A couple of weeks ago I wrote my last editorial for Vida, a magazine I set up in June 2009 and published first in January 2010. Those 30 months were one heck of a roller coaster ride in which I learned a lot from every person I came in contact with.
Vida was an ambitious project by any standard, and the only reason I felt I could leave it peacefully because I had accomplished what I had originally set out to achieve. The brief from my employers in the very beginning seemed simple enough: to create a medium which can be accessed by everyone in the country. 162,000 copies were to be distributed for free to every household monthly – but getting it through the letterbox was the easy bit. We had to make people pick it up, read it and engage. We wanted readers to love it and look forward to the next issue. We had to transcend the (virtual) barriers of age, education, social standing, religion and politics.
In the first year I met a lot of people who told me they thought we were doing a good job. I was always happy to hear praise for the publication, however I always had my doubts about it since all the kind words were coming directly to me. People tend to be too nice that way, and there were issues I could have pointed out myself that few ever commented about.
I was creating a product with which I also had to attract people who do not buy (or read) magazines usually, people I had so very little in common with. Truth be told, by the end of it I was creating a magazine that I wouldn’t have picked up myself. A magazine that even had to captivate the portion of the nation which is usually glued to the TV. This was the hard part.
There is much more to it than choosing the right variety of subject matter. You need to write in a language that will not be missed by casual readers but at the same time it had to be one that would not alienate people who wished to dig deeper.
In the six months I spent researching before coming out with the first issue I looked at a lot of the more popular magazines out there and analysed what made readers tick. I also tried to imagine what kind of reader would most likely pick our magazine up and did my very best to create a setup that would cater for the main groups of readers we would most likely have.
We did it without selling our souls though, and together with my colleagues I made a promise not to “buy” attention by going down one of the two easy routes. We committed ourselves to avoiding stories which were sensational for the sake of it, and to never cover gossip stories about personalities or celebrities.
Did we really make it interesting? We found out in December that year. We printed the first twelve issues of Vida in Italy because there wasn’t a web-offset printer set up in Malta at the time. December 2010 was the month in which most of Europe froze over, our truck missed the collection of the magazine by a day, which in turn meant we missed the next ship to Malta and received the magazine a week late. We could not handle the phone calls we received that week. People from all over the island were calling us to ask why they had not received Vida. Sometimes you just need a mini-tragedy to realise what a good thing you have going on.
A year later I wrote my farewell editorial. It might seem strange to many that I left my post so quickly, however there were a lot of personal reasons to do so. First of all I had always worked in publishing and it was time for a change. I am now working in marketing with GFI (a US software company).
The number of things I have learned in the past six months has been mind-boggling. I am working in a job where I have quite a few amazing people to look up to for directions, which means I can learn much more in the long run. Working at Vida for the foreseeable future would have been the easy option, but it would have meant that I would eventually get stuck in a rut – something I want to avoid at all costs. In publishing I didn’t have a boss, I learnt everything by trial and error and had no one to refer to when I had a dilemma.
Saying bye is never easy, and the fact that I was leaving something I created from scratch made it even harder, however now I am in a situation where I earn my keep working in a job where I have so much to learn and I can further develop myself in while writing and photographing whatever I feel like in my spare time. I can’t complain.
P.S. I wish the new (acting) editor, Sarah Micallef, the best of luck – Vida is lucky to have such a formidable person replacing me.
(#2 of 366 X 2012 project)