Sara Angel, the new editor at the helm of Chatelaine,with the ghosts of Chatelaine's past to the left and right,Kim Pittaway and Beth Hitchcock
Sara Angel, the new editor at the helm of Chatelaine,with the ghosts of Chatelaine’s past to the left and right,Kim Pittaway and Beth Hitchcock
Sara Angel, the new editor at the helm of Chatelaine,with the ghosts of Chatelaine's past to the left and right,Kim Pittaway and Beth Hitchcock
Sara Angel, the new editor at the helm of Chatelaine,with the ghosts of Chatelaine’s past to the left and right,Kim Pittaway and Beth Hitchcock

The castle on Mount Pleasant Road is formidable. After extensive negotiations to secure an audience with Chatelaine’s queen, editor-in-chief Sara Angel — including one cancellation, attributed to an unexpected out-of-town trip — I’ve been given 30 minutes of her time. But it isn’t quite that simple. After checking in with security, I head up to the 11th floor of Rogers headquarters in Toronto, three levels above the Chatelaine offices. I’m meeting first with director of communications in consumer publishing for Rogers, Suneel Khanna; he’s my guide for the afternoon. A few minutes later, we descend to the eighth floor. Khanna leads me through passageways of cubicles. I struggle to commit the scene to memory as he navigates quickly. We round a corner near the end of the row and I see the queen, sitting at her desk. She looks up and smiles — big grin, slightly askew — before silently waving us in as she wraps up a phone call. Before I can get to my first question, her BlackBerry rings from the desk. The queen hesitates for a moment then moves towards the phone. “I’m sorry,” she tells me, getting up. “Just… not very many people have this number.”

But something’s certainly had Chatelaine’s number for the past year and a half. Mass resignations. Pissed-off freelancers. Nine months without an editor-in-chief. Erratic newsstand sales. Some embarrassing editorial decisions. An industry punch line. The subject and source of more rumour and gossip than a daytime soap. This is not exactly the way I would expect a magazine to follow up on what was, by all accounts, its best year. In 2005, Chatelaine reached higher than any Canadian magazine before it, breaking the $50 million mark in annual revenue.  Relatively new editor-in-chief Kim Pittaway was hitting her stride. The magazine had a bigger circulation than any other women’s title in Canada. But by the time the year was wrapping up, things seemed destined to change. Pittaway, a highly respected journalist, had quit amid well-publicized criticisms of the magazine’s publisher, Kerry Mitchell.  What followed was a nine-month search for a new editor-in-chief while the magazine fell into turmoil. Management launched an international campaign to fill the position, and rumours were rampant about possible choices. While names such as Karen Kain and Adrienne Clarkson popped up, more realistic whisperings suggested Jane Francisco, editor-in-chief of Wish, and Charlotte Empey, former editor-in-chief of Canadian Living.

But no one mentioned Sara Angel. When Rogers announced in May 2006 that she’d be taking over, few staff at Chatelaine had heard the name before. Her expertise was book publishing, a world Angel (then using her maiden name, Borins) entered in 1992 as an intern at Madison Press Books. Over the next eight years, she built her career working mainly on picture-heavy titles for various companies before founding her own firm, Otherwise Editions, in 2000. With Otherwise, she was behind multiple bestsellers, including The Trudeau Albums and Canada: Our Century. She had, in fact, only ever worked at one magazine, the now-defunct Saturday Night, as a visual features editor and occasional writer.

Possibly because of this limited cachet in the insular magazine industry, Angel wasn’t the obvious first choice for Chatelaine’s top job. While Mitchell was “familiar with some of her work,” Masthead reports that the publisher started pursuing Angel in March 2006, more than six months after the search began. Yet, in the end, Mitchell entrusted her with one of the country’s most successful magazines. “It’s uncommon,” says Bill Shields, Masthead editor, of both the lengthy delay and the ultimate selection.  “But it gets to the second-rate status that editorial seems to have at Chatelaine. If you can go for nine months without an editor, and if you can tolerate one of the most toxic editorial environments for an even longer time, your opinion of the value of editorial probably isn’t that high.”  The direction of the magazine has shifted several times since Pittaway left. Different leaders have had different visions, and with all the changes Chatelaine has become significantly removed from what it — in its most successful year ever — used to be. “The ol’ gal is now an impressive 79 years old,” says Dré Dee, former senior features editor. “What she needs is maybe a little tummy tuck, and maybe a little eye lift. Instead, she’s been wheeled into Extreme Makeover about six times over the past two years. She must be scarred, bruised and generally quite miserable.”

Magazines do, however, go through upheavals from time to time, usually after sudden shifts at the top of a masthead. Surprisingly, despite the juicy gossip, continuing personnel turnover and disruptive management issues, the bottom line hasn’t suffered much. What’s more, despite a perplexing push toward high-end, “aspirational” service content, the feature journalism shows signs of becoming the strongest and most indepth it’s been in more than a decade.

The first indication of trouble at Chatelaine came abruptly, on August 29, 2005. Kim Pittaway, then editor-in-chief, returned from a vacation and promptly quit — no two week’s notice, no severance package, no new job lined up. Features editor Lori Seymour (currently on maternity leave) recalls visiting Pittaway in her office that morning with an everyday question about an article, to which she got an everyday response. Later that afternoon, Mitchell called a meeting and staff shuffled over to their usual gathering spot in the art department. “Kim Pittaway has left,” the publisher said, “and she won’t be coming back.”

In the days that followed, Pittaway’s public airing of dirty laundry pointed at Mitchell as the catalyst in her resignation. Though she’d been editor-in-chief only since the previous fall, that month marked Pittaway’s 11th year working with Chatelaine, having first appeared as a freelance writer in 1994. She claimed Mitchell was increasingly stepping on editorial territory. “The publisher told me my opinion was important, but hers was very, very important,” she said to The Globe and Mail, and added to Masthead, “I wasn’t going to be a hand puppet.”  But Mitchell says Pittaway didn’t voice her concerns. “I’ve never heard Kim say that [she felt pressured to compromise her editorial integrity],” asserts Mitchell. “I’m sorry she made the decision that she did, but I wish her very well.”

At the time, the team was in the midst of production on the November issue, what would be Chatelaine’s biggest ever. Beth Hitchcock — a six-year veteran at the magazine — was quickly thrust to the helm. Though her title of executive editor didn’t change, Hitchcock took on some of Pittaway’s responsibilities. After consulting with Mitchell, Hitchcock also agreed to take on the editor’s page. In the final product, the first installment of her letter to readers, it was clear Hitchcock wasn’t looking to outright replace Pittaway; the editorial’s title, “Between You & Me,” remained unchanged, as did the inclusion of “You First,” a blurb preceding the letter that showcased a reader’s response to a question posed in the previous issue. Hitchcock devoted a paragraph, buried in the middle of the editorial, saluting Pittaway. She’d originally written much more about the legacy and work of her predecessor, but according to Hitchcock, Mitchell asked her to water it down, claiming it was too sad and questioning whether there had to be so many words devoted to Pittaway. Hitchcock says she felt she didn’t have a choice in making the changes.

Toward the end of November, Chatelaine had been without an editor-in-chief for almost three months. Though Mitchell hoped to have the position filled by December, no end was in sight. The magazine looked for help from its sister, Quebec’s Châtelaine. Lise Ravary, then editorin-chief of the magazine (France Lefebvre took over the position in February 2007), became vice-president and editorial director of women’s titles and new magazine brands. Her focus at the outset was to help package Chatelaine, give it direction and act as “a shoulder to cry on” for staff frustrated by the lack of leadership. She was essentially the interim editor-in-chief.  But Christmas was just around the corner and the fanfare surrounding Ravary’s arrival died down when she went on holidays. With much of January being a transition period, Ravary didn’t get a serious start on her new position until the end of that month.

By then, staff casualties were coming hard and fast. Caren Watkins, the magazine’s art director since 1995, quit in December. Like Pittaway, she didn’t have another job waiting.  “Things were shifting a little bit, and it was unclear where the publisher was going to go,” says Watkins, now editor-in-chief of Gardening Life. “I thought it was a really good time to leave and go freelance.” Not long after Watkins jumped ship, managing editor Bonny Reichert departed as well. She’d already resigned once, in 2005, but Mitchell called her the night Pittaway quit to ask her to return on contract. After numerous extensions, Reichert left on good terms in January.

With Watkins and Reichert gone, though, the burden on Hitchcock grew heavier. She was already juggling the responsibilities of three different jobs — her role as executive editor of services in addition to elements of the roles of managing editor and editor-in-chief. “We were just sort of floundering,” says Seymour. “Something as large as Chatelaine, it needs focus and leadership.” To many, Hitchcock seemed like the most obvious choice to lead the magazine. Aside from having the most editorial seniority, she was, essentially, already doing the job. But the search for a leader from outside the Chatelaine family continued. “It’s not an opportunity that Beth pursued,” says Mitchell. Hitchcock, however, says she was never asked about her interest in the job, and staff members say it was clear she was never going to be the boss. “It seemed to me,” Seymour recalls, “that Beth was here to do the work until we could find someone to make the official leader. And I think it bore out that way, too.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell was looking to recruit new senior level staff. She brought in Rhonda Rovan, an ex-style editor at Canadian Living, on a one-year contract as contributing style editor,  to lead the services department. Mitchell also courted Craig Offman, a Torontonian who’d made his name as a reporter in the United States. He became executive editor, with many of his responsibilities being those that Hitchcock was slated to take on before Pittaway left. Hitchcock, who’d now been offered the title of managing editor, had not yet met Offman when his hiring was finalized. The situation led to confusion about the responsibilities of different positions and the leadership structure. Soon after, Hitchcock met with Mitchell for a performance review, but told her publisher before the review began that she was resigning. Three weeks later, on February 3, Hitchcock was gone. And like senior designer Kim Zagar, who quit the same week, she had no job on the horizon.

In 2000, Mitchell was publisher of Canadian Living magazine. She’d been there four years, following other publisher positions at fellow Telemedia titles Equinox and Style at Home (all now owned by Transcontinental Media). That year, Canadian Living stirred up controversy when it printed a supplement supporting genetically modified food, paid for by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “Biotechnology is a complex issue,” Mitchell told The Gazette in Montreal at the time. “But we tackle many complex issues and clarify them for our readers.” Though the magazine’s New Business Initiatives Group wrote the supplement, all the information it included came straight from the CFIA, according to The Gazette. Mitchell’s next corporate position was at InBusiness Media Network, an Ottawa-based company behind outlets such as Le Montréal Économique and Toronto Business Journal. Her stint as chief operating officer for the company lasted until 2002, when she jumped to Rogers to become publisher of Profit magazine. Two years later, she was entrusted with Chatelaine, the company’s most lucrative title (it’s brought in more cash than Maclean’ssince 2001).

In July 2004, Mitchell arrived at Chatelaine amid extensive upper-level shuffling. The previous month, editor-in-chief Rona Maynard announced she would be resigning. She’d been in charge of the magazine since late 1994, and planned to end her tenure with the December 2004 issue. Under Maynard, the magazine became more personal, often dealing with the struggles, stories and needs of everyday women. “Our readers have told us, ‘This magazine is for and about me,’” Maynard said in Toronto Life. “That’s how they like it, and that’s how they want it to be.” Chatelaine also aligned itself more closely with Canadian Living, scrapping celebrity-focused covers and featuring models, food and flowers instead. (Angel, on the other hand, has featured three celebrities on her covers thus far: Nigella Lawson, Jann Arden and Sophie Grégoire.) Maynard hand-picked Pittaway to replace her with help from publisher Donna Clark. “I have identified and promoted and left in place a very strong successor who is going to do a stunning job,” Maynard told Masthead. Managing editor since 2001, Pittaway had also been a columnist, freelance editor and writer for Chatelaine at various times. Meanwhile, Clark was set to focus on her position as senior vice-president of women’s titles at Rogers when Mitchell took over the publisher’s duties. Clark had been juggling both jobs, and felt it was becoming too much. But shortly after she dropped the publisher’s position, restructuring eliminated her job as senior vice-president.

With Maynard and Clark gone from senior posts, Pittaway and Mitchell were left at the top. Eleven issues later, Mitchell’s name was still on the masthead, while Pittaway’s was not. Hitchcock’s name held the top spot for the next six issues, but it too was eventually gone, replaced by Offman’s. As executive editor, it was the first time he’d ever held such a senior position. While Offman was a seasoned reporter, having worked for a number of notable publications — Real Simple, Vanity Fair, Time Canada— his writing experience outweighed his managerial experience. When asked if she was concerned about hiring Offman into what wasChatelaine’s top editorial spot at a time of upheaval, Mitchell replies, “Craig brings a lot of positives to the team.” But Offman wasn’t leading alone. Both Mitchell and Ravary played integral roles in running the magazine, visually and editorially. “The two newspaper reports I read made it seem like I was the first guy in charge in 50 years,” Offman says. “It’s just not true.”

The collaborative approach, however, led to a lack of communication among freelancers, handling editors and bosses. In all, between Pittaway’s resignation and Angel’s hiring, six additional people were responsible for providing editorial direction in some manner: Hitchcock, Reichert, Ravary, Rovan, Offman and Mitchell. As certain staff members left and others came on board (or gained increased editorial sway), editorial approaches shifted. Many freelancers (all of whom declined to be interviewed on the record) describe extreme editorial confusion — stories changing direction multiple times despite initial approval, a breakdown in the autonomy of handling editors and general disorganization at the magazine. According to Dee, most problems stemmed from the top. “By the time the story finally found its way to the approving editor — Craig or Lise or whoever else was taking a look at things from a top-level editing position,” she says, “that person would clearly have a much different understanding of what the story was intended to be, what they personally wanted it to be, who should have written the story instead of the person who did, the issue month it should go in instead of the one it was slated for.” She thinks the decisions from that level sometimes reflected professional judgement calls, but “in the case of some others, who had far less editing experience,” misjudgements were made. Ravary admits that the process at the time wasn’t perfect, but states that it wasn’t out of the ordinary. “You get somebody editing, and then I come in and I have a different vision and I might change a few things around,” she says. “The relationships with freelancers at any magazine always have ups and downs. If we did upset somebody, I’m deeply sorry because it was never intentional.”

But there were also in-house troubles, with some questionable choices made in the issues headed by Offman, Mitchell and Ravary. For example, in May 2006 — when Offman first appeared on the masthead — one of the most noticeable changes was the relocation of The Last Word, a longtime back-of-book page featuring reader letters. It was moved toward the front of the magazine, replaced by a page dubbed Wishful Thinking. In its inaugural appearance, the page featured “Laundry Lad,” a hunky male model folding clothes while oblivious to the women’s underwear draped over his shoulder. Accompanying the photograph was a four-part description of this dreamboat, one part reading, “He’s reliable — he’ll impress house guests with his grooming, including clean feet and trim toenails.” Though foot fetishists may have appreciated Chatelaine’s efforts, the piece seemed rather misguided, and after one more issue (fantasy: an “Instant Cottage”), Wishful Thinking was trashed and The Last Word reinstated.

By the time production wrapped on that issue, Chatelaine had been without an editor-in-chief for more than eight months. Morale had hit bottom. Mitchell commonly opened meetings by jokingly proclaiming, “No, we don’t have a new editor yet,” but few staff members were laughing after the first couple of gatherings. Some felt strung along, the constant promise of permanent leadership and direction holding as much veracity as the weight-loss tips that repeatedly littered the magazine’s pages. Dee says staff was being told by management at least every month that a new editor was very close to being chosen. “When I’ve worked at a magazine and been told that a new publisher, editor-in-chief, or whatever the case may be, was imminent, it means in the next couple of weeks there’s going to be an announcement, and there always is,” she says. “Here, that went on and on and on.”

Though staff was clearly suffering without strong leadership or direction, seeds of positive change were sprouting. Seymour says that Offman spearheaded a push to include meatier, more topical, idea-driven content in the pages of Chatelaine. She says it seemed like they wanted to transform it into something of a general interest magazine that happened to be for women. “At some point, we can’t just be a cookbook and we can’t just be a décor/fashion book,” says Ravary. “What brings people back month after month is our unique ability to tell stories.  Personally, I felt that in previous incarnations of the magazine, it was something that was beginning to lack. Kerry and I felt that it was becoming very service-y.” The Ottawa Citizen reported that Pittaway had wanted to add more substantial features to the mix, but felt pressured by the idea that advertisers wouldn’t want their products placed adjacent to serious, perhaps depressing stories. As a result, the vast majority of features in Pittaway’s issues were either firstperson accounts or a series of small, personal stories told by regular women about a unifying topic. For example, the September 2005 issue included “First Day,” in which five average women shared tales of their “important firsts” — their first day of marriage, say, or their first day in Canada. By the June 2006 issue, after Offman and Ravary moved in, this type of content had all but disappeared. In its place came two strong features: the first, Dan Lett’s lengthy “Who Is Taking Our daughters Away?” explores the disturbingly high incidence of violent crimes against aboriginal women; the other,  “Kandahar’s Feisty Cop” by Katia Janjoura, tells the story of a policewoman in Afghanistan.

Despite the seeming improvement in editorial content, the question remained as to whether or not readers would like the shift. A possible answer came with the release of the 2006 Publisher’s Statements (the magazine’s unaudited but generally accurate claims of circulation and sales) by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). While newsstand sales were trending upward year-on-year until March 2006, a decline began with Hitchcock’s last issue in April (interestingly, the first without Watkins heading up art and cover direction). Single copy sales fell by 19 per cent, or 11,384 issues, versus 2005’s audited figures (verified numbers for 2006 likely won’t be released until December 2007). In May, sales were down by 5,461 copies, or eight per cent. But most dramatically, in June 2006, newsstand sales plummeted 55,455 copies, selling 54 per cent less than in June 2005. “What do you want me to say?” Ravary asks, laughing, when questioned about the numbers. “I’m not going to beat myself and I’m not going to beat anybody over it.” She adds, “No one’s going to pretend we were at our best. It was a time in our history, it was a brief moment in our history, and for me, it’s over.”

Is everybody here?” asks Sara Angel from the head of the table, some two months before our one-on-one chat. She’s five minutes late for today’s meeting. Sitting in front of her, and everyone else present, is a copy of the December 2006 issue of Chatelaine. Gracing the glossy, pink cover is a round, chocolate molten cake, garnished with raspberries and sitting on an ornate, antique-looking plate. The dish belongs to Angel. It was her grandmother’s. The issue is Angel’s sixth. While her name appears on the July 2006 masthead, content in the issue was nearly finalized by the time she started on June 1; her first editorial appeared in the August edition. For this late-November post-mortem meeting, staffers have been asked to analyze the December issue and to come prepared with two aspects of the magazine they like and two they don’t. Aside from a few people who have to leave early (they go first) the discussion goes around the table clockwise. Halfway through, it’s Offman’s turn. “What I’m still struggling with is the coherence,” he says. “The sections look different from each other.” For an example, he flips to the issue’s holiday gift guide. “It feels like five or six magazines in one.” Art director Cameron Williamson, hired in September after the position had been vacant for nine months, assures everyone that the January issue is more streamlined (it’s the first he’s worked on). The February issue, he promises, will be even better. Williamson gained prominence at Toro, having won a National Magazine Award in the Art Direction for an Entire Issue category. He met Angel years ago when he interned at Saturday Night.

Visual concerns alleviated, Offman moves on, flipping backward to the front-of-book section. “The only thing that drove me crazy was the ‘Decoding Ignatieff’ thing,” he says, referring to a short piece in which Heather Mallick breaks down Michael Ignatieff by physical features, complete with commentary (for example, his face: “Heathcliffy? No, demonic”).  “I felt like this was just a mass note,” says Offman. “The front of the book is getting so good that this piece lags behind.”

“Do you think the issue was Heather writing it?” Angel suggests. “The stuff that’s presented as front-of-book is presented as Chatelaine’s point of view. Maybe we shouldn’t have our columnists do front-of-book items.”

But Offman just doesn’t get the point of the piece.

“She was sharp in it and, tone-wise, I thought that’s what we were aiming for,” chimes in Maryam Sanati, the deputy editor (a position created when Angel hired her in August). She met Angel while attending Toronto’s Havergal College, a prestigious private school for girls.

“The front-of-book should have some cheek,” says Angel. “It should be thoughtful, fun, thought-provoking.”

“This is an exercise in objectification that we don’t ever see women doing to men,” contends senior articles editor Sheilagh McEvenue. The comment sets off a series of “oohs” and giggles around the table. For the moment, at least, things seem settled at Chatelaine. The staff seems happy.

But just weeks after the meeting, McEvenue is gone, the details of her resignation still unknown (she didn’t return phone calls requesting an interview for this story). She’d been hired at about the same time as Sanati, making her stay at Chatelaine less than four months long. In fact, following Angel’s arrival, six people abandoned senior positions at the magazine: Dee, copy chief Ruth Hanley, deputy art director Daniel MacKinnon, managing editor Margaret Nearing, home editor Amanda Eaton, and McEvenue. All told, three members of the magazine’s editorial staff remain from Pittaway’s days (not including the unscathed team of  “kitchen girls” under longtime food/nutrition editor Monda Rosenberg, or Seymour, who’s set to return from maternity leave at the end of June). “It’s no secret that Chatelaine has been a meat grinder for editorial people,” says Shields. “They’re dropping like flies.”

The December issue, discussed at that meeting, seems to be a good example of Angel’s approach to the brand. Aside from displaying her dishes on the cover, the magazine appears to reflect Angel’s personal — and high-end — taste throughout. For instance, a “Holiday Tipping Guide” in the issue featured recommended gratuities for the likes of nannies, gardeners and interior designers. In the gift guide cited by Offman, numerous lavish suggestions seem absurdly priced for the average Canadian woman — a $280 Louis Vuitton change purse, a $550 box set of three moisturizers, and a $975 wine bottle holder. “There are some things that are going to be affordable and some things that are purely aspirational,” says Angel, her words escaping a mouth boldly outlined in rich, red lipstick, as she touches a hand to the dramatic sweep in her prominent hair. A hint of Valley Girl in her voice betrays her gracious poise. “Our goal with that issue, as with everything that we’re doing, is never to say that everything we do is going to be a bargain item.”

Angel has more than delivered on that promise, with luxury and excess common in her issues, particularly in the fashion spreads. While Pittaway rarely featured an item of clothing priced north of $500, Angel seems set to explode the concept of affordability. The increase in top item price was somewhat steady: a $275 Michael Michael Kors jacket in August 2006, a $595 Anne Klein New York blazer in October, $950 Christian Louboutin python shoes in November (the issue also included a $3,200 diamond watch from Birks as an “Editor’s Pick”), a $1,185 Balenciaga bag in January, an $825 pygmy headdress in February (“…for Valentine’s”), and most recently, a $945 Jeremy Laing jacket in March 2007. One former staffer says the magazine used to receive complaint letters when they featured an item priced higher than $80. Though likely an exaggeration, the point seems clear.

The quality of service pieces, Chatelaine’s meat and potatoes, has also suffered occasionally under Angel. Tips are often unrealistic or simply insipid. In the January issue, the magazine ran what it called the “Chatelaine Better Living Guide.” Angel wrote in her editorial, “This represents the sum of our wisdom — a compendium of the experiences of the real-life Canadian women we surveyed.” One of the helpful tips in the guide was, “Buy baskets — they’re the all-purpose solution to the chaos that is family life.” Another tip? “Be a charming dinner guest.” Many home décor ideas have been equally useless for “real-life Canadian women.” In the March issue, a bathroom redecorating spread called “Vanity Fair” suggested,  “Hang a dreamy chandelier over your tub to add a touch of romantic luxury.” Chatelaine was definitely no longer for every Canadian woman. “I’m not clear on who the reader is now,”  says Hitchcock. “I’ve been to countless focus groups, I’ve met readers at events, I’ve read piles high to the ceiling of reader letters. I don’t see the reader who I knew reflected in the magazine anymore.”

The continuing saga of Chatelaine’s sales and circulation success is a two-sided affair. One perspective suggests ongoing trouble at the newsstand. For the July through December 2006 period, the monthly average of single-copy sales dropped 19 per cent from 2005 figures. It was Chatelaine’s worst second half since 2001. Meanwhile, across town at the offices of their chief rival, Canadian Living, numbers are booming. In the same period that Chatelaine fell 19 per cent, Canadian Living’s single-copy sales jumped by 8.7 per cent, despite having no sponsored subscriptions or grace copies (Chatelaine’s second-half figures, by comparison, included a per-month average of 100,822 sponsored subscriptions and 9,818 grace copies).

Much of the decline in Chatelaine’s single-copy sales figures can be attributed to the launch of an additional full issue. Dubbed October Halloween, single-copy sales of the issue barely broke 30,000, dragging down the average across the board. In fact, Chatelaine’s regular October issue sold 2,500 more copies in 2006 than in 2005. Though the magazine repeated the feat in November, exceeding 2005 sales by some 1,700, newsstand figures fell again in December, down 16 per cent from 2005.

All other paper-based indications, however, show that Chatelaine has withstood its upheaval. Subscriptions declined by only a single percentage point in the second half of 2006 — which Mitchell insists was a managed reduction — now sitting consistently at around 540,000. Chatelaine’s massive ad revenue also grew in 2006, up 15 per cent from its previous record-breaking year to hit $68.9 million (or $48.2 million, using the 0.7 weighting multiple generally employed by Masthead to account for discounting). Accompanying this growth was a 15 per cent increase in run-of-press ad pages — 146, to be exact — pushing the 2006 total to 1,445. By all financial measures, it was a banner year for Chatelaine.

And, perhaps surprisingly, there are positive changes on the editorial front. The resurgence of more narrative, journalistic features initiated under Offman has continued. Since last fall,  the magazine has featured some of its strongest stories in years. The September issue included an excellent 4,000-word story by Alexandra Gill about clothing company lululemon athletica. Titled “Mind-bending Truth: The Untold Story of lululemon,” Gill’s piece explores the connection between the company’s founder, Chip Wilson, and the controversial self-help organization Landmark Education Corp. Another notable feature, from the January 2007 issue, was Rebecca Godfrey’s “Murder and Mystery,” an emotional story about two parents from British Columbia who forgive one of their daughter’s killers. “In my opinion, women readers have wanted more meat on the bones of their stories for a very long time,” says Sally Armstrong, former editor-at-large for Chatelaine, and now a contributing editor. “It’s to be applauded that the current leadership is addressing that issue.” There are others in the industry, such as investigative reporter and ex-Elm Street editor Stevie Cameron, who are pleased with the change. “I stopped working for the former Chatelaine years ago because of its excruciating editing practices and its unwillingness to offend anyone,” she says, adding that she penned two technology pieces for the magazine last year and hopes to write more once her schedule allows it. Cameron remains listed as a contributor on the masthead.

While other freelance writers continue to voice complaints about the editing process, Angel says she’s the first to tell them that, in many ways, the magazine’s going through an editorial start-up. She admits there have been stumbles along the road, but is adamant that she has been successful. “It’s like buying a house that needs a complete overhaul,” she says. “If you invite your friends over after two weeks, after three weeks, even after six months of work, it’s not going to look the way you want it to.”

Thirty minutes into my audience with Angel, Khanna comes back into the office. My time with Chatelaine’s newest monarch is up. We shake hands again and I leave while Angel collects her things and moves on to another meeting. Khanna walks me down a new set of grey cubicle passageways. He quickly leads me to the elevators. We shake hands and he heads back upstairs. While I may have breached Chatelaine’s walls, I was told little, didn’t see much and learned even less. The castle remains formidable.

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About the author

Graham Silnicki was the Senior Editor for the Spring 2007 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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