Helen McCabe has stepped down as editor-in-chief of The Australian Women’s Weekly. Photo: Damian BennettHigh-profile media identity Helen McCabe’s critics accused her of ignoring the core values of The Australian Women’s Weekly, replacing feel-good at-home celebrity stories with political profiles and that infamous shot of Julia Gillard knitting a kangaroo for Prince George.
But after a six-year tenure as the magazine’s editor-in-chief, on a salary of $400,000 a year, McCabe has shocked the magazine world by announcing she is parting company with the masthead she had steered into uncharted waters, making a few influential and powerful friends, as well as an enemy or two, along the way.
Last November, McCabe delivered the annual Andrew Olle Lecture, giving a wide-ranging speech in which the former political correspondent took sharp aim at everything from the judiciary to critics of her Julia Gillard knitting shoot.
She called for a review of laws she said hindered the media’s ability to tell “important” stories like that of Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, who lost her 11-year-old son Luke two years ago at cricket practice after he was attacked by his father.
“And my contention is that some legislation, and a culture of suppression orders, designed to protect our children, is doing more harm than good,” she said.
As for the Gillard knitting episode, McCabe reflected: “Regrettably, things went wrong for us during a second story about Ms Gillard just as Labor plotted to oust her. She was affronted by our story, which, as requested by her office, depicted her knitting a kangaroo for Prince George.
“This time she lost office the very same day the story hit the stands,” she said. “And later, in her memoir, she wrote that I treated her ‘shabbily’. Were we trying to help her get elected with the cover? No. Were we trying to bring her down with a knitting pattern of a kangaroo? Of course not … They were stories.”
McCabe has long forged strong ties with key players in politics, especially during the Abbott government’s reign, counting the likes of former chief of staff Peta Credlin as a personal friend. Several of her associates speculated she may move into a role in Canberra.
However McCabe also remains close to several key players within the News Corp camp for which she formerly worked as deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph, prompting much speculation on Wednesday that she may soon be returning to the Murdoch press in a senior role.
First she must serve out the terms of her contract, which reportedly included six months of gardening leave before taking up another media post.
The Australian Women’s Weekly is owned by German magazine publisher Bauer Media.
In a statement issued by the magazine’s publisher, Matthew Dominello, it said McCabe had decided to leave the company to “pursue other interests”, and a replacement would be announced in the “near future”.
“Editing The Australian Women’s Weekly is one of the truly great honours in Australian publishing. But after 6½ years it is the right time to move,” McCabe said.
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