Now in its seventh issue, Riposte, a title that bills itself as “A smart magazine for women,” has gone from strength to strength in 2016. It’s staging more events, unveiling a new website, and sharpening its editorial focus to explore some challenging social issues. I caught up with editor in chief Danielle Pender in advance of the launch party for the new issue (as she herded her daughter towards an afternoon of soft play) to discuss why she feels the need to evolve and what alternative independent publishing can offer the mainstream media.
You’ve got a new mag out, a new website, and you’re about to change up your events programming. What’s going on with Riposte?
With the website we wanted something that was a little bit more immediate where we could respond to things more quickly and be a bit more timely. We’re not going to be sharing the print content, but enhancing it with shorter interviews, profile features, and articles on stuff that we wouldn’t necessarily have in the magazine. Also, the big thing with the website was that we wanted somewhere to celebrate the readers, because I kind of felt like it was a one-sided conversation where we’re saying to them, “Read this, we’re telling you what’s smart.” But that’s not the case. We need somewhere to catalog what our readers are up to and who they are, because they’re just as interesting as some of the women we feature.
The aim is to make it more of a community—I think that’s quite a cheesy word and a lot of people talk about it but don’t really mean it. It’s the same with the events; sometimes magazines can seem too polished, but when you then go to an event you see a lot more of a human, natural side to people, and you get a different experience. We meet the readers there and get feedback, and that’s been really great.
You mention different types of content and more timely features. Is that going to mean a big commitment from you?
Yeah, definitely. But I also think about it in terms of developing a business model. I want to make Riposte a success and I want to make it sustainable to be able to pay people well. We are never going to make a lot of money from our print product alone. Having a package of a print magazine, events, and an online presence makes it more attractive to our commercial partners.
A lot of people see it as a shady thing to talk about money, but it’s absolutely crucial.
If you’re going to continue to publish you need to know how you’re going to pay for it. We would never compromise quality or editorial control, but working with relevant brands and commercial partners is the only way we’re going to keep going.
So what plans do you have for the events?
We want to grow that next year and maybe do them quarterly, but we haven’t decided. We’d like to put a bit more investment into them, film them, podcast them, work with different brands on them to make them bigger, and do a bigger conference in the summer.
Wouldn’t it just make more sense to put all that time and energy into making more magazines?
No, because the twice-a-year print run gives us an opportunity to really invest in the topic, the visuals, and really make it something special. The rest of the time allows us to keep in touch with readers, do research, find out what they’re interested in, and be more reactive. I see them as separate, but they also support each other. The magazine is very much key to everything.
What elements of the magazine are evolving? It seems like the content has become more focused.
We’re still profiling smart, interesting women, but alongside that we’ve got a features section that always has two meatier or socially-minded ideas in there. I think if you make a magazine in this day and age, it’s kind of irresponsible to ignore what’s going on in the outside world. It’s quite lazy to not deal with some of the bigger issues, because they’re huge and they affect so many people in so many different ways. I want to be able to discuss those things in the magazine and offer our take on it.
This issue we looked at abortion, which I knew was illegal in Ireland, but I really didn’t realize how draconian it all is until an activist talked us through why they started their group, and some of the cases that inspired them to take action. In the UK it’s not a very nice thing to go through, but it’s a pretty easy process. Over there women risk their lives, it can cost thousands of pounds, and they risk going to prison for 14 years. The state takes away their agency to make decisions about their own health based on really warped moral standards.
We also interviewed three female fixers—one from Bangladesh, one from Gaza, and one from Beirut. It was really interesting speaking to the women behind news stories and finding out what actually goes into reporting them that we really don’t see on the news, and how sensitive that job is.
Then alongside those more in-depth and serious pieces we have shorter features that deal with different elements of life—features about swearing and having a fling. It’s kind of a balance, but we definitely want to focus on bigger issues.
Is this a shift that you’ve made a conscious decision to embrace with the team, or has it just happened naturally?
There’s a quote I read ages ago from Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, and he said, “Follow the question mark, not the exclamation mark.” It feels like it’s fucking easy to get loads of likes on Instagram, to do something really throwaway and for the lols, but we don’t need to be doing that. I get that people consume media as an escape, but I’m sick of seeing things dumbed down.
I’m sick of clickbait, listicles, and publishers who are scared of anything over 800 words.
We’re not super high-brow and academic, but there’s no shame in trying to do something that isn’t just light and breezy. There’s loads of different magazines and loads of online sites for that. It just feels like it would be a waste of time for us.
As a publisher of an indie mag, do you feel like now’s the time to step up and do things the mainstream media can’t or won’t do? It seems like they’re making mistakes all over the place this year.
I read the New York Times religiously every day, and the day before the election it gave Trump a 16% chance of winning. How could you get it so wrong? With social media, there’s a real danger that algorithms have tricked us into thinking everyone else thinks about the world in a certain way, which is why Brexit and Trump have been such a shock to liberal people, because we’re all just saying the same shit to each other.
I don’t know what the answer is yet, but how can that change? How can we speak to or engage with people who are different to us? Maybe this is idealistic but it feels like everyone is in their own little bubble and we’re not learning from or listening to each other at all. I grew up raving, going to gay clubs with rough working class boys from the outskirts of Newcastle who took drugs with gay men and trans people. On paper that sounds like a disaster, but there was a huge sense of community regardless of who you were and where you were from.
The closing of minds and spaces both online and in real life, on both sides now, is really dangerous.
You can easily block or unfollow someone who disagrees with you and then you go back to surrounding yourself with your tribe, reinforcing the same beliefs. Obviously I’m saying this and we bill ourselves as a smart magazine for women, so we’re already pitching ourselves outside of a lot of people’s frame of reference or interest. But I’m really fascinated where those crossovers can start to happen and what we can do about it.