Under the Radar with Terri White
This week I spoke with the leading lady of PPA Chairman's Award-winning Empire magazine, about rocking her signature vintage looks, being brave and taking risks, but ultimately learning from your mistakes and learning to thrive under pressure...
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What made you want to work in the magazine industry?
Books and magazines were an escape for me growing up. And magazines particularly, took me to a world away from my estate. I was a loner as a kid, but as soon as I picked up J-17, I wasn’t alone anymore: I was part of not just a gang, but the best gang in the entire world. My entire career has simply been trying to build that gang for myself with some of the best teams in the world and the best readers in the world, on some of the best magazines in the world.
What have been your career highlights so far?
I still remember the phone call from Phil Hilton telling me that I’d got the job as his PA and office editorial assistant on Later magazine. It still makes my skin tighten and tingle. Other than that, I’d say standing in the middle of Times Square in New York the morning we monumentally took out Time Out New York free (and trying to get suspicious New Yorkers to take a copy of the mag) and last year’s Empire Awards, when we were joined by Steven Spielberg who was accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award. I swear to god I almost fainted when he joined us on stage. And I have to say, just last week, in a subscriber focus group. To see, hear, the love they have for Empire moved me to tears. We’re still doing something really right.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
Anyone who knows me (or has seen me) knows that I wear vintage pretty much 24/7, so my go-tos would be musty, bright, old dresses with the hems falling down. It’s a L-O-O-K.
How do you handle deadlines?
I’ve got to be honest: I love pressure and the tick-tick-tock of the clock. It’s when I’m in my element.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
Going undercover to ask plastic surgeons if they would perform (unnecessary) procedures on me. I had a dictaphone gaffer-taped to the inside of my handbag and will never forget the surreal feeling as they drew on me in black ink while sharing how they’d liposuction my then size 8, 23-year-old body. The only moment more surreal was then posing in my underwear for the story in Now magazine. The best bit: I wasn’t even employed by them; it was my test to get the job of Junior Writer! (I got it, thank god).
Walk me through your typical day.
I start the day with the biggest, strongest coffee I can get my hands on and then it’s straight into a day of screenings, studio negotiations, publishing meetings, editorial meetings, interviews, copy editing, commissioning and galley-reading. Then at night, if I’m not in a screening or at a dinner, my day often starts again when LA opens and studio teams and publicists that side of the sea come alive. In the last year, I’ve started to try and keep two nights free a week for seeing mates/my boyfriend/lying down on the sofa watching the telly. I’m 40 now. I need my rest. And honestly, working 24/7 doesn’t do you, your team or your magazine any good. I’ve come to this late, but balance is vital.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
The PPA gives myself and Empire a great platform to share ideas, concerns, audience and industry insights. It’s a place of innovation, support, but also community. I bloody love the PPA.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
Writing, writing, writing.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
A screen-grab of Kat Moon from EastEnders screaming. It was the last picture in the Empire Team WhatsApp.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Nothing guilty about it, baby - Homes Under the Hammer.
What’s the best/worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best: “The readers don’t care about the process, about why you made the decisions you made, about everything that went wrong and went right, they only care about what they see on the page”. Phil Hilton, The World’s Greatest Mentor, when I was Editor of ShortList and frantically pitching a poor cover to him while telling him in excruciating detail about why we’d ended up where we had and everything that had gone wrong. It has stuck with me over everything else: all the reader ever sees is what’s on the page. Never justify a headline, a layout, a cover, with the story of why you had to do it like that. They don’t know, they’ll never know and they won’t care.
The worst: “I’d take the PA job. Journalism will be really hard, especially for someone like you”. The ‘advice’ given to me when Later closed after I’d been in the job nine months and I was offered another PA role elsewhere in the company. I refused. They were confused. Little did they know that I’d decided I wasn’t just going to be a journalist, but an editor. And by the time I was 30. Thankfully, Mike Soutar swooped in and helped me get a job as Features Assistant on Woman & Home. The rest is history,
What/where is your happy place?
Bradley’s Spanish Bar on Hanway Street. A warm weekday at tea-time, an empty top bar and a fistful of old pound coins for the vinyl jukebox.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I was chronically shy for many, many years and my idea of hell was meeting new people, socialising and public speaking. I’m not quite sure what happened to turn me into the monster I am today.
What would be in your Room 101?
Talking/being on your phone/kicking my chair/eating/breathing in the pictures.
Introvert or extrovert?
An introvert in extrovert’s clothing.
Optimist or pessimist?
Keep the faith, always.
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
Cinema is, will always be, my first love.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
The blackest of nights.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee. And size matters.
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
The classic red love heart. I’m a big softy really.