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'I've never gone to press by myself in the spare room before!' - how Irish magazines are adapting to COVID-19

As the world adapts to its new normal in COVID-19 quarantine, Caitlin McBride speaks to Ireland's magazine editors about business in an already precarious market

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Vicki Notaro at home in Stoneybatter

Vicki Notaro at home in Stoneybatter

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Vogue Williams for Stellar magazine. Picture: Evan Doherty/VIP Magazine

Vogue Williams for Stellar magazine. Picture: Evan Doherty/VIP Magazine

Roz Purcell covers Irish Country Magazine

Roz Purcell covers Irish Country Magazine

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Vicki Notaro at home in Stoneybatter

In 2018, the 'Beast from the East' turned work practices on its axis.

As thousands of people around Ireland were trapped indoors due to the unprecedented volume of snow, the show would always have to go on. In 2020, Government directives to social distance and self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic means employers have to be creative once again.

The future of businesses around the world remain uncertain, including magazine publishing, which is already in a state of almost constant duress. Klara Heron, editor of Irish Country Magazine, said their publishing model is robust, but in comparison to a snowstorm two years ago, "this time is very different".

"We are still working towards getting a brand new issue of Irish Country Magazine out in mid-April, but the challenge for me is content," she explains.

"Now more than ever, our readers will look to us for escapism, but we have always strived to strike a balance of informative and uplifting content, so I need to ensure that by the time that deadline rolls around we are in tune with our audience and giving them content that will entertain them, inspire them but also be useful and insightful."

Ms Heron describes photoshoots as a "huge part of our DNA as a magazine" and she is thinking strategically of ways to organise something safely as their usual set-ups breach advice from the HSE. The alternative - no original cover at all - is not an option for readers.

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Roz Purcell covers Irish Country Magazine

Roz Purcell covers Irish Country Magazine

Roz Purcell covers Irish Country Magazine

She has been liaising with fellow editors outside her publishing group in a de-facto support network to ensure the endurance of the industry.

"We don’t know how long this will last but if it goes on for many weeks collaboration across the industry will be crucial," she says.

Similarly, Vicki Notaro, Managing Director of VIP Publishing which prints VIP, STELLAR and TV Now, said they are thinking outside the box when it comes to ensuring next month's edition goes out on time.

"I've never gone to press all by myself in my spare room before! But everything is done online and with individual computers anyway, it’s not like the olden days where layouts were physical bits of paper, so I’m absolutely confident our teams will manage really well," she explains.

"Our products are available where people buy food, so hopefully they will remain so. And for our online teams, it’s business as usual albeit with a different focus on content."

Managing a content plan with a new lead on the global news cycle is no easy task for magazines which are inherently light-hearted and Ms Notaro says she was conscious to strike a more sensitive balance with readers.

"We want to acknowledge what’s going on without being consumed by it. I minimised our travel content, and took out our social shots section," she said.

"I’m looking at including some puzzles! We don’t have a fashion editorial shot for this month, so I asked budding stylists and photographers to submit test shoots they’d like to see in print.

"I have contingency plans in place for our June issue, due out in May, but I’m also very hopeful that things will be back to normal by then, or at least getting there."

Ms Heron concludes on an optimistic note, one which relies on widespread community and industry support. "Magazines were a difficult industry before this crisis, so we understand more than ever the need to support each other."

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