CV: MARK FRITH Editor, Sky magazine
Monday 17 November 1997
When I was 14 I was obsessed by music - I thought I might work in a record shop - but my mum said: "You read lots of magazines, don't you? You should be a journalist." And I was obsessively into magazines, buying three or four a week - my favourites were Smash Hits and No 1.
I tried to get on a media course, but was turned down for all of them, because I got bad A-level grades. Eventually, I got on to a cultural studies course at what was the Polytechnic of East London, and on my first day there I saw a poster advertising the college magazine, Overdraft. And I thought: "This is it."
In my second week I went gingerly to the editor and said that I wanted to write about music for the magazine. He was a bit stroppy, but I won him over and ended up doing the music section. The year was 1988, and students were getting over the demise of The Smiths - Morrissey was still the student icon. But I was a real Stock Aitken & Waterman fan, so I wrote articles slagging off Morrissey just to piss people off.
So the music section got its own character, and the magazine became quite good. At the end of my first year, I got elected editor, taking a year out of my course. For the first two months I edited a handbook full of welfare advice for new students, and then I did the magazine for the rest of the year. I also entered the Guardian's student journalist awards, and was a runner-up for Student Journalist of the Year, which boosted my confidence.
Then, in my last weeks as editor, I realised that I didn't want to go back to my course. So I made a list of my 12 favourite magazines, one of them being Smash Hits, and sent them all stuff that I'd done for the magazine. And I was very lucky: I sent it off on a Friday, and the following Monday an ad for a staff writer on Smash Hits appeared in the paper. Basically, they'd obviously had this huge box in their office marked "Applications for staff writer job", and on that Monday one sad letter dropped into it - my speculative application. I don't know whether the editor at the time was too lazy to read the others, but he opened mine and liked what he saw.
In May 1990, he got me in for two weeks' work experience, and I stayed, working my way up from junior writer to reviews editor, to acting features editor. And eventually, when I was 23, I became the youngest editor Smash Hits had had at that time. But sales were going down all the time - through no fault of our own, I like to think. It was just that it wasn't a very exciting time for pop music. But still, I was judging myself on the performance of the magazine, and after I'd been editor for a year and a half, I thought I was unemployable.
I started to look around. I'd always liked Sky but I thought, towards the mid-Nineties, that it wasn't as good as it used to be. I then went on holiday for a week, and got a bit bored, so I spent four days making notes as to what I thought Sky should be. Then, about three weeks after I got back, there was an announcement that the old editor was leaving, and I went for the job.
I took over in November 1995, when sales were at about 155,000. We had an ABC earlier this year of 173,000, and the next should be near 190,000. So it's been a good two years, and I think we've really sharpened what the magazine is about. Before, it was seen as a weird, mid-20s style magazine, but it's become a twentysomething entertainment and popular culture bible. Our readers are on the edge of adulthood, and I think Sky has caught the feeling that anything is possible and put it in front of people, made it look exciting. But there's still a job for me here to see how much further I can push the title.
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