This Saturday (11 August) sees a special issue of The Guardian newspaper’s Weekend magazine, created in collaboration with the editorial team of gal-dem, the magazine produced by and for women of colour.
The project arose out of a joint desire to improve media access to women of colour; Weekend deputy editor Ruth Lewy wanted to work with gal-dem (several writers already write for both magazines) but the suggestion of a full takeover of Weekend seemed almost a joke at first, gal-dem founder Liv Little told me. ‘But we ended up working together for several months, and it turned out to be a great experience.’
There were already people of colour writing for Weekend, and they and Liv’s team pitched ideas for the special issue, a magazine that built on gal-dem’s existing network of writers, photographers and illustrators.
‘We all put ideas to the editors and the result is a mix of their writers and ours,’ says Little. ‘It was a genuine collaboration,’ Weekend editor Melissa Denes confirmed, ‘the gal-dem team developed ideas but also worked on headlines, pull-quotes and SEO, everything that needed doing.’
Regular readers will find the issue a familiar sight at one level, with all the same sections and franchises. The key difference being that all writers, photographers, illustrators and subjects are people of colour. To flick through the pages is a stark reminder that we are simply not used to seeing non-white faces in mainstream magazines, even one attached to The Guardian. While the typography and layout remains the same as usual, the faces and skin tones are anything but.
All regular columns and sections are reassigned, the usual contributors all keen to help the project, ‘Even our crossword compiler sought out an appropriate replacement,’ Denes says.
Both teams learned a lot. ‘We got to see how a large magazine works, the benefits of that type of infrastructure,’ says Little (something that Denes laughs at when I repeat it to her; having only just got internal permission to launch a Weekend Instagram feed, she sees the other side to that big infrastructure).
And The Guardian? ‘Working weekly you develop habits and it was great to be forced to think out of the box,’ says Dene. ‘It was a revelation; we had to re-think commissioning on every level. It was a reminder not to go with the obvious. There have been hundreds of piece on Beyoncé, but our one brings something completely different, written by a woman of colour.’
With gal-dem looking to attract financial investment in their own channels, the collaboration is timely. But what of other long-term benefits? Is Little worried the one-off might remain just that, a token effort?
‘I have to be optimistic. I hope it signals a longer-term shift in media representation, it’s been a really good relationship so far and we’ve remained in touch with The Guardian team since the issue was finished.’ Denes hopes the lesson not to just go with what you know will be remembered. ‘ There are definitely people in the issue we’ll use again.’
It’s a great project for the obvious reason of being more inclusive; publishing remains very white as an industry and its time more senior roles were shared out. This must be step in the right direction in that respect. But it’s also fascinating to see a major, mainstream publisher turn to a small and relatively new start-up project for inspiration.
More indie-mainstream collaborations please!
Editors: Melissa Denes, Ruth Lewy (The Guardian), Liv Litttle, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (gal-dem)
Art director: Maggie Murphy (The Guardian)
The next print issue of gal-dem will be published on 29 September.