Behind the scenes: Huck magazine
The 10th anniversary issue of countercultural lifestyle magazine Huck is based around the theme of independence, and kicks off with a strident introduction from editor-in-chief Andrea Kurland, in which she emphasises the importance of paddling against the flow.
When it started, Huck only existed in print, but the last decade has seen it switch focus, and it now aims to be a digital-first publisher that tells its stories across several different platforms. Eager for an update, I met with Andrea to talk about the new issue, working across print and digital, and future ambitions.
Congratulations on your 10th anniversary! Tell me about the issue.
Thank you! The theme of the issue is independence, which fits as a celebration of our own decade of self-rule. We look at the struggles and challenges, but also benefits that come with being independent. Inside, we explore NYC’s Kiki scene, dance culture in Palestine, the punk scene in Soweto, South Africa, and we also meet people like Royal Trux and Marc Maron to explore the depths of what what it means to be independent in 2016.
You’ve been going for 10 years, and publishing has changed a lot in that time. What’s your approach to online content?
We think of ourselves as digital first and we’re always prioritising stories to go out online. We publish five to seven stories daily, and one or two videos per month. Online the reach is so much bigger and the engagement is instant, even if it’s just comments on Instagram or Facebook. Of course you have to analyse the analytics, but we’re also constantly touching base with readers about how our content is doing. In that way we’re not only driven by stats, but also by what’s resonating. We use that to chop and change our direction every single day.
How does the online content relate to the printed?
We may be talking about the same topics and to similar people, but whereas we aim for our printed content to be in-depth and evergreen, our online content is timely, newsworthy and more immediate. Whatever’s happening in mass media news, we want to be able to bring our readers the alternative Huck stance on it – a counter-narrative.
You’ve also ventured into filmmaking – how do you see video as part of Huck?
Video is yet another way for us to flex our storytelling muscles. A lot of the written stories from the magazine might turn into short films, and vice versa. But the story that is told may turn out quite different because of the nature of the different media.
Our latest film was on a self-built skateboarding park in South Africa (below) and it comes to life in a very empathic, human way, whereas in print it was more of a portrait feature. The multiple media allow us to tell our stories in different ways.
Do the films ever take on a life of their own that goes beyond the web? Have you been invited to any film festivals?
Yes! Actually, a film we made on the makers of blue plaques (below) was invited to a film festival without us applying for it, which is really exciting. But that also taps into something that I see as one of our biggest weaknesses; at the moment we’re making so much content and putting it out there, but because we have such a big workload, we move on to the next piece without properly promoting our published pieces.
So it’s really exciting when people come to us and tell us they like it and they want to work with us. We’ve had multiple opportunities come from making our own films, so it’ll be interesting to see where that will go.
What are some of your ambitions for the future?
I’d like to keep experimenting with formats, which is something I personally find really exciting. I want to keep pushing the photography side of things, which I think we’re quite strong at. We’re planning to start a podcast, and to broaden out our annual exhibition – and hopefully start a few projects that will give back to the photography community as well.
In what ways does the online engagement feed into the printed magazine?
Everything we do online becomes our field notes – we can test things out, and if something seems to resonate, or if an interviewee introduces us to a new movement, it becomes a great entry point for features in the printed magazine. I think that has definitely made our print content more original.
At the beginning of 2015 we changed our approach to the printed magazine and started making themed issues. For each issue we ask a different question, which we use as an entry point for every story. For example, for the Roots issue we asked, “Where have you come from, and how has your background shaped you?”.
Creating these editorial through-lines can take you to such interesting places, because you can throw out a theme and people will come back to you with really interesting stories. In this issue we asked, “What are the challenges of being independent and why is it important in this day and age?”
I guess I should let you answer that question then!
I think the biggest challenge with being small is not having a big cashflow; you have to make hard decisions about what you can and can’t afford, and you don’t have much to fall back on if something goes wrong.
But thinking about it, those things are the exact same things that I love about being independent. Being a small team you’re nimble and able to make decisions quickly; if you don’t have that much money you need to really consider how to use those resources. In the end, I think everything that could be a challenge with regards to being independent is actually its strength.
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Photos of the Huck team by Jackie Dewe Mathews