I’ve been meaning to get my
life stuff together and sort through the Spit archives for a while now, and this arvo I stumbled upon an interview I did with Jo Walker from Frankie Magazine back in issue 08. If you didn’t catch the printed version there are some nice insights into life behind one of Australia’s most popular creative titles.
You joined the Frankie team in 2008 when then editor Louise Bannister ventured overseas, what were you doing before editing at Morrison Media?
Well actually, I was at Frankie from the beginning because I was freelancing for them from Issue 1 and wrote a pretty large amount for a lot of the early issues. Then I dropped all that I had been working for and all the connections that I had to move over to London to get a full time job because I was sick of sitting in my underpants in front of a computer at home writing quite random stories. I was over there for a year or so working for a place called The Press Association. I started off as a senior writer there and then was head of the features department. Then I got an offer I couldn’t refuse which was to come back to Australia and edit Frankie. So that’s how it happened.
It was reported in 2009 that Frankie was Australia’s fastest growing magazine…
For the last three audit periods, we have been the fastest growing magazine in Australia. We never actually advertised Frankie. We didn’t have a marketing budget; we never really went out and did that. It’s grown exponentially through word of mouth. People like it, people want to share it with their friends. There’s actually quite a lot of intergenerational readers now… I was at the Finders Keepers market, which we sponsor, and there were a lot of mothers coming up with their 20-something daughters saying that they both read it, so that’s quite nice too.
Yeah, it’s nice to bring the family together like that. Have things changed behind the scenes as a result of that growth?
We have always run on what most other titles would consider a shoestring, but our shoestring has gotten ever so slightly fatter in the last year. I have a part time assistant now which has totally changed my life and is so exciting. Lara, who is our Creative Director, has an assistant and there are a couple more people involved than there used to be but it’s still a very small team. There are only 6 or 7 of us spread around, some in Melbourne, some in Brisbane. I think there’s a lot of creativity and ingenuity that comes out of having a lot less to spend than a lot of the mainstream titles do. We try to do our best with what we have.
We can relate to that… So, do you think Frankie has a life beyond this whole ‘indie’ scene that has exploded at the moment?
I think so. We were around before that, but I think that some of our popularity might have ridden on the back of it. But I don’t see Frankie as part of any particular scene. It’s not pandering to just North Fitzroy hipsters. We try to keep it very broad and approachable so that hopefully it seems inviting to a lot of different types of readers. But I acknowledge that that might have had something to do with the little sale spikes we’ve been having recently. The most feedback I get from people is that they enjoy having a women’s magazine that is intelligent and doesn’t talk down to them and has good writing and good aesthetics, and also a lot of people just saying that they really relate to it. The number of times that I have emails from readers saying they were just talking about something the other day and then they picked up Frankie and there was a story about it… You know, that kind of connection. That doesn’t change. We don’t think of ourselves as particularly trendy, we’re not very trendy people (laughs). We’re quite daggy. I think that comes across actually…
Well I think it’s the kind of daggy that comes across as quite endearing, so it’s not all that bad! You have a team of writers, photographers and illustrators that we get to know more and more each issue. Where do you find such creative folk?
All over the place. Actually, I must admit, a few of our steady contributors used to work for me in Brisbane about 10 years ago on a little street press, so there is kind of a Brisbane Mafia thing going on. But we do have writers from other places too. Some of them might just have one or two stories that make sense and then there are other people who just get it. I like to think of them as a little cast. Ben is obviously the disgusting gay guy who wants to talk about licking vaginas all the time and Marieke is the one who is probably encouraging him in the vagina talk and then Justin is the kind of sensitive, retro loving, nostalgic boy and Rowina is the sarcastic dorky one. They all sort of come together but we do have new contributors coming on all the time that we test out and I’m always looking for new people who can bring new life to Frankie.
You listed your 5 favourite magazine titles on mag nation’s blog a few years back, which people can still find online. Is there a specific kind of magazine that you dislike?
I love magazines, but the ones I would never pay money for are the ones that are full of made up celebrity gossip, huge paparazzi pictures. I don’t really have much room in my life for those kinds. If I do need to indulge in the occasional trashiness I will find it on the Internet, rather than in a magazine. When I was about 19 or 20 I actually made a bit of a pact with myself to stop buying what we would consider mainstream magazines, because although I’ve always been fairly confident with myself and with not taking things too seriously I found that after repeated doses I was actually becoming quite paranoid about my looks and my life and my career and if I was measuring up and stuff. So I think there is a kind of underlying neuroses that they create in their readers that I’m not particularly jazzed on. Not super into the pig hunting magazines either but I don’t see them around as often…
Can you describe what the Frankie office is like and what a typical day in the shoes of Jo Walker might involve?
I actually work in a little satellite office down in Port Melbourne. Our main office is actually on the Gold Coast. The Frankie office up there is a lot Frankier because Lara, our Creative Director, who’s in charge of putting all the pretty things on the wall, is there. I’m not quite as Martha Stewart Living as that. It’s very difficult to say… a typical day, it basically changes with the life cycle of the magazine. Like yourself, we’re bi-monthly. The beginning of the issue is basically lots of soul searching and thinking and talking and trying to get some ideas for the issue. Basically Lara and I spend a week on Skype trying to out do each other and show off and go ‘hey, that’s a good idea, let’s make it more awesome by doing this…’ Then we go into what would be my organising period. Organising all of the writers, all the photographers, making sure that the photographers have enough money for the bus to get where they’re going, all that kind of stuff. I do a lot of writing myself. If I’m doing a feature myself I might be running around doing interviews or I might be harassing the person who is running around doing that. Then lots of subbing and lots of stuffing around, looking at photos, and then hopefully the magazine comes together. During all of that there’s lots of coffee that is drunk, huge amounts of emails, which I’m yet to figure out a good system of dealing with. So I’m always behind on catching up on emails.
I’m lucky that mine got through then…
Yeah (laughs). I work one day at home which is my writing day so I can just sit on the couch with a laptop and just zone out and write the kind of strange shit that ends up in the magazine (more laughter).
So what’s next for you? Will you be at Frankie until you edit your last article?
I haven’t thought too far ahead. I just love working on Frankie. I’ve worked for other publications before and even though I enjoyed myself, I had to put on a different hat or voice when I was writing or editing. It wasn’t for me, whereas Frankie, I would be a fan of it whether I had anything to do with it or not and it’s such a cool group of ladies and all we do is find stuff that we enjoy that we think other people would enjoy as well and I don’t have to put on a voice or special tone or think; what would somebody in this place like? Because I like this, it means our readers will like it! Which is a massive luxury in media. No plans to go anywhere at the moment. The only thought I have had is that I do actually enjoy living in Europe, so I think probably wherever I go next might be in a different hemisphere.
What career advice do you have for people who want to get into the industry?
Okay, my favourite bit of career advice that I give to a lot of writing students is start getting yourself out there as soon as you possibly can. If you’re at uni, go and do your darndest to get good grades and all that, but while you still have the amount of free time that you do at uni, pitch article ideas to wherever you can. Try and get published, work for your local street press, work for the university paper, go and intern somewhere. You’re not going to get paid, you’re probably not going to get any respect. You might get some free CDs out of it, that’s about all you’ll get. But to me, it’s much more appealing to have a candidate who got Bs at school but has been out there, done the hard yards, got published, got by-lines in various different forms. If you’re into broadcast go and volunteer at your community radio station. It might not be glamorous and they might not be doing the cool things that you want to do but that’s where everyone starts out. The other piece of advice is that you’re going to be working your ass off not just to get where you want to go, but you’re going to be working your ass off once you get there and pretty much for the rest of your career. It’s not a job for sissies. Which is part of that drive, that passion which is part of proving that you can’t not do it. Because if you’re not completely in love with it and you’re not completely dedicated to it, you’re not going to have that drive to get through all the shitty bits to get to the good stuff.