Editor’s blog: Handing over the reins to an Olympic champ

Elinor Barker took charge of the magazine for one week as guest editor to produce the issue she wanted to see. The experience and the outcome was new to both her and us.

When we invited Elinor Barker to guest edit Cycling Weekly magazine we weren’t 100 per cent sure what to expect. We’d never had someone come in and guest edit the mag (in fact it has never happened in the title's 130 year history) and it’s not something Elinor had done before. We were going to have to feel our way through this.

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Many guest edits you’ll see on the newsstands are a light touch. The person given the reins will write the editorial, maybe suggest a few topics or ideas for features and little more. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Elinor was definitely not interested in that approach. 

When she told us her plan for the magazine and what was to go in it, it sounded great. She had a clear idea of what she wanted. No problem at all. But it ended up challenging us more than we realised. Elinor wanted to create the edition that she wanted to read. Something that told stories about female cyclists, and other women in the sport, without having to fall back on the topic of inequality, and without using constant comparisons to the male peloton. 

Throughout the production process of this issue we were constantly surprised by how often we fell into those traps. Not just us on staff here at CW, but the freelance writers who contributed to the issue, many of them female writers and all of them hugely experienced in cycling, and sport as a whole.

Every time we strayed from the brief or broke one of those two rules, Elinor picked us up on it. To the point where I started to think; ‘hang on, who's really in charge of this magazine!?’ 

But that was the brief she had given us, and we owed it to her to try and stick to it. We could hardly invite her to guest edit the magazine only to turn around and say; ‘oh no, we don’t actually want you to do any editing.’

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We produce this magazine week in, week out, it’s a relentless cycle, and as such we have to send some articles to press that aren’t exactly what we had initially planned or hoped for. Maybe someone can't answer their phone when we ring, a photograph isn't available, or a certain piece of information isn't ready by the time we need it to write a story.

When designing pages a weekly press cycle doesn’t allow much time to make major changes, we have to try and get it right first time. If not we make a few tweaks and get the pages looking as good as we can. We’ve always got the following week to make improvements or get things back to how they should be.

Elinor Barker at the Manchester velodrome. Photo by Sophie Capewell

But Elinor had one shot at this. This is the one issue of the magazine that will carry her name, and she wanted to get it right. She wanted to be able to hold it up as the sort of thing she wanted to see. So next time she’s interviewed, or quizzed on the subject of womens’ cycling she can turn to this issue and say: ‘This is what I want to talk about. And this is proof of how it can be done.’

For her to jump into my shoes for one week, taking on a role she’s never done before, and have the conviction to say; ‘no, sorry, I really want this changed,’ and to concisely and clearly argue her case, is impressive. And I’m sure it’s indicative of the determination, perseverance, and (I’m sure she won’t mind me saying) perhaps a bit of bloody mindedness that has taken her to an Olympic and multiple world titles on the track.

Her involvement has not only produced a great issue of Cycling Weekly, it has helped us to shine a new light on our work and allow us to look at it in a different way. We’ve certainly learned a little more about how we should be approaching one of the most important challenges and biggest opportunities the sport faces right now. 

A huge thanks to Elinor for taking on the project and getting so involved. I hope you like this issue of Cycling Weekly as much as I do.

Simon Richardson
Editor, Cycling Weekly