We’ve always believed in the power of sharing stories to bring individuals and communities together. So when we came across The Out Mag we couldn’t wait to find out more. We caught up with editor, John Paul Payne, to talk about the magazine; its purpose, impact, and the small but mighty team that brings each issue to life.
Tell us the story behind The Out Mag? How did it come about and what are your hopes and goals for the magazine?
We first began The Out Mag as a response to COVID-19. We began 2019 by setting up Carlow Pride Festival. It started out with six people joining forces to create a positive moment for LGBT+ people in our small rural town. At the very beginning of this journey we estimated that we would have about 100 to 200 people at our main event. We had no budget and no funds. But we asked ourselves this question “Why should we move to bigger cities to be LGBT+ people? We can stay in our small rural towns, safely”.
The entire town was ready to move on and tell the world; Carlow is a fantastic place to live. The entire town was painted rainbow. And 3,500 people turned up to our main event. It’s the biggest outdoor event ever held in our region. Hundreds of people reached out to us saying that we changed their lives. Young people came out to their parents at our event, and a woman in her 60s went home that evening and told her family she was a lesbian. The youngest person at our event was 2 weeks old and the oldest was 99! Our first pride was dedicated to the people who moved away and never came home, the people who didn’t live to see a rainbow flag flicker in the sunlight in our once conservative and religiously restrictive town.
When COVID-19 hit, our event for 2020 was cancelled. This left a huge gap in our normally very sleepy county. So we had to create something to celebrate LGBT+ people and document our unique history. The Out Mag is like a rolling history book. It documents the lives of LGBT+ people in a positive and meaningful way, showing the many jobs and successful lives that are here in Carlow. We’ve been told that the magazine and festival have helped saved many lives.
How did your team of creators and editors find each other?
One evening I decided I was having pride. I remember feeling like the country was going back in time. Unless I stood up for what I believed in, all that progress could be taken away. I posted about setting up pride on Facebook, and I held a public meeting. There I found Sally, Ciaran, Robbie, Tom, and Ryan. Since then we have all joined together to be part of The Out Mag. We are all volunteers, we all have other jobs and businesses, or are retired. The rest of the team on the magazine was found thanks to our local volunteer centre.
By the time the magazine came around, I knew what roles would suit people. The magazine is a separate project and people had the option to not be part of it if they felt it was too much work for them. But everybody stepped up to the plate.
How do you decide which content pieces to feature? What goes in to your editorial decisions?
Every week we have a story meeting where I pitch stories, and ideas for interviews – and see who would be interested or comfortable interviewing that person. We always wanted to be open and for many people who feature in our magazine, it is a right of passage. It can be really scary telling your truth and trying to forget and forgive the scars of your past. Carlow wasn’t a nice place for many people, including me. So it has been a full healing moment for us all.
Our whole mission is to tell the stories of people in a truthful and honest way. We never change the words of the people who feature in our stories and we give those people full control of each piece. We don’t want to be the news, we want to be historic.
Tell us about the process of curating and designing your magazine. How do you choose the layout, sequence of content, typography, and color palette?
Because we are a voluntary organization and we all have full-time jobs outside of this, I decided to take on the task of learning how to graphic design and layout the magazine. The first issue was during the very first lockdown of COVID-19. I watched YouTube tutorials and somehow managed to create issue one in a way that was fashionable but also true to who we were.
When issue one was published online we were called by our local newspaper who wanted to print it as a pull-out magazine. I decided to use this opportunity to say to them we would be interested but we would create one especially for them, issue two. Issue two was printed and published locally (12,000 copies). It was the very first self published LGBT+ magazine ever featured in an Irish newspaper and a copy of it resides proudly in the new exhibition of our local museum. How did it get in the museum? We got an issue framed and turned up with it with a photographer! If you don’t ask you don’t get! The framed issue is now owned by the state.
How do you choose the imagery for the front cover?
To make the process fun for everyone who work on the magazine, everyone who contributes as an article writer gets the chance to have their story as a cover feature.
If it turns out that someone we selected wasn’t ready for the cover, or didn’t feel safe doing so, we respect everyone’s opinion so we then select someone else. We are currently in the process of competing issue 4. This issue will be also printed in the local newspaper (14,000 copies).
How do you promote your magazine to new audiences?
We have very limited means, so we chose to do a preview email for people in local government and supporting businesses. Then we promote posts across our social media channels. We do find it hard to get the word out. This project engages everyone on our committee and team. It helped us all through lockdown to engage with each other and also connect with new people and make new friends. We hope that our project will give rise to other small towns to help combat depression and isolation amongst minorities.
Why did you choose to offer a print edition as well as online issues?
We first decided to offer a print edition with issue 2 through our local newspaper. Issue three went back to being a fully online version and now issue four will also be printed in our local newspaper at the end of June. The reason we use Blurb to print our magazines is because lots of people around the world wanted access to a paper published version. We felt that this was a great way for people to get a high end edition of a magazine so they can keep it as a keepsake. We have a large following of Irish ex-pats living across the world.
What were you looking for in a platform to create and print The Out Mag?
We wanted a reliable and user friendly publishing platform that offers cost effective printing for us. We also wanted a high end finish. This is why we chose Blurb.
It feels like The Out Mag is very well supported by your local community. How important was that as a goal or in making the idea of a magazine a reality?
We didn’t start out with any support. In fact, the first two issues of the magazine were created on free software by myself. The second issue received advertising to cover the cost of printing. We are a bit for profit. So we cover the shortfall in money. Luckily the Irish government saw the huge value in what we do locally and helped cover the entire costs of issue three and four. They also purchased all of our software and everyone on the main team a laptop. Issue four is set to be our very best issue yet.
What advice would you give another group looking to make a magazine? What do you wish you’d known when you started?
I would say listen to your own gut. We knew what we wanted to achieve as a group and we stuck to that. Even if obstacles are thrown in my way, I never give up. Quentin Crisp once said “Don’t try to fit in. Be yourself and eventually people will try and fit in with you!’ This is true for us. We got the hard work done and now we are using this moment to our advantage, creating the world we want to live in.
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