“Smith Journal was really conceived as a place to kind of pull out stories that get lost between the internet and other print media or don’t get the attention they deserve, so it could be an old dude building boats or it could be a robot worker, or something like that. But it’s really our goal to be able to showcase these stories in a way that resonates not just for a week or a month but for a long time, so you could pick up Smith in five years time and the story could still speak to you.”
To describe Smith Journal as a Men’s Magazine conjures entirely the wrong image. The Frankie Press quarterly “aimed at men and read by interested folk,” is a men’s title where I use not a hint of irony to say its readership buys it for the articles – an eclectic mix of writing and interviews on everything from typography, history and science to design and photography.
Its editor is Nadia Saccardo – a female editor just another way in which the title sets itself apart from the men’s mag category. (Though when I question Saccardo on this aspect she says, “Yeah I need to think up a better answer to this. To be honest, I don’t think about it that much, and I probably should, I get asked that question all the time, but I am just interested in stuff that Smith is interested in as a publication.”)
Saccardo had an unusual path to her current position. Though her first major editorial role was for Right Angle Studio who publish The Thousands, her publishing career started much further afield, in Thailand. “I went over there after uni and got a job at the Bangkok Post newspaper which is one of two English speaking newspapers in Thailand. My aunt was living there at the time and I also felt like publishing in Australia was so competitive and I didn’t really have anything to offer that would make me stand out.”
What was the English language publishing scene in Thailand like? “It’s pretty hit and miss,” she laughs, “but it was a great place to get a start because if I’m honest, my writing was pretty crap and I got to really test myself and make mistakes in a way that wasn’t that obvious and it was a really supportive environment too.”
On her return, Saccardo contacted The Thousands, “because I really liked what they were trying to do,” and worked for five years in editorial roles. I ask Saccardo how she felt transitioning from a publication as adept at the online space as the Thousands to a quarterly print publication that has a noted emphasis on slowing down the pace. Does she feel the medium makes a difference at all?
“Yeah it does, I do think you have to think about the story a different way and really work harder to find a unique angle and to find unique voices and craft a fuller narrative. When I was working online I would rely a lot on linking out to cool places that would add a bit of humour or another perspective instead of trying to put that into the story myself, but you can’t lean on that stuff in print. That is not to say that writing well online is easy, it’s not at all, it’s just that you have to think about the story in a different way.”
Saccardo is appearing at NYWF this weekend in an event on the importance of design in publications, and Smith certainly has a distinct aesthetic – featuring single objects on a blank page, elevating them almost to portraiture.
“We do think that focusing on an object that you walk past everyday or that you use everyday and really kind of pulling out its story and its grittiness, that’s the real charm of Smith. It’s about stopping and looking and really noticing the object, appreciating it even if it is a really simple everyday thing, and kind of championing that.”
“We’re really conscious of having photos that have a stillness and a power to them, then contrasting those to busier shots, but never getting too flashy or crazy colourful or over the top. Just letting each image breathe.”
Smith is published by the same company as Frankie, which does have a male readership itself. I ask Saccardo how she sees the sibling publications as differing, and how she tried to set the publication apart – something she says happens at the level of design too. “Frankie has always been a mag that was aimed at women, and I think you can say Frankie has a pretty feminine aesthetic in terms of its colour palette, and design and image choices in particular.”
“Smith is really concerned with craftsmanship in a really practical way a lot of the time, so it’s how you make something as a business and make it work as opposed to a more hobbyist or craft angle which I do think sets our mags apart – they’re just two different points of interest. I’m not saying that because something is crafty or if you do it for a hobby it’s less important, but it’s just less interesting to our readership.”
Though Saccardo notes a difference in tone too – Frankie more opinionated while Smith is more pared back: “our writers don’t put themselves in the mag, we interview a lot of people who are quite opinionated and quite prominent, but it’s their opinion coming through not our writers’ opinions.” Given this, I ask how open Smith is to commissioning new writers, given Frankie’s particular emphasis on a particular stable of columnists and publishing the same voices each issue.
“I think every mag editor will say this, when you’re in your deadline cycle and you’ve got your best writers and you know that they’ll deliver, it’s hard to take risks on people unless you’re sure of them hitting the deadline and hitting the tone and just nailing it. But we are really trying to push ourselves and our team to be open to new writers and new voices and to showcase those.”
“We get so many pitches and we read through every one of them, I’m not just saying that to sound like a hero, we really do, because we want to find new writers and we want to publish their work. This next issue that we’re working on, vol 9, has a lot of new writers which I’m really exited about. So it is something that is front of mind for us, to keep things fresh in that sense.”
When I ask Saccardo for advice she might give to young writers wanting to work in print or editing, she tells me, “Definitely starting a blog and just writing as much as you can, writing everyday. If they want to be an editor, do a proofreading / copyediting course – I did an awesome one recently just as a refresher at RMIT and I loved it. I think try to get in contact with people you admire, pitch as many stories as you can, just really go for it.”
“It’s so hard to cut through, but I really think if you’re up for anything, don’t let your ego get in the way and just try and be a sponge, people will see that and respond to that and try to give you opportunities.”
“It’s hard. It’s really hard. I don’t even know how I got here sometimes.”
— This interview is cross-posted from the National Young Writers’ Festival