Exploring issue one of Ernest

by Steve Watson in June 2014
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A few weeks ago I posted about the Kickstarter campaign for Ernest, a new magazine of modern adventures that grew out of a popular website of the same name. Then last week the first printed issue landed on my desk and took me completely by surprise.

I’d expected spare minimalism and sophisticated calm but it’s absolutely packed with information and ideas, and bursting with unbridled enthusiasm. Intrigued, I contacted editor Jo Keeling to find out more.

Ernest magazine

Thanks again for sending me the magazine – it’s actually not at all what I was expecting.
What were you expecting?

Well it might be because you’re from Bristol, so I was thinking of Cereal and Another Escape and their very minimalist, very spare design… but Ernest is absolutely packed!
We wanted to make a magazine that’s practical. We had the William Morris quote very much in our minds; “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” It’s important to us that features are practical or useful and either inspire action in readers or furnish them with tasty facts.

We’re aiming at the 25 to 45 age bracket, and I think a lot of those people have a real joy of knowledge. When I was on Countryfile magazine we used to call it ‘pub quiz fodder’ – the sort of facts you can reel off to your friends. That’s kind of the root of Ernest; as we say in the introduction, that almost Victorian passion for learning and adventure is at the heart of where the team’s coming from.

But you’re right, we’ve packed it. We got a pre-print mock up and we were looking at it and going, ‘okay, we really should slow this down!’ But we’re just very enthusiastic about it. And it only comes out every six months, and when you’re making an independent magazine and you’re asking people to pay upwards of £10 for it, you want them to feel that value – it’s literally our minds condensed into print.

Ernest magazine

There’s also a very distinct tone – a lot of the writing is very conversational, with the writer asking rhetorical questions of the reader. You talk about condensing your brain – it feels like this must be you in there.
I’ve been working in magazines for 10 years and so has Tina [Smith, art editor], and we’re now in a position where we can finally make our own magazine, so finding out own voice is very important.

We work with writers but we’re also keen to work with people who don’t write, because when you’re a journalist you can churn out features on anything, and that’s a real skill, but it’s really interesting to look outside that. So maybe you find an adventurer who wants to write something, or a glass etcher, and you find that these people are creative and have a lot of things they want to say.

They have a wealth of information and a really interesting way of putting it that’s not clichéd in any way. We’d like each feature to come across in that very individual way, and we’re really enjoying exploring this idea of slow journalism, giving each feature the time and space it needs.

Ernest magazine

When I think of slow journalism I think of Delayed Gratification and their idea of making a virtue of the slowness of print and looking back and reflecting on the news. How does your form of slow journalism fit with that?
It’s an interesting question because I don’t think there’s one definition of slow journalism. For Delayed Gratification it’s very much based on how to tell a news story, whereas we see it more as the storytelling side of things and how you get the best out of people when you’re putting a story together over six months. For example with the sea monsters feature we introduced the writer and the illustrator and gave them three months to knock ideas back and forth, rather than just getting somebody to write something and then sending it off to an illustrator to draw something.

I’ve also personally slowed down – I started on a weekly newspaper in India, then I went onto monthly magazines, then onto bimonthly and now biannual. So it’s a real slowing down and being thoughtful about how you create stuff.

I’m interested in how this all fits with the digital side of what you do. Because of course Ernest started on the web, and you now have the print version and the iPad app too. How do they all fit together?
It’s a bit of an experiment really. Previously when I’ve worked on bigger magazines there’s been a feeling of everyone focusing on making the print product, but feeling the need to keep up with technology. So there’s a rush to get the printed product onto the iPad, and keep up with blogging and all of that.

In a way I found that exciting because I like to do everything, but at the same time I always found it fundamentally disappointing to see a print magazine put onto an iPad as a page turner, just because there was no time to stop and think about how the content might work best on the iPad.

We wanted to make the content fit for purpose, and make sure it works well in each of the formats it’s in. That’s why we tell shorter stories on the blog, and we tell them in a more interactive way on the iPad, so for example we have specially commissioned maps that you can navigate around and zoom into. It’s very different because we’re aiming it at different people; people reading on the iPad might have just a few minutes on the tube on the way to work, so it’s less of a leisurely read. And then the print edition is deliberately made in a format that’s designed to be used, so it’s satchel-sized, it’s laminated, it’s there to be battered and bent and taken on camping trips.

Our plan is to take the best of the blog and move it through to the iPad, and then take the best of the iPad and move it through to print. So the print edition will be about 50% best of the iPad, and 50% fresh content, and that’s something I need to get better at communicating, because I think people assume it’s all the same thing.

But we’re keen to let things evolve, and for example we’re finding that the print is going down much better than the iPad at the moment, which is probably because there has been this great enthusiasm off the back of the Kickstarter. But as I say it’s an experiment and we’re going to keep an eye on it and we’ll figure out which areas we want to put more time and money into as we go.


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