gal-dem Guardian takeover proves diversity breeds creativity

The gal-dem team talk over their plans with staff from the Guardian Weekend magazine. Photograph: Shaista Chishty for the Guardian


1. The Guardian Article


Sat 18 Aug 2018, published on The Guardian

Working with the Guardian on gal-dem’s takeover of Weekend magazine was an incredible exercise and a clear demonstration of the power of championing marginalised voices. The feedback has been overwhelming and the fact that sales spiked significantly are both clear reminders of the fact that diversity breeds creativity.

As young women and non-binary people of colour who rarely see themselves celebrated in mainstream media (and as a generation who rarely buy print media), this has been a particularly illuminating project. Much of the content produced for the Guardian issue is no different to the content which we publish on our website, the only difference was the sheer reach of the Guardian’s platform.
After the publication of the gal-dem takeover, the reaction left mespeechless. When I started to see a flurry of young people who don’t normally go out and buy any sort of print media looking for this particular magazine, it was just amazing. Newsagents were saying loads women of colour and non-binary people were looking for the Guardian. I was getting messages from girls saying: “Where is it, I can’t find it anywhere, it’s sold out. I went to a shop in my area and couldn’t find it.”
So many people were messaging me on Instagram and Twitter and saying: “Oh my god this is the first time I’ve picked up a paper and it really shows someone who looks like me.” This was a genuine spread of body shape and type of women and non binary people of colour. Real women and real people, I mean how often do we get to see that. That’s when my grandma asked me: “So, what’s happening next weekend?”
I thought it was such a good exercise in seeing the power of speaking to everyone. It means that you get a breadth of perspectives you wouldn’t ordinarily get to see. We had drawn up this massive pitch document, with loads of potential writers, illustrators, photographers, and ideas, and slowly, slowly whittled it down. We had our mix of regular people and then really broadened out that pool and it ended up being such a nice collection of voices.

Weekend cover star Michaela Coel. Photograph: Rosaline Shahnavaz for the Guardian

As a black person I feel very undervalued as a consumer. If mainstream media and TV and film valued people of colour, you would see a lot more of us behind the screen and on the screen. So one of the most important things is who is getting to tell the story.For us, it was really interesting to observe a weekly print product. We produce a print product but it’s 300 pages once a year, whereas Weekend magazine is something you purchase every weekend and to be involved with that fast turnaround was great. Having a space where you can be there in person, talking through edits, makes such a difference. The Weekend team is quite small and they’re able to do that week in week out and I hope that we can kind of model how we set ourselves up in the future.
I would love it if all of us or our voices were even more present than they are. That’s the first step. In terms of gal-dem more broadly, I hope this signals the fact that what we have is really special and all the content is produced with such journalistic integrity and we deserve to have the kind of support to show that, which would allow us some financial stability, which is really important.

I’m really excited for the future. We talk about things that are not right but we come together and celebrate each other and our achievements and that’s a really, really positive thing and this was a really positive coming together of lots of different voices so I can only feel excited about what’s next.


Melissa Denes, the editor of Guardian Weekend magazine, writes:We had a student doing a work placement with us the week we published, Itunu Abolarinwa, whose enthusiasm about the gal-dem takeover issue was totally infectious. Our print copies arrive in the office on a Thursday or Friday every week, and it’s always an exciting moment – but Itunu was right when she patted the magazine on her desk and told me: “This is major.”gal-dem magazine’s August takeover of Guardian Weekend had started with a conversation almost a year earlier between the two magazines’ deputies, Ruth Lewy (Weekend) and Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (gal-dem). Charlie is a frequent contributor to the Guardian, and we are admirers of gal-dem’s distinctive look, energy and writing: that conversation soon evolved into the idea of the gal-dem team, led by Charlie and Liv Little, its editor-in-chief, taking over every aspect of Weekend – generating ideas for features, columnists, illustrators, photographers and stylists (drawing on their own contributors and ours, as well as people new to both teams). Their voice, our platform.

Image by Hannah Buckman accompanies gal-dem X Guardian article by Georgina Lawton
I’m white, and used to seeing people who look and sound like me in our media. People of colour are not, and the experience of changing every byline brought that home powerfully – I was blown away by the appetite for a wholly different perspective, particularly the response on social media: the cast of Hamilton the Musical tweeted photos of themselves reading the issue in their dressing rooms, young women posted pictures of themselves buying it on Instagram, and we have had more requests for back copies of this issue than any other in my five years editing Weekend.
gal-dem’s busy schedule, the Guardian’s tabloid relaunch in January, and a wait for a date that worked for Michaela Coel, our cover star, meant that we landed on 11 August for publication. We started co-commissioning in June, finalising our lineup in July; then at the end of July and beginning of August, Liv, Charlie and Micha Frazer-Carroll, gal-dem’s culture editor, came into the Guardian’s offices to work on final edits, layouts, headlines and all the tweaks and rethinks that only become obvious when you have the words and pictures on the page.
Liv also wrote the Coel interview (and gave her a haircut on set), Charlie wrote about growing up with her mother and her mother’s identical twin (two thirds of 90s band Soho), and Micha interviewed Gemma Chan for the regular Q&A slot.It was a lot of fun, but what did the Guardian team learn? First, that we could do much better when it comes to commissioning writers and creatives of colour – not just because we want to better reflect our readership and the people that don’t read us yet, to produce a richer magazine, but because there is so much talent out there.
We’re selling them online, the first time we have sold a standalone issue of the magazine.My daughters are mixed race, younger than gal-dem’s demographic, but excited to see an issue written and produced by women who look like them: it’s a keeper in our house, and hopefully when they are older there’ll be less of a need for it!We also learned that for all the many benefits of being part of a big organisation, we can be less quick on our feet.

As an editor here, I can take the power and reach of the Guardian for granted: this was a strong reminder that it’s a megaphone and it matters who you give it to – that it gets shared enough.What else? We learned we had lots in common: both teams work collaboratively with writers and illustrators, we take the time to get it right, we had similar likes when it came to photography and illustration: the cover shot was a quick, unanimous decision.What happens next? gal-dem get on with their big September issue, we encourage everyone involved (as well as the people who weren’t, but felt inspired) to pitch us their ideas and stories. As Micha said in gal-dem’s letter to open the issue, we hope it’s the start of a new era.

Exclusive copies of gal-dem magazine’s takeover issue of Weekend on Saturday 11 August 2018 are available for a limited time, at The Guardian Bookshop.Image accompanies article by Georgina Lawton

2. Magculture Roundup

Written by Jeremy Leslie, click here for the original publication.
"This Saturday (11 August) sees a special issue of The Guardian newspaper’s Weekend magazine, created in collaboration with the editorial team of gal-dem, the magazine produced by and for women of colour.
The project arose out of a joint desire to improve media access to women of colour; Weekend deputy editor Ruth Lewy wanted to work with gal-dem (several writers already write for both magazines) but the suggestion of a full takeover of Weekend seemed almost a joke at first, gal-dem founder Liv Little told me. ‘But we ended up working together for several months, and it turned out to be a great experience.’
There were already people of colour writing for Weekend, and they and Liv’s team pitched ideas for the special issue, a magazine that built on gal-dem’s existing network of writers, photographers and illustrators.
‘We all put ideas to the editors and the result is a mix of their writers and ours,’ says Little. ‘It was a genuine collaboration,’ Weekend editor Melissa Denes confirmed, ‘the gal-dem team developed ideas but also worked on headlines, pull-quotes and SEO, everything that needed doing.’
Both teams learned a lot. ‘We got to see how a large magazine works, the benefits of that type of infrastructure,’ says Little (something that Denes laughs at when I repeat it to her; having only just got internal permission to launch a Weekend Instagram feed, she sees the other side to that big infrastructure).
And The Guardian? ‘Working weekly you develop habits and it was great to be forced to think out of the box,’ ays Dene. ‘It was a revelation; we had to re-think commissioning on every level. It was a reminder not to go with the obvious. There have been hundreds of piece on Beyoncé, but our one brings something completely different, written by a woman of colour.’
With gal-dem looking to attract financial investment in their own channels, the collaboration is timely. But what of other long-term benefits? Is Little worried the one-off might remain just that, a token effort?
‘I have to be optimistic. I hope it signals a longer-term shift in media representation, it’s been a really good relationship so far and we’ve remained in touch with The Guardian team since the issue was finished.’ Denes hopes the lesson not to just go with what you know will be remembered. ‘ There are definitely people in the issue we’ll use again.’
It’s a great project for the obvious reason of being more inclusive; publishing remains very white as an industry and its time more senior roles were shared out. This must be step in the right direction in that respect. But it’s also fascinating to see a major, mainstream publisher turn to a small and relatively new start-up project for inspiration.
More indie-mainstream collaborations please!"
Editors: Melissa Denes, Ruth Lewy (The Guardian), Liv Litttle, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (gal-dem) Art director: Maggie Murphy (The Guardian)
The next print issue of gal-dem will be published on 29 September.

Team Credits

Rosaline Shahnavaz

  • Photographer
  •  

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

  • Freelance Journalist & Opinions Editor @ Gal-dem
  •  

Kuba Shand-Baptiste

Jenessa Williams

  • Freelance Journalist, MRes Student // Arts, Music, Fashion
  •  

Skills

Inspired by this project? Showcase projects you’ve worked on and inspire other people.

gal-dem magazine
Award winning media company spotlighting woc and nbpoc
Rosaline Shahnavaz
Photographer
Hannah Buckman
Freelance Illustrator