Focus with Gerry Cassidy, editor of Scotsbarszcz
Today Gerry Cassidy tells us about the launch of Scotsbarszcz, the bi-cultural (and bi-lingual) magazine that’s bringing Scotland and Poland just a little closer together.
About the publication:
What was your motivation behind the launch?
I went to Poland on a press trip, visiting Poznan and Wrocław, not really knowing what to expect. I knew very little about the country other than it was a former member state of the Eastern Bloc. My expectations were not high. But what I found there blew me away. I loved the architecture, the food, the people – and the tremendous buzz there seemed to be about the place. During my stay I visited an exhibition covering 50 years of European history and was humbled and ashamed to discover so much that I didn’t know about Poland’s 20th century experiences. I realised what a huge debt the West owed to the Polish people. Back home, I was scouting about for projects and thought I would like to do something involving Poles and Brits. Then I discovered by chance that there were many, many long-standing bonds of friendship and trade between Scotland and Poland stretching back for more than 500 years. The more I researched, the more amazed I became. For instance, it is reckoned there were around 40,000 Scots living in Poland during the 17th Century; the mother of an old Scottish hero, Bonnie Prince Charlie, was Polish; a man from Aberdeen served three terms as Mayor of Warsaw – and more recently Lech Walęsa is exploring the possibility that his forebears were Wallaces from Scotland. Given the influx of Polish migrants to Scotland in the mid 2000s, I decided there might be a market for a magazine to celebrate Scottish-Polish friendship and so Scotsbarszcz was born.
What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
We cover a huge range of stories from human interest to business and tourism. Among the aims of the magazine are to encourage integration of the Poles into the Scottish communities where they have chosen to live; to encourage travel and tourism between our countries and to promote business opportunities in Scotland and Poland. We also introduce Scottish culture to Polish readers and Polish culture to Scottish readers.
What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
Our magazine is unique in that it is fully bilingual – every story appears in translation. It spans communities, allowing advertisers and interest groups to reach markets they might not otherwise hope to penetrate.
How do you decide the content, front covers and headlines?
The front cover is often a taster for the main news or feature item inside, though the main thumb of rule is that the more stunning the image the more likely it is to feature on the cover. We haven’t yet used a stand-alone cover image, but I wouldn’t rule it out if I liked the image enough. The content very much chooses itself. We usually do a spotlight on visitor attractions/places of interest in Scotland and in Poland and a four-page ‘Destination’ feature on a Scottish town. We feature up-coming shows and exhibitions of interest to Scots and Poles, carry relevant book reviews and invite groups with a Polish interest to contribute their own material. In recent issues we have featured interviews with Polish musicians and tackled consumer issues on behalf of readers. It is very much a mixed bag, which is what the title was designed to convey. It’s called Scotsbarszcz (pronounce it to rhyme with scots marsh then add ‘ch’) which comes loosely from two soups: Scotch Brotch and the wonderful beetroot soup barszcz. The idea was that the mag would be a rich, tasty fusion of both cultures. The headlines are a challenge. Puns won’t translate, so we have to try a little bit harder to make them eye-catching.
Do you produce a features list? Why? Why not?
We don’t produce a features list, partly for the reasons explained above and partly because we are a tiny team, each doing a mountain of work.
Do you use freelance contributions, and if so, are they for any particular section/type of work?
We aim to get to the stage where we can commission freelances, but at the moment I am being helped by a very enthusiastic team of volunteers – both Polish and Scottish – who share my vision for the mag and want to help it succeed I owe them all so much.
Do you work closely with PRs (e.g. for supplements, round tables, events) or do you keep them at arm’s length?
I welcome contact from PRs. All are welcome to drop me an email if they think Scotsbarszcz might be a good vehicle to promote any particular product or issue. If I find it interesting, it’s got a chance of going in.
What interests you most about your job?
Getting to know a culture which was until now completely alien to me – and meeting countless really interesting people.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
I worked in a number of local weeklies then freelanced for the nationals in Glasgow before landing a job at the Daily Record, where I became an assistant features editor. I took redundancy at the end of 2005 and set up a publishing company with a friend. We went on to win awards from PPA Scotland, but the company foundered during the credit crunch. Last year I relaunched as Raspberry Horse, offering writing and editorial production services and set up Scotsbarszcz as an online mag.
What media do you seek out 1st thing in the morning?
If we gave you £1000 how would you spend it?
On Polish language lessons.