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September 13, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:35am

Terri White: ‘If I hadn’t had my baby I would still be editing Empire now’

By Charlotte Tobitt

Empire’s Terri White has revealed she stepped down as editor after six years because she was “completely exhausted” by working 19-hour days after she became a mother.

White said that when she returned to work last year after her maternity leave she warned bosses at Empire publisher Bauer that her previous long hours would no longer be feasible, yet nothing changed and she made the “very painful decision” to leave.

“The reality is it continued to be unworkable so there was a week before I resigned where I worked a few 19-hour days,” White told the Media Voices Podcast.

“I just ended up in a spot that I think a lot of women end up in which is that I loved my job more than any job I’ve ever had, it was everything I’d always wanted to do, but after nine months of being back from mat leave I was completely exhausted.”

White, whose last day at Empire was 1 September, said that during the week where she worked several 19-hour days she saw her son awake for a total of 20 minutes.

“I was like, this isn’t working out,” she said. “And unfortunately myself and Bauer weren’t able to come to an agreement on how we fix it from a resource perspective.”

Chris Duncan, chief executive of UK publishing at Bauer Media UK, said in a statement to Press Gazette: “I don’t think it is appropriate for us to comment today on individual conversations. We acknowledge the wider issues that Terri raises, which affect many in our industry and which we at Bauer are committed to continue to address through ongoing programs across our brands.”

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White added: “The reality is if I hadn’t have had my baby I would still be editing Empire now and that’s a hard pill for me to swallow because I think you don’t imagine that you would have to make that choice in this day and age – but the reality is in this day and age magazine publishing is in the tightest spot it’s ever been.”

The former Time Out New York and Shortlist editor said she had never had a problem with working long hours before she became a mum and that she is a “grafter” who believes “in the power of hard work”.

But she said: “I lost the will a little bit and thought I need to make the best, most positive, most healthy choice for my family and this is the only choice I can make in this scenario.”

She added: “When I found out I was pregnant I cried to my boyfriend and said I’m really worried this is going to mean the end of my career and he said ‘what are you talking about, don’t be daft’, and it’s because I’m very aware that there are lots of women I know who couldn’t make it work either.

“Employers, instead of just saying they want to keep women in employment, they have to make practical, tangible differences to allow us to stay there.”

White, who is now working on her second book and a TV adaptation of her memoir, said the issue was awkward to talk about but “the reality is we have to start having these conversations about women in employment”.

“People are talking about why we haemorrhage women after we have kids and the way it’s presented is ‘I’ve had a baby now, I don’t need a job’. That isn’t what happens.”

White said she had also felt it was “becoming a problem of how you morally and ethically lead a team under that much pressure with resource becoming smaller and smaller”.

She questioned “whether I felt I was doing the best thing for the team’s mental health and physical health and emotional health and I had some real dark nights of the soul, to be honest, where I was thinking ‘can I keep doing this as the editor, I lead these people… if things are going wrong I need to be identifying that and fixing it, and if I can’t fix it then I don’t feel like I can do this job anymore'”.

[Read more: Editor Terri White says mag ‘still has a purpose’ and will ‘always’ be in print]

White said Empire’s ambitions have continued to grow, including through its podcasts and live events, but that the team has shrunk to 11 people as Bauer made cuts similar to many publishing companies over recent years.

She said Empire could have scaled back its ambitions to make the work more manageable for the whole team but “that isn’t the way I like to edit”.

“I think the ambition is what gets you up in the morning and gets your belly going and that’s what always drove me and the team who are incredible and can get pretty much anyone they want to do anything they want.”

There has to be a “reality check” around talent and what they are being asked to do with what resources, White said.

She advised women in a similar situation to consider what work they could “take out on a daily basis” for both themselves and their teams “that will allow things to be easier – and then keep pushing”. She said although she had not been able to come to an agreement with Bauer, they had engaged with the issues more than she expected.

She added: “If you feel it’s unworkable and you have to make a difficult decision, not to feel embarrassed or ashamed… what I’ve learned since having a kid is we have to make difficult decisions sometimes.” But she warned it would not be good to have an “industry predominantly filled with the people not being asked to make that sacrifice”.

White has been succeeded as editor-in-chief by her deputy Nick de Semlyen, who was acting editor during her maternity leave. He has worked for Empire since 2004 and said he was “beyond thrilled to be shepherding Empire on the next stage of its journey”.

Picture: Empire 

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