Journals reimagined: Ireland’s alternative media
From the firmly established satirical website Waterford Whispers News to the new literary journal Banshee, Ireland’s new generation of alternative publications are making an impact by offering something different
Lois Kapila of the Dublin Inquirer. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
District: a big focus on electronic music and alternative culture rather than on news
Colm Williamson of Waterford Whispers News at Tramore, Co Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne
Barack Obama on Waterford Whispers News
Banshee: “A mix of short stories, flash fiction, essays and poetry . . . quality contemporary work that has a literary slant.”
Dublin Inquirer: ‘Our goals are really modest’
Lois Kapila, Eddie Wilson and Cónal Thomas are sitting at a kitchen table in the little room in Kilmainham, just to the west of Dublin city centre, that is the headquarters of Dublin Inquirer, their reimagined local newspaper. Kapila edits it, Wilson handles advertising and Thomas is a reporter.
One of their red American-style newspaper vending machines sits in a corner; a poster nearby declares “Tu Capacidad Es Tu Comunidad” – “Your Capacity Is Your Community”.
Dublin Inquirer is almost a year old. Recently it has covered, among other topics, the impact of Airbnb on the city’s rental market, ongoing issues with the funding of the DublinBikes bicycle-rental scheme, and planning and development in its part of the capital.
Its website includes short podcasts on modular housing, Ethiopian food in Dublin, the film Sing Street and the stained glass in Grogan’s pub.
“Everyone argues about how to build a sustainable local-media model, and what works in one place won’t work in another,” says Kapila. “But the idea of chasing more and more hits for a local publication, I just don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think you can build on traffic that will bring in the ad revenue that you need to do it, if you’re going to do original reportage . . .
“You have to have diverse revenue streams, and at some stage you’ve really got to ask your readers to pay for it.
“If you want to be a local publication you’re going to be covering in part some issues that aren’t going to be interesting to millions of people. But they’re still important to people in Kilmainham or people in Smithfield.”
Kapila, who is from Britain, borrowed money from family to set up Dublin Inquirer. The idea was to start online, build a readership, and then start asking those readers for support. That’s where they stand now, with two print editions published and posted to subscribers’ homes, or distributed for sale in a growing number of cafes and shops.
Kapila takes a salary of a couple of hundred euro a month. (“Everyone but Lois gets paid,” says Wilson.)
After taking a master’s degree in American literature Thomas was “working in a s*** job in a supermarket”. He wrote a piece for Dublin Inquirer last September, then got the job of city reporter in January. He and his fellow reporter Louisa McGrath try to do three stories a week each.
“We’re just going to keep going as long as we can,” Kapila says. “We’re moving in the right direction. Since we launched the print edition we’re in a way better position than we were two months ago, having money coming in.
“As long as the subscriptions keep climbing I think we’ll get there. Again, our goals are really, really modest.”
Banshee: ‘Accessible contemporary work that’s beautifully written’
Laura Jane Cassidy is a founder and editor of Banshee, alongside Claire Hennessy and Eimear Ryan. The first issue of their literary journal came out last September, after they were inspired by the wave of Irish women in publishing, particularly Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff of Tramp Press.
“We publish accessible contemporary work that’s beautifully written,” Cassidy says. “That’s our aim. We publish a mix of short stories, flash fiction, essays and poetry . . . quality contemporary work that has a literary slant.”
Banshee has a wide-ranging audience, she says. “It appeals to a huge age range: subscribers who are sitting their Leaving Cert or are having their 80th birthday.”
Cassidy believes there’s still a demand for the tactile nature of a printed publication, especially one that looks good. “I would subscribe to publications like Guts, things that are nicely designed and that offer something different,” she says. “Because so much of our reading is done online, people also like to have the option to subscribe to a print publication. It’s just a different experience.”
In the beginning the aim was to survive. Now that Banshee is thriving they’re looking at the bigger picture; a long-term aim is to launch their own small press.
Rabble: ‘We want people to chuckle’
In the Blas cafe of the Chocolate Factory building in Dublin, just north of the River Liffey, James Redmond, Darragh Lynch and Jamie Goldrick are talking about their publication. Its website declares: “ Rabble aims to create a space for the passionate telling of truth, muck-raking journalism and well aimed pot-shots at illegitimate authority. We stand within, and with, Dublin as it struggles from below against the ghost of the Celtic Tiger and the state it left us in. We support those who fight with a new world in their hearts and encourage those who create cultures that seed hope in bleak times.”
The first issues of this quarterly publication, which began in September 2011, were heavy on the austerity agenda and the recession. “It’s very much a classic alternative-media publication. A better term might be radical-media publication,” Redmond says.
Lynch, a musician and illustrator, was inspired by the American underground press of the 1960s and 1970s. “The main obvious thing is that it’s different to most of the other stuff you see around. The visual thing is a big part of it. From the outset a lot of talk went into what it was going to look like.”
Goldrick got involved, a couple of years ago, after picking up a copy in the Twisted Pepper, the Dublin club and music venue.
Rabble has consistently criticised JobBridge – or, as Redmond puts it, “that dispossession of a particular generation of the right to decent, quality work”. Rabble is also strong on the pro-choice movement and housing.
Redmond sees social-media platforms as swallowing people’s political and social output. “If I look at my Facebook feed every day, some of the best writers I know on the left are spending all of their time chattering in this platform, an echo chamber, rather than creating sites or platforms of alternative media outside of that.”
With support from the Workers Beer Company and funding from readers, it’s a lively, acerbic, funny publication. “We want people to have a laugh with it. We want people to chuckle. It’s why we try to put so much emphasis on the colour and illustrations,” Redmond says. “Humour can be quite powerful, especially if it’s directed upwards.”
District: ‘You can’t beat hearing it from the horse’s mouth’
The electricity has gone in the office that District magazine works from, so instead the two men behind the project are in Keoghs Cafe on Trinity Street in Dublin. Eric Davidson, the creative director, started District as a blog about three years ago; now its first print edition is in the works.
When the promoter Craig Connolly got on board they started to put more time into it, going full time in January this year.
There’s a big focus on electronic music and alternative culture rather than on news. “How long is news actually newsworthy now? Is it an hour? It could be less even, depending on the day,” Connolly says. “We wanted to do stuff that had substance, that people could dig out and look back upon.”
Interviews are a big part of what they do. “An interview is always going to expose a lot more,” Davidson says. “You can’t beat hearing it from the horse’s mouth: that’s a really important part of delving deep.”
Like many contemporary publications, District bleeds into real life, with events and parties coming down the line to support the project and to build a community around it.
“If you’ve got people who subscribe to what we do with District magazine, they follow our ethos, and they’ll jump on board with what we think is good,” says Connolly. “People are proud to say what magazines they read or what films they watch. It’s really important.”
Waterford Whispers News: ‘I’d go off shore if I was wealthy enough’
Perhaps no other alternative-media outlet has made as big an impact in recent years as Waterford Whispers News, the satirical website that often cuts hilariously close to the bone. Its founder, Colm Williamson, generally avoids interviews; he responds to our questions by email.
When he moved from Dún Laoghaire to Tramore, in Co Waterford, in October 2008, he fell into unemployment “and found Facebook”. Writing news articles “out of sheer boredom”, the hobby turned into WWN.
What fuels him, he says, is his disdain for the media and the people who control it. “We’re constantly trying to open people’s eyes to how messed up the whole system here is. I cannot understand why there is no law in place that forbids individuals from owning large chunks of the national media . . . Newspapers should come with a health warning, like cigarettes. ‘Warning: owned by rich asshole.’ ”
His top WWN story is “ ‘Jesus not coming back by the looks of it’ admits Vatican”.
As for the satirical value of the new Dáil, he says, “the sad thing is, nothing will ever change politically. It’s an illusion. Just think of the Government as a customer-service centre for the financial institutions of the world: the banks and billion-euro corporations. Enda Kenny is a call-centre manager at best, with team leaders beneath . . . We sold Ireland a long time ago. It doesn’t matter who gets the job: they’ll be told what to do by Europe, the IMF or whoever the f*** is holding the cards at the time. But, of course, I am excited we have a new set of school teachers to ridicule. They’re gas out sure.”
Williamson hasn’t had a holiday since 2008, is “always on”, and usually works until 9pm, with his weekends “off” interrupted by the need to take notes.
WWN employs three full-time writers, a part-time “web guy” and a part-time administrator. It now has 1.25 million readers a month, and that figure is growing. “It’s only in the last year that we’re starting to see some income, but it’s a struggle getting advertising. It’s a hard thing to juggle, satire and advertising. Agency commissions and tax is a killer. I’d go off shore if I was wealthy enough.”
As for the site’s development, Williamson says, “All I want is to be able to pay me and the guys a decent wage. Then after that I want to focus heavily into our video content. We’re in talks with a couple of TV stations about different ventures. I have started working on my own online comedy TV station, called Watch It.
“I spent five years building WWN from nothing. I can spend another five building this, too. Baby steps. I’m a very patient man.”
Hot list Five to check out
Guts magazine: award-winning confessional essays in print and at thisisguts.com.
Pussys: a queer monthly email magazine with offline events; details on pussys.club.
Cheap Trick: new kid on the block, with themed issues about life, culture and personal experiences; cheaptrick zine.com.
Junior : a new photography journal available from the Library Project in Temple Bar; facebook.com/juniorphotomag