Media Interview with Christopher Bryant, editor of Polari
Who reads it and how many of them are there?
The readership is remarkably diverse considering it’s an LGBT magazine. The focus is on arts, culture and community, which I think has a more universal appeal than the usual pop music and pecs. What I know about the readers is really what I learn from comments on social networks and direct emails. We bill the content as LGBT, and the readers are interested in ideas, in politics, and what it means to be part of a subculture. That said, I also have friends’ mothers who read it. The numbers for the website per month are currently around 80,000 but that’s on the rise.
What was the initial inspiration for starting Polari?
I originally started with the idea of creating a magazine website that was about exploring the gay subculture and wasn’t just another lifestyle magazine. And that’s what I took to my business partner, Bryon, and we built it together with that in mind. The internet is full of lifestyle and news sites that are all doing pretty much the same thing. We actually started out with a “no nipple” policy to distance ourselves from the mainstream gay press, but it seemed a little too censorious. It seemed like the days when magazines were interested in ideas and politics were over. I also thought it was a good idea to write about pop culture seriously.
You recently redesigned the website, what have you improved?
The core improvement is the navigation. It’s more visual, and more intuitive. Each section of the magazine has an individual landing page, and it’s much easier to navigate through the subsections and see what articles are there. It’s given us a lot more scope. It also looks superb on the iPad and the iPhone.
What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
I want to answer this in a way that doesn’t sound too holier-than-thou! The mainstream gay press in Britain tends to treat its readership as if they’re in a state of teenage arrested development. I wanted Polari to treat its subjects equally and its readership intelligently – an article on Battlestar Galactica is as serious in its intent as an article on same-sex marriage rights. We like to say that it’s about life, not lifestyles.
How do you decide the features, news stories and interview subjects?
It’s such an organic process that it’s hard to say precisely what decides it. The news stories that we focus on tend to tie in with the general idea of the site: arts, culture and politics. Features and interviews are set by what’s in the news, what’s happening culturally in the arts, and when we approach those subjects it’s from an LGBT or ‘queer’ perspective.
Do you plan any features in advance?
I like a fast turnaround time, and so I try not to plan too far in advance. It helps to keep it fresh. But there are some calendar events that need planning. That was the case with LGBT History Month, which this year was a major undertaking as we had a different hero for each day of the month, for one. Right now the focus is on the BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.
Do you work closely with PRs or do you keep them at arm’s length?
I like to work closely with PRs when they seem to have a straightforward approach. I hate being ‘sold’ to. It makes me bristle, and I think, “If you can believe in everything you don’t really believe in anything”. That said, we’ve worked with some great PRs of late, especially on the music side of things.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
All I really want to know is why a client would appeal to the site and the readership. I like directness.
How should a PR approach you about their client?
I want to know that a PR knows what we do. I know that seems a little demanding but I care about the content and don’t need to blindly generate it.
Describe a typical day at work: What are your editorial duties/responsibilities at the outlet (e.g. commissioning, subbing, features, interviewing)?
The first thing I do is have two cups of coffee. Then I look at the site stats for the previous day, which is followed by the process of going through the social networks. If I am writing I try and start that as early as possible, before I get caught up in the buzz of the social media sphere. It’s all too easy to get sucked in. I also manage the site’s SEO, which is mind-numbing but crucially important. Then it could be editing, subbing, interviewing, writing, editorial…whatever’s necessary.
What interests you most about your job?
I think the best thing is meeting fascinating people who work in interesting fields – and that could mean going to events or interviewing.
Do you tweet? Why, why not?
Yes. The Twitter feed is tied into the Facebook fan page. And then I work within Twitter, too, to see what people are talking about, and to find new subjects as well as new readers. Most of the time, though, it feels like a mystery to me. I can get a handle on the Facebook fan page, but not so much on Twitter. It feels too random.
What the best advice you’ve been given?
There is one piece of advice my father gave me when I was a child that has stuck with me. It has informed how I see the world. “If you’re going the same way as 99% of people, you’re probably going the wrong way.” I would like the tagline of Polari to be, “Why be like everybody else?” for that reason.