Skip to content
Joanna Cummings, Grub Street Journal
At work with

Joanna Cummings, Grub Street Journal

Last year, The Grub Street Journal, a new magazine about magazine-making was launched. Dedicated to the ups and downs of publishing, the quarterly offers advice and inspiration for anyone interested in or involved in magazines.

Freelance writer Joanna Cummings is editorial director and co-founder of The Grub Street Journal, working with partner Peter Houston. She tells us about the challenge of self publishing as issue four goes on sale, and their live event Magazine Mayday takes place.

What are you doing this morning?
This pathetic Spring morning, I’m sitting at my desk, trying to rub some warmth into my very cold thighs. I’ve had my initial coffee/vape combo, I’ve filled in my nerdily highlighted to-do list, and I’m about to start putting together social media posts for Grub Street.

Mondays are busy, crazy-juggling days for me—I’ll do work for Grub, send some emails for the Publisher Podcast Awards, ping over my outline for this week’s Mensa newsletter article (the lesser-known origins of popular music genres), save some articles for my next FIPP DEI tracker, and need to finish my reading for the Journalism and Innovation MA I’m doing at UCLan.

Describe your work environment—what can you see from your desk/ through the window?
We’ve recently had a garden office built, because we’re swanky (but also because I was fed up with doing all my work hunched over our coffee table). Peter Houston and I work in there together—back-to-back because his face distracts me—looking out over our garden. If we’re lucky, we see some sunshine, and birds flitting over the hedges. If we’re less lucky, we see one of the cats massacring said birds in the middle of the lawn.


Which magazine do you first remember?
Smash Hits. I was nine years old, and my dad would walk me down to the newsagent to collect each and every issue. I loved the music content, of course, but I was absolutely hooked on the wry tone and absolute daftness of some of the articles. It was such a good era. It has definitely inspired some of the writing I do for Grub Street—we even had ‘Oh No, Not the Biscuit Tin!’ with ex-Tortoise Editor Liz Moseley—and for my newsletter, The Pocket Polymath! I love to let that daft voice run riot…



Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
That’s a tough call. At the moment we’re both a bit obsessed with The Papera massive, hilarious, no-holds-barred publication from Wales. Peter wrote a love letter to it in issue four. Standout articles include ‘Wales’ Biggest Head’, ‘An interview with Britain’s Most Dangerous Pensioner’, and the cringingly timely ‘Cut Out and Keep Huw Edwards’. They just do whatever the hell they want, and the result is glorious.


Describe The Grub Street Journal in three words
Honest, sarcastic, optimistic


Tell us about the name of the magazine—what is/was Grub Street?
Back in the 18th century, The Grub Street Journal was a satirical journal that made fun of the hacks working in the London home of journalism, Grub Street. These days, we're taking a similarly sideways look at the business of magazine publishing—it’s just an indie print publication this time around.



Highlight one story from the current issue that sums up the magazine and its mission
It has to be our ‘Magazine Monkeys’ series. Each issue we’ve asked a different question: Are designers just colouring-in monkeys? Are editors just typing monkeys? Are salespeople just money monkeys? And this issue, are social media managers just hashtag monkeys?



It’s important for two reasons: one, it tells people the truth about roles in the magazine industry—so many of us don’t appreciate how hard other people’s jobs are—and two, it unleashes Peter from his (admittedly minimal) restraints. He becomes his most authentic, sweary and sarcastic self, and I love it. It’s Grub in its purest form. And of course we have a mini interview with magCulture’s own Danielle, because we want to hear more from the people who really know their shit!


GSJ digs out plenty of positive news about print publishing. Is that positivity hard to maintain sometimes?
We might consider ourselves ‘brutally honest’ when it comes to the industry, but that’s because we love it so much and we want to help keep it afloat. So we still get excited about new launches, cool developments—and crucially, the people who show up day in, day out to keep magazines going. So no, it’s not hard to stay positive… We just believe that we should all be realistic too, about how messed up the magazine industry is.

You’ve been involved in various aspects of media commentary over the years; what has publishing your own mag taught you?
It’s taught us—or maybe reminded us—how tough it is to do with only two people. I’ve worked on various newsstand and B2B magazines, and however much the teams might be shrinking these days, there are still other people at your back, helping you make it happen. This is nowhere more apparent than in marketing; as two editorial people we can be super squeamish about promotion, but obviously it’s essential if we’re going to sell the thing.

More positively, it’s been a nice reminder that B2B doesn’t have to be boring – we cover a lot, but it’s been excellent to hear that we’ve made our readers snort with laughter as well as made them think.

What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
Our first ever live event! It’s called Magazine Mayday, it’s on May 1 (get it?), and we have Terri White, The Big Issue and some very cool indie and B2B publishers as our special guests. We basically wanted to get magazine people together, in a quirky pub (The Snow Goose in Macclesfield), to chat about WTF is happening with magazines and how we carry on surviving and thriving.

We’re doing it in the North as two fingers up to all the events happening in London (soz, magCulture Live!)—there are so many brilliant journos and mag people up here! And we’re buying everyone a pint.


Buy your copy from the magCulture Shop

Grub Street Journal #4

Sorry, not enough stock!
Previous post Rubbish FAMzine #12
Next post Fran Méndez, Anima