By David Jenkin

Please give us a quick intro to yourselves – who are Niamh and Dave?

Dave: I’m a Joburg-based writer and editor.

Niamh: And I’m a freelance photographer, and occasional writer living in Durban.

Tell us about Ja. magazine’s origins – what drove you to start Ja? What was the vision behind it?

Dave: Niamh had just finished university, I was in my final year of studies, and we were both terrified at the prospect of careers in the media industry. We wanted a space for our own written and visual work, as well as the work of others, that was free of the rigorous and largely outdated guidelines of conventional media.

We wanted to see new stories told by a wide range of writers and artists in the purest and most organic way possible. After we put out our first edition, we started getting submissions from people across the country – ranging from high school and university students, to established writers, poets, visual artists, and even the occasional 40-something-year-old with a strong opinion.

We’ve changed a lot about our publication, but I like to think the vision is still the same: platforming and celebrating new narratives and new creative work from across the country.   

You’re now working on your 13th issue. What has the journey been like so far? Looking at highs and lows, what stands out in your minds?

Dave: Highs would involve actually putting out a publication every two months, seeing the work of our contributors circulate and reach new heights, and generally fostering a culture of creating new written and visual work. A recent high would be winning an award for innovation and excellence at the 2016 Arts Journalism Awards. That was a complete shock. Lows mostly involve the late nights and the perpetual fatigue. Putting together an entire publication via email and Whatsapp is no easy task, but we make it work.

Niamh: Recently I have been bumping into Ja. contributors. It’s been really cool to chat, face-to-face, with the people who help make Ja. what it is. There is a growing community who support what the mag is about, and vice versa. As Dave said, creating Ja. over Whatsapp and emails is sometimes really tough and you miss out on the typical ‘news room’ atmosphere. 

How would you describe your readership? Who are Ja. magazine readers, in a nutshell?

Niamh: Dave and I have a few chuckles sometimes because we’ve noticed a small group of Afrikaans speakers who follow Ja. which is likely due to the mag’s name. We are predominantly an English publication, but would love to have more languages. The issue is finding editors who can help us edit isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans etc, but we’re working on it. Ja. readers are an enthusiastic and eclectic group.

You describe the look of the magazine as having “a handmade twist” – I feel like there’s a deeper layer of meaning there…

Dave: Niamh and I both worked at a student news organisation, that at the time, still had a very strong print presence. I think we both fell in love with the medium of print, but knew that it wasn’t the most viable form of media. We started Ja. magazine as an online publication, but wanted to maintain that romantic print element. So besides the layout of the publication, we also physically put together a lot of collages and literal handmade elements before digitising it and publishing. Well, Niamh does. I mostly sit behind a laptop and handle the words. 

Niamh: There is also something about making things from scratch that I believe is important. Some content and art that we see online is made quick and easy on an editing programme, so I like the idea of making something that is one of a kind and physically created, a lot of our contributing artists sit for hours making things with their hands, which you can see is what we try and celebrate on each edition’s cover.

There must be some pros and cons to being an ‘e-zine’ – why do you have occasional print editions?

Dave: When we have the money we always try to put out a short print run of the publication. It’s difficult though, we don’t make any money out of Ja. and all the spare change we have lying around gets put into the publication. I think the most difficult aspect has been fostering a print reading culture online. Most people don’t like to read too much online anymore, but we’re trying to change that with each edition.

Niamh: Hmm, since Dave spoke on cons, I’ll go for pros. Online, people can get a copy of their own, print it and love it forever. It is also a great way to archive articles and editions online – it will never get lost, stolen or damaged by water, ha! Online also has an incredibly wide reach, meaning more and more people the world over can see our work.

Ending with a broad question – what are your hopes for the future?

Niamh: We love to learn and listen to other photographers, writers and artists, so Ja. is looking into the possibility of opening a free space for its community and people interested in having open dialogues in a space where we can meet and learn, share work, give input, develop and grow together. We need to help each other out, you know.

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