At work with: Lucy Purdy, Positive News

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This Monday we explore the world of constructive journalism with Postive News editor, Lucy Purdy. With the April-June issue fresh off the press, Lucy tells us how reader support and running home from work gets her through the deadlines.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
Tea is always the priority for me first thing. In the spring and summer, I might drink it while checking for action in my back garden veg patch. I’m a country girl at heart and growing herbs and vegetables helps me stay calm in buzzy London. I’m a compost obsessive too – zealous about saving our office coffee grounds and banana skins for my beloved heap.

I get the tube from north London to our office in Victoria, usually with a book in hand. It’s interesting to notice the expressions of commuters reading the morning papers: it could be the crammed carriages, of course, but they rarely look joyful. It reminds me of the need for Positive News to counteract the negativity bias in the press. We want to inspire and empower readers instead.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
At the beginning of the magazine production cycle, my desk starts off pristine: books, mags and notebooks neatly stacked, and it gets more apocalyptic the closer I get to deadline. Post upload, I need to be dug out of the piles of marked-up proofs. I’m an in-house editorial team of one, but I work with amazing freelance designers, journalists, photographers, illustrators and proofers, so it feels like a lovely team effort too.

We rent a spare office from a charity. It’s very small but there’s just enough natural light, plants and posters to keep us sane. Outside is a children’s playground, and Westminster Cathedral is close by. We ran a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2015 and to celebrate reaching our target, a talented former colleague made a knitted Yoda, which sits proudly on our shelves. There’s also a toy dinosaur and cow lurking in a plant pot on the windowsill. No one can remember why.

Which magazine do you first remember?
Smash Hits, Mizz, Sugar, and my dad read Craft magazine. On my 12th birthday my parents subscribed me to National Geographic. It was a new world of amazing photography and meaningful stories. My first ever front page was about a national shortage of conkers for our class newspaper at primary school. The 12-year-old me would have been so chuffed to know I’d be a magazine editor one day. I thought only posh men or well-groomed women from the home counties did those sorts of jobs, not muddy-kneed Shropshire tomboys.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I’m a keen runner and so I’m enjoying Like the Wind magazine. I like their lush illustrations and how they capture the beauty, pain and joy of running through a mix of formats: from reportage to personal anecdotes. I ran the Loch Ness marathon in September and I’m doing the Great Welsh this weekend. Training has coincided with deadline, so it’s been patchy to say the least. I’m hoping that a supply of jelly babies and the prospect of a holiday with my boyfriend afterwards will help me through the wall.

Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Inspiring, accessible and beautiful.

What effect has the change from free newspaper to paid-for magazine format had on the publication?
We’ve had a brilliant response. The publication’s been going for 25 years and not everyone loved the shift to magazine format with a cover price in 2016. But we needed to make the business sustainable and wanted to reach more people. We’ve picked up a whole new tribe of readers who are enthusiastic about the content and design alike.

We doubled our income from subscriptions last year compared to the previous year; we’re now stocked in WHSmith which has helped boost visibility; and we’ve begun expanding distribution to the US, Australia and elsewhere this year.

How have you responded to the weakening of ‘News’ as a subject since the arrival of Fake News?
There’s definitely mistrust of journalism out there today, but we think our approach is part of the solution. We publish rigorous, independent reporting on solutions – this isn’t feel-good content that ignores the state of the world, but what we call ‘constructive journalism’. And because we’re structured as a co-operative, owned by readers, we’re duty-bound to work in the public interest. People-backed media intuitively feels like the way forward: and our aim is to investigate how we might create a more thriving society, rather than churn profit for some aloof media mogul. Any profit we make is reinvested in our journalism.

The ethos behind Positive News is clear; can you give us a definitive story from a recent issue that sums up the magazine’s stance?
I wrote a feature headlined ‘Deadly weapon detectives’, about the investigators who run the world’s most comprehensive database to track the illegal flow of arms into conflict zones by groups like Islamic State and Boko Haram. The global illegal arms trade is so complex, murky and seemingly unsolvable; the kind of subject I’ve only ever read overwhelmingly negative stories about. So it was fascinating to uncover what’s being done to try and tackle the problem – in this case, a combination of new technology with meticulous on-the-ground investigation. It was a really interesting, gritty, global feature to write.

What are you worrying about at work this week?
That I haven’t got enough commissioned before I take some time off. Though we’re quarterly in print, we publish daily online too and the publishing cycle sometimes feels relentless with such a small team. I’m proud that we punch above our weight though, and glad to be working hard in a tiny team on a magazine that I’m passionate about, rather than doing something comfortable but dull. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best jobs in journalism.

What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
Our new issue hits newsstands and subscribers’ doormats this week, and I’m loving reading people’s responses to it on social media. One man tweeted: “Swapped the negativity of the tabloids for this. Well worth a read. It’s exactly what it says it is. Packed with positive stories that get overlooked in today’s papers.” Another subscriber tweeted that his “quarterly delivery of smiles” had arrived. Those sorts of comments more than make up for being knackered on deadline week.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Running home. I start along the Thames, plunge headfirst into a sea of commuters in Farringdon, then plough on towards King’s Cross, Camden and beyond. It’s a fun way to see (and smell) London and clear my head after work. Some of my best ideas appear while I’m running.

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Twitter:  Lucy Purdy @Loosepea @PositiveNewsUK

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