At work with: Ro Jackson, Slowe

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As the football frenzy continues building up to the Women’s World Cup final this weekend, we spend Monday morning with Ro Jackson, the founder of Slowe – an online platform for creatively engaging women’s sports coverage.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
I do consulting and art direction work alongside Slowe, but I always try to preserve Mondays as a Slowe day working from home. I occasionally work from other spaces, like The Ministry in Borough to see some other human beings, but to avoid time commuting and because weekends often involve work – going to matches or hosting events – I like to ease in to the week and not be rushing around.

I’ll do some emails in bed first thing with a coffee, then I’ll take my dog Remi for a good walk and get some essential fresh air. Music is integral to my mood so I listen to some tunes to get me in a good Monday mood.

Then it’s getting stuck in at my desk with my phone on flight mode for as long as possible so as not to get distracted! Remi always chills under the desk by my feet, and she reminds me to get up and move so we have a garden break every couple of hours.

Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office
If I’m running around all week to meetings or events my desk can become a bit hectic, but if I’m properly working from home I always have to give it a good tidy first – I can’t work in mess! I need a big empty space. I’ve recently moved further east, so the view from my desk window is lovely and sunny today and very quiet. I always have a podcast on in the background though I’m not sure how much of it I actually take in…

Which magazine do you first remember?
The earliest was probably Elle or Vogue, picked up in a hairdressing salon waiting for my mum – I actually remember that moment so clearly! I was pretty obsessed growing up with glossy fashion mags, I grew a huge collection over about a decade. At the time there weren’t many innovative or super creative ones widely available, whereas now the choice is so huge that I’d be unlikely to pick one of those up.

Saying that, Elle has got an absolutely amazing cover full of female athletes this month, so I’ve ended up with three copies to get all versions! I always thought that my magazine obsession was because I was into fashion, but when I discovered what graphic design was it all made a lot more sense – I think I was actually way more interested in the magazine format and just had no idea that that was a thing or career until much later on.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
Ah, so many. I love Racquet – I feel like they were one of the first doing super interesting things in sports publishing. As a tennis fan as of only the past few years I’ve been learning a lot about some of the culture I missed out on. Postscript are producing something really thoughtful; I love their newspaper style and critical thinking.

I’ve got a big soft spot for Shukyu, it’s really cool to see football and sports culture from other cultures, and they’ve just released a delightful ‘female’ issue. And finally The Domestique because their passion for independent publishing is infectious, and they’re early in their journey so it’s lovely to see how each issue grows and takes shape from the one before it. Their focus on the ‘everyday’ athlete is a refreshing change from the more serious, pro-athlete focussed publications.

Tell us about why you started Slowe, and the journey to where it is now?
I was struggling to find women’s sports coverage for literally years. One day I thought, this is never going to change so I’m going to have to make what I want to see. I was fed up of complaining about it and needed to turn my frustration into action. So Slowe was born! Slowe aims to address the gender imbalance in sports coverage through the core belief that women’s sport is just sport.

I originally envisioned it as a print magazine, but I needed to make something immediately before I could get into print – so it started life as a newsletter called Across The Net that I would send out weekly[ish!], rounding up coverage from all over the internet. I had intended to come back to the print idea, but the barriers are quite high and I was so keen for as many women as possible to access what we were making, so digital made more sense.

The channels we’ve grown into include an online site that I see as reflecting a magazine style with in-depth interviews and photo essays; I host a monthly radio show on Foundation FM focussed on a different sport each time; we do weekly round-ups on Instagram to keep people up-to-date on women’s sport; and this year we’re planning to finally make the print issue happen! It’ll be a one-off issue looking at the future of women’s sport, so I’m really excited to see some of the stories I’ve been desperate to make happen in print.

Where does the name come from?
Slowe was named after an athlete, Lucy Diggs Slowe, who was the first African American woman to win a major sports title in the US in 1917. Of course at this time tennis was something she did on the side – she had a hugely successful career in education too. I thought it was interesting that Lucy still represented the struggles of many female athletes today, working alongside their athletic pursuits. As I started Slowe in 2017 I thought this was a nice way to pay homage to Lucy, and I also liked the tongue in cheek aspect that women are always considered slower in sport.

Can you describe Slowe in three words?
I would say resilient, fluid, graft.

Give us an example of a Slowe story that best represents how you seek to redress the gender balance of sports coverage.
When we started interviewing athletes, they were so keen to have the images we took as soon as possible. We’d hear that they never had photos taken of them, especially not ones that they liked the framing of, and I then realised that as much as we were building Slowe for fans of women’s sport, we were doing it for the athletes too – we could really offer them something that male athletes had in abundance.

It’s an exciting summer for women’s sport: the Women’s World Cup seems to have broken through to a mainstream audience. Does this help other sports, and what does that mean for magazines?
It’s so exciting. I think the audience has always been there, and finally traditional broadcasters and media are serving them better. But there’s so much in women’s sport still to explore, and we’re shaping that culture as fans and collectives as we go.

I recently saw Nelly Ben Hayoun speak and she quoted Hannah Arendt on thinking by action – to DO something to think it through, not keep it in your head, and that action is a form of activism. That really resonated with me, and I think that women’s football is only where it is because of the actions of a lot of people, so the same will be true for other sports. If people at the grassroots level come together, organise, make, share, that will only encourage and grow their sport.

What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
Well it’s the World Cup semi-finals this week and the final on Sunday so it’s going to be hectic! I’m also going to be attending the MagCulture x Racquet event, and we might be collaborating with them on something on Sunday too, so there’s lots of fun tennis stuff happening this week too.

What are you doing after this chat?
After this I’m sadly tackling emails – the world cup has not been kind to my inbox. Later I’ll be catching up with Trisha Lewis who runs Romance FC and Dom Prosser from Bad Sports to check in on our screening plans for the week and make sure we’re all set for the final party!

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