Disrupting the New Media Narrative: Highlights from the Mag Mob Panel
Transcription and introduction by Rachel lee
Photos by Tess Cagle
Founded in 2017, the Mag Mob is a media collective of ten independently published magazines created by women and non-binary people based in New York City. Mag Mob aims to disrupt and redefine the new media narrative. Their first event, a panel discussion at Quimby’s Bookstore in Brooklyn, covered some of the challenges, benefits, and potential for growth independent publishers face during a wave of digital mainstream content.
Mag Mob was started up by Mackenzie Peck, the founder of Math Magazine - “a lot of problems I was facing, like finding a printer and other practical things, I knew a lot of other people were facing and had probably figured it out. [Independent creatives] not often provided opportunities for mentorship, so we created them for ourselves. We are each other's support and mentors.”
The panel was moderated by Taylor Yates, editor of Selfish Magazine, which is currently on hiatus; the editors of the active publications participated in the panel discussion: Mackenzie Peck from Math Magazine, Kristen Felicetti from The Bushwick Review, Mindy Abovitz from Tom Tom Magazine, Meg Wachter from Got a Girl Crush, Winter Mendelson from Posture Magazine, Micah Pegues from Polychrome Mag, Krystie Mak from Slant’d, Mallory Lance from Ravenous Zine, and Saskia Ketz from A Women’s Thing. This transcription has been edited for length and clarity.
On Mag Mob, and supporting other female-identifying creatives:
Mindy Abovitz: We make print publications, that’s our throughline, but a couple of us have websites, throw events, are media companies, have podcasts; we all have social media handles, a lot of us are doing talks, sometimes we have shops and merch. Some of us approach sponsors and create content for them and run ads. Some of us throw sex parties! Some of us throw music festivals! If you make a print magazine, it probably means you’re going to do 17 other things.
There’s so much we need help with in running a media company, so we help each other, we support each other, and being a part of a female-identifying group is incredible for me… The work of making a magazine and running a media company is massive, at any level. I learned so much from being around other magazine makers. Every single thing I’ve learned [from running Tom Tom Magazine] is that everything requires work and perseverance and extreme focus, and nothing is ever easy. This group attests to the sharing of knowledge, wherever you are. At the top, in the middle, on the bottom, all of us are doing the same thing: working very hard. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been around or how many ad deals you’ve done or how many people you’re working with - if you’re not on fire and need to do what you’re doing, someone else who is gladly will, and should, take your space. I feel that way about the work I do, and I feel on fire still, and I think [all of the panelists] feel it too.
Kristen Fellicetti: Being a part of Mag Mob was a feeling of not only support, but also the best kind of friendly competition. You want to up your game because you’re among people who are doing their best work. At least for me, I wanted to take things as seriously and professionally as possible to rise to the occasion.
Mallory Lance: I have been extremely fortunate to have lots of supportive women surrounding me in my career and otherwise… We’re occupying similar spaces, where we should be “competitors,” but I really love that we’re all sharing what we’ve learned. The best way to uplift each other and ourselves is by sharing.
Krystie Mak: [Slant’d] pivoted at the end of last year from a magazine to a media company, and I don’t think that could have happened without the Mag Mob and seeing the “seniors” [the panelists that founded Mag Mob] in action. I come from an Asian family, where you don’t do anything outside of banking, accounting, consulting, or being a doctor or engineer, so to do something like media is totally taboo and out of the question. To see that other people can make this a sustainable business is something we’re really looking to do. We’re trying to make this our part-time job, our full-time job, and make it a real business.
Taylor Yates: I think the slowness it took for Mag Mob to come together, was that the senior publishers were subjected to the umbrella of entrenched competition between us. When you’re a minority publisher trying to make it big in this world of homogenized spaces, and you’re trying to table at zine fairs that are only letting in cis white dudes, it can feel like you don’t want to let go of whatever traction you’ve gained because it took so long to get there. It’s good to see that that’s all dissipated and there’s a group of newcomers who aren’t really experiencing that.
The whole point of Mag Mob is to include other people. There’s not going to be a large movement introduction these ideas to the public to start laying down that groundwork to get support – support has to build. Getting these 9 publications and seeing what we can do together, we need to take a step back and open this up to the public. We’re laying down some foundational values and hoping other people see the value in that.
On mainstream media and representation in the media:
Winter Mendelson: People don’t think marginalized communities are worth investing in, that these communities don’t have money or weight, or are valuable consumers. It’s hard to run a publication and pay your contributors when, from the top down, people don’t think you’re worth investing in. That’s my greatest struggle: convincing people that Posture represents people on the forefront of culture that don’t get enough credit.
Mackenzie Peck: We are very understanding of the fact that we don’t exist in an echo chamber, and we’re trying to connect with people and spread our ideas, which are rooted in love and respect. In our joined forces, we’re excited on making big deals and create bountiful opportunities, which is exciting for me. We’re not waiting on some dude who doesn’t get it [to sponsor us]. There’s a lot of value in having an independent voice in media… in the digital era, there was a lot of talk about how print was going to die. Companies like Facebook don’t care about content they’re promoted; it’s all about getting people angry to sell them cars. The more intense your feelings are, liberal or conservative, the easier you are to sell to. It’s not a good source of information when you have people like us who are representing people who look and feel like you do, and want to speak for real people.
Meg Wachter: Why do we put ourselves through [working with print media]? I don’t know if you remember what you read online yesterday. There’s a deluge now of keeping up with the news, or your favorite blog, or Twitter… People are so mean online, and there’s no accountability. You don’t think about your impact, and how comments can affect someone. Having these events and meeting with people, talking to people, hopefully our publications create a sense of empathy, because if we lose that, we’re fucked.
I do print publication because my background is in photography, and there’s something still really yummy about seeing your work in print. It’s self-serving, but having something tangible you can sit with, come back to, and physically share with someone – it only felt natural to do events and share a community with people who were supportive of print.
Our wildest dreams is taking over the old, rich, white male publishing world. Not even taking it over, but burning it down and shoving it out of the way and creating opportunities for anyone who isn’t given a platform. We have power in numbers: presented as a collective, it opens a lot more doors than working individually.
On starting zines when mainstream print media is dying:
Micah Pegues: Right now, the climate feels very positive in the space that I’m occupying. From a commercial standpoint, I don’t know what it’s like, but the community I’m building and the mission we’re sharing feels positive and warm. We can do whatever we want because it doesn’t feel like anything will knock us down. We’re not trying to be Condé Nast – we’re trying to do our own thing, so I don’t feel very attached to [mainstream publishing].
Mallory: I worked in art book publishing briefly, and I was blown away by how low book sales were. I didn’t know how it was possible to be profitable as a publisher. I went into [starting Ravenous Zine] knowing that. You need to have a fire inside of you, you need to have a fucking story to tell, you need to have a community you’re connecting with and a reason for existing. Maybe because of that, I didn’t have a great understanding of what my competition was, so to speak. I felt like I needed to make this specific magazine to give something out to the world. The great thing about our group is that we each do our thing really well and are driven to do our own thing well, so we’re not truly competing with each other. We’re all just trying to speak our voice, and helping each other out with little things. No one has a smaller piece of the pie. There’s a massive shift where people are understanding that just because other people have more a platform, it doesn’t mean you have less of a platform.
A big part of running a publication is giving other people a platform, and by doing so, also uplift us. If we apply the same model to the group, we’re only working with more and more inspiring people. A big part of the reason I started my magazine is because I know so many people in this city who are working so hard and hustling just to make their art. If we can band together to get those artists be able to create and be paid of their work, that would be a dream come true.
Krystie: Slant’d was created because we wanted to help people share their stories. We want to continue to do that, and that’s the reason we want to pivot into a becoming a media company. If we really want to spark cultural pride in who we are, we can’t do that with just print. We joke about that lone Asian kid in Arkansas who has no one, doesn’t see himself in media or has an Asian friend, so we hope he can find community just by reading something or looking at a piece of art in our magazine.
On creating meaningful content in the digital age:
Mallory: One of the things we all came here to discuss is that a lot of mainstream publications are folding, and how we’re existing in a space that’s not so friendly to upstart publications. Mainstream publications have more of a feeling of being fleeting – you run through them and they’re garbage. All our publications and other independent publications are more evergreen. I like the idea of having a collectible set of volumes that you can glean knowledge from, not a run-of-the-mill thing you just run through.
One of the things I’m happy to hear resonated with Ravenous is that it’s not just garbage. A lot of mainstream publications cover a lot of surface level shit we’re taught to talk to each other about. Emerging from a brutal personal period, it was important to me to connect to people on a personal level. For Ravenous Zine, I met this woman who had a few rough months she spent in a psych ward - she’s still emerging from that and trying to figure out what she can learn from it. She wrote a piece called “Journaling Through the Chaos” and how we can take immediate steps to take ourselves out of difficult places. That’s something that will always resonate with people. Finding elements in stories, really particular messages that resonate universally, is important to all of our publications. Stories that will matter in 10 years from now, not just hot button issues or gossip.
Taylor: We’re all in search of a truth, and that divides the nonsense that we’re fed and told to buy that’s very temporary.
“I’m a former writer and editor from the Philippines. Coming from a third-world country, going into independent publication feels like a very first-world luxury to me. Can the business model of independent publishing eventually be scaled into a sustainable business, or will it always be on a niche level?”
Taylor: By all coming together tonight, I think we’re all acknowledging the areas where we might have a luxury or an advantage. We all sit down and share where we’ve had opportunities or where we’ve been lucky.
Krystie: With Slant’d, we don’t want to be the only publication centered around Asian American identity. There’s a lot of power when you join forces with other magazines in the same niche as you. There’s been a huge groundswell with a lot of Asian American activists and celebrities speaking up in mainstream media. When you open the doors and there are 20 other magazines, podcasts, media companies [focusing on the same issues], you’ve hit critical mass. You have demanded the attention of mainstream media, and are asking them, “you have huge purchasing power – why aren’t you marketing to us, giving us the content we deserve?” You can only do that when you’ve found other people who are in the same niche as you, and believe in the same mission and values as you do.
Mindy: It depends on what you consider mainstream. If you start to investigate how they started their magazines and where they are now, we’re all totally poised to become “mainstream” – it just depends on our focus, our goals, luck, and a lot of hard work. Do you consider mainstream to just be publications from Condé Nast, or do you consider Fader and Rolling Stone mainstream too? There are a lot of models on becoming mainstream (like Buzzfeed, Refinery29, etc). We’re all paying attention to all of them. Being in a first-world country gives us so many opportunities, but nothing is road-mapped. We’re not all going to stay niche. Some of us will, because we want to or because of lack of resources, but some of us will break through. It’s a good question to ask ourselves today, because with the way media is moving forward, what is mainstream?