The Local project. How we made Local East and why.

What does it take to create a magazine? As Local East celebrates its first birthday, publisher Elizabeth Meryment recounts the months leading to its launch.

In the autumn of 2018, every night after dinner I sat at the kitchen table cutting up magazines. Two implements were on hand to assist – a Stanley knife and a ruler – plus a pile of magazines, mostly the sort that come free with newspapers, some of which I had worked at during the previous decade.

I was trying to figure out the perfect size for a magazine in today’s world. The ideal would be something that was neither too big and cumbersome, nor too small and insignificant. I was chopping up the magazines to try out various paper sizes — A5, A4, B5, B4, C5, C4, Berliner, tabloid and so on.

After destroying a lot of magazines and spending many cold nights in the company of shredded paper, it became obvious there was one standout choice: B5, a shape halfway between A4 (the size that typically goes into a home or office printer), and A5 (the shape of many community magazines, such as The Beast). At 176mm wide by 250mm high, it was small enough to slide comfortably into a letterbox but big enough to look elegant and glossy.

Some early designs

Some early designs

I rang Murray, my contact at the printing press, to talk over the choice. “That would be a waste of money,” he immediately advised. “You should just go with A5. It works better on the presses.”

As had happened many times before, and after, on the road to creating Local East, his words left me deflated. Yet the decision had already been made, at least in my mind. Local would be a B5, the size of the magazine you are reading today.

The practicalities of creating a magazine from scratch were not something I had ever imagined needing to consider. For all the years of my unremarkable career as a newspaper journalist and writer, the thought of creating a publication had never occurred to me. Why would it? The world was already full of magazines and newspapers, most of them slowly dying, strangled by free news and writing broadcast on the internet. I couldn’t — and still can’t — see a future for paid media outlets.

I myself had been made redundant in 2016 from News Corporation. Like so many journalists, I thought the chapter had closed on my time in the media. So instead of looking for another media job, I started making content for friends with small businesses who needed help.

First anniversary issue - August 2019

First anniversary issue - August 2019

People often ask what content is, incidentally. I think of it as the noise that has moved into the space that journalism used to occupy. It can mean anything from the photography that businesses create for themselves to hand out to media who can’t afford to make it themselves any more, to any piece of written material, from words on websites to promotional items such as brochures, custom magazines, e-newsletters and more. Our content business has grown into Local Creative, a busy agency we run alongside Local East that produces all these things and more.

But back in 2017, when setting out, two things quickly became clear.

The first was that although social media was a cheap and controllable source of promotion for businesses, it was not the golden bullet for which many businesspeople hoped. While businesses could slowly increase their follower counts and promote, promote, promote themselves on Instagram and Facebook, they were always talking to the same people, not new people. Opportunities for growth via social media were tedious and expensive.

The second was that very few, if any, businesses had a meaningful relationship with any media any longer. Journalists who still had jobs tended to be so overworked and frazzled (I can attest to that), that if you called them, you received no or minimal response. Even if you tried to advertise with media outlets, you would be hard pressed to reach the right person.

So content clients were begging for fresh ideas. I promised to think about it.

About this time, I spent holidays in Queensland, where I found a proliferation of local newspapers and magazines. On the Gold Coast I picked up three or four different local publications, in Brisbane another couple and in Noosa alone there were maybe four or five. To be honest I found them by and large poorly designed and tacky. Most had abandoned any pretence of objectivity, and were collections of local ads printed on quality paper.

But they were universally full of ads.

When I returned from holidays, I called a graphic-designer colleague Trevor Timms and asked if he would consider designing a local magazine. I didn’t have a name or much of a concept, but I figured if others could do it, so could we. The brief was Gourmet Traveller meets Belle.

September 2018 edition

September 2018 edition

A few weeks later he returned with a collection of designs for the magazine that were frankly stunning. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the pages were. I printed them out, we worked on them some more, and I spent more nights at the table slicing and cutting them to shape and size.

Then I began presenting the concept, now called Local, to business contacts and colleagues. Suddenly people became interested in buying ads in the magazine. Big businesses and small committed to supporting the project. I commissioned journalism and photography for the first edition, slowly filled the ad pages and had a crash, on-the-job course in balancing the books and dealing with practicalities including finding enough people to distribute the copies. In late July 2018, we went to press with our first edition, which was delivered to 50,000 homes, cafes and shops in the Eastern Suburbs on August 1 2018.

The first day the magazine went out my inbox exploded. That day I had about 800 emails, and another 700 or so over the following days, from journalists, friends, media, publicists, advertisers and residents who were receiving the magazine. I was absolutely overcome, sick with nerves about the magazine’s reception. After about a week of broken sleeps I was finally confident enough to feel Local East – as it had come to be called, after legal advice – was well received, especially by readers.

Local North August 2019

Local North August 2019

The road since then has been both challenging and exciting. The media landscape is relentlessly difficult. Selling ads can be hard. Delivering large quantities of magazines is tricky and expensive. Making sure that every word printed in the magazine is spot on is not easy. Hitting the mark with readers can be tough.

But at the same time we have managed to have great highs, create a lovely product, work with wonderful artists, form great friendships, learn an extraordinary amount and create a new little brand.

And we have been amazed by the support we have received from both the public and business. We are especially grateful for the support of our incredible advertisers, big and small. And we have expanded, now publishing Local North across the bridge.

Trevor is now Local’s art director and our team includes journalists of national standing. Then there are our advertising reps, our contributing writers, photographers, printers and distributors, all of whom help piece together the jigsaw puzzle that is creating a monthly magazine.

Thank you for reading Local East and supporting our endeavours.