. As the editor of Dolly I was seen as the font of all knowledge about anything teen-related. Some of those conferences were run by government agencies, some by advertising agencies, and others by manufacturers of teenage products, who wanted to be seen to be at the forefront of teenage trends. My status as ‘teen expert’ worked well for Dolly as advertisers were flocking to the product. Although there was a competitor, Girlfriend magazine, Dolly’s position as teen queen was absolute.
Marina Go was the Editor of Dolly editions: January 1990-February 1994.
She writes extensively about the Dolly years in her book Breakthrough: 20 Success Strategies For Female Leaders.