Make Shift – one week on

by Steve Watson in August 2011
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So it’s almost a week now since our magazine weekend. The emag version will be going up later today and the real paper version will be available from Southbank Centre from tomorrow, and it’s all starting to feel a bit like a distant memory. Lots of things occurred to me while we were making the magazine, so I wanted to put a few of them down in writing before it’s all gone out of my head.

Bottoms up
First of all, this sounds obvious, but I hadn’t really appreciated beforehand how the whole approach to making a magazine would be so different – literally the opposite to what I’m used to.

Normally when you’re making a magazine you work out what you want to say, then you go out and find the people to say it for you. You generally only use people whose work you know, so there isn’t a great deal of surprise in the whole process.

At the weekend we did things very differently. I had almost no idea of who would turn up to take part, and the first thing we had to do was work out what we wanted to include in there. If magazines are normally top-down, this felt like a much more bottom-up way of doing things. At least it felt like that to me – I’d be interested to know how that chimes with everyone else’s experience.

Mistakes are good
Related to that, it’s interesting that some of my favourite bits in the magazine came about through mistakes or misunderstandings. For example we put a challenge on the wall asking people to crowd-source an alphabet of Southbank Centre. We were hoping that people would go away and come back with something like ‘F is for fox’, which we could then photograph and put in the magazine.

Actually that did happen, but then in the middle of Saturday afternoon two girls came over and showed us a set of photographs they’d taken of objects around Southbank Centre that looked like letters of the alphabet. They’d managed to get around 23 of the 26, and they were completely brilliant – not what we’d asked for at all, but way better than what we’d had in mind.

Similarly, two of our photographers spent literally all day on Saturday outside, taking pictures of people aged from 0-60 years old. After eight hours of work they’d managed to get one person for every year, except for 56, and they were grudgingly persuaded to call it a day. As a consolation we photographed one of them holding the dog-eared sign he’d been holding up, with ‘Are you 56?’ scrawled across it, and the picture is now in the spread. They were genuinely deflated at the time, but it makes me love the spread even more than I would have if it was perfect, because it means the reader can see just a bit of the work that went into making the magazine.

We were on display for the entire weekend, working from our open ‘news room’, but it’s in these little imperfections that the people who made the magazine can really be seen.

Sunday, bloody Sunday
Another thing that should really have been obvious is that there were three very distinct sections to the weekend. There was the stage where we all came together on the Friday night, met each other, assigned stories and generally started to get an idea of what the magazine was going to be. The Saturday was all about gathering content – doing interviews, meeting people, taking pictures, even working out a name for the magazine. Then the Sunday was about writing and editing, designing pages and actually putting Make Shift together.

We had an idea that would be the case, but I didn’t realise just how different each of the days would be. Saturday was great for people dropping in and helping out because there was loads to do, but by Sunday it was really a case of working with what we already had. I spent almost the entire day with my head in my laptop working on copy, which meant that some of the people who arrived hoping to help had to go away without having done anything. I wish I’d realised that in advance and made sure everyone understood roughly what would be needed and when.

Power of print
Finally, the power of the print magazine was really clear to see. Lots of people asked how they could see the magazine, and while they were relatively interested in the idea of an online magazine, it was the free print magazine that they got really excited about. Around half the people I spoke to said they’d be coming back to pick one up, even though they’d be able to see it online.

Tomorrow morning I’m going back to Southbank Centre to meet up with the team again and look through the magazine, and I know that I’m hugely excited to see the ‘real’ thing in print. No surprise to read an argument for the power of print on this blog, but it was really striking that almost everyone responded the same way – it was a reminder that you don’t need to think of yourself as a magazine lover to find some strange attraction in print.

Where next?
That’s it. Thanks again to everyone who took part in the weekend, either as one of our writers, photographers, designers or illustrators, or as somebody who just happened to be passing through Southbank Centre and got involved in the project. Now the only question is where we’re going to do it next. If you know somebody who wants a magazine making in an uncomfortably short amount of time, drop me a line.

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