Late last year, a long and random internet search led me to Flint Mag — a Perth-based online magazine that explores contemporary culture and the human condition. I was immediately taken with Flint’s focus on photography, international content and wide-ranging subjects which seemed so different from most new websites/media start-ups I’d come across. As a regular reader, I was itching to know more and reached out to Flint editor and founder, James Knox.
Where did you get the idea for Flint Mag? And what was your vision for the website when it began?
Initially, the idea was to form a cooperative of documentary photographers with a shared space or ‘virtual gallery’ to disseminate our works from a centralised location. When we started looking at who would become part of this cooperative, we became frustrated as so many people wanted to be involved yet, they weren’t photographers. So we decided to shift our focus to look at how the human condition could best be examined and we found a balance between non-genre specific photo-essays and journalistic writing.
In journalism, there is a prevailing false basis of objectivity aka ‘a place from nowhere’, where journalists are encumbered with impossible limitations — this was something we wanted to avoid. We embraced the philosophy of ‘a place from somewhere’, where journalists are not only part of the story but are invested in it. With this in mind, we decided to develop our identity around storytelling, rather than the form in which stories are told. We focused our energy on developing articles that provide insightful comment and meaningful content.
If we publish something, it has to be worthy of someone sitting down and taking the time to really understand what is in front of them. Flint has to uphold this standard otherwise, we are surplus to the needs of our audience and no better than the millions of other sites on the ‘net regurgitating garbage.
You’ve published everything from anthropological musings on Indigenous culture to an ongoing portrait series focused on California. Is there anything you consider to be the perfect Flint story? On the flip side, what kind of stories do you decline?
Our content has always been quite broad. In the beginning, it was difficult for us to target specific demographics as the content took us to so many points of interest. Yet, this was the formation of Flint’s identity — storytelling without genre.
So Flint articles need to pass a simple test before we press publish: will this make the Internet a slightly better place? Is this work of logic? Will anyone read it? We have fucked up along the way, but we’ve never strayed too far from these criteria.
Much of your content is documentary and street photography. With shrinking photography budgets, does Flint offer a place for up-and-coming photographers to be published?
There is this sense that it used to be easier to be a photographer or photojournalist, due to the dominance of print. I don’t believe this was the case and I especially don’t believe it’s any easier now to break into these industries. Great photojournalists will always find work as they produce great work — the audience may have changed, but the demand is still there. We see ourselves as an opportunity for fresh photojournalists to express themselves to a wider audience.
Flint writers come from all over the world — do you approach journalists and photographers or do most people come to you?
The majority of our content comes from a base of core contributors — they are the backbone of Flint. We receive submissions on a regular basis — which is amazing and provides us with endless inspiration. We also reach out to people who we really dig. Instagram and ello are great places to find some very talented people as well.
Is it also part of Flint’s mission to push the envelope when it comes to form? For example, the stories on Flint are so diverse not only in topic but also in the way they’re laid out, written, photographed etc.
Aesthetics are important. We initially started Flint with the idea to publish a magazine and this focus on graphic design has flowed onto the site.
You’ve got all your bases covered when it comes to social media including a Flint Mag youtube channel and a weekly email newsletter. Do you find that most readers and creators come to Flint via these outlets?
We have tried almost everything when it comes to social media. Sometimes, you get lucky and find a receptive audience serendipitously, but usually there needs to be a semblance of strategy otherwise the audience comes and goes like the wind. But the battle for users’ attention on social media is incredibly fucked up — we have this symbiotic relationship with our “feeds” where on one side we are being given what we want while on the other, we are being fed this artificial semblance of a reflective generalisation of who we are.
So, in the beginning we fought to get on peoples’ ‘walls’ but this soon became tiresome and counterproductive to our goals. And most often, the content that was popular on social media was almost completely removed from what’s popular on Flint Mag. We have found ello to be a great place to build an audience as it’s a non-targeted environment and you need to work for every person that follows you. There are no shortcuts on ello: if you’re peddling shit, you get shit. If you have something of substance to say, then you’re rewarded with an engaged audience.
Also, what were your thoughts behind starting a Flint youtube channel — can we expect more videos in the future?
The zeitgeist of journalism is video. Yet, while video can be more disposable and more easily dismissed, it’s an undoubtedly effective way to deliver content. The challenge for us is to find a balance between what we publish and how to adapt it for video. So far this has been reasonably unsuccessful but we’ll keep trying.
I’ve noticed advertising on Flint’s homepage as well as a partnership with the Bell Tower Times. Do these outlets help make the website sustainable?
Flint has found funding through advertising (although not a significant amount) all of which has been put directly back into the site. At the beginning, finding advertisers was an obsession and it was to the detriment of content. So we decided to focus on audience first — as this is more important than advertising revenue at this stage. We do subsidise the majority of the costs, so sustainability is questionable if Flint were to operate for another twenty years.
BTT are some incredibly funny people, we felt it would be a great collaboration and it worked out really well. But this was more a collaboration of like-minded people rather than a commercial arraignment. I see collaborations like this as fundamental toFlint’s growth — without a variation of ideas and audience we will stagnate.
How did your partnership with the Rickshaw Project come about? Do you consider this kind of advocacy work, complementary to the kind of independent journalism Flint is known for?
Flint doesn’t want to hop on this bullshit feel-good bandwagon of whatever issue is popular at the moment. This just feeds a cycle of tokenistic gestures, where the ‘conversation’ or ‘like’ is in-situ of actually doing something. The Rickshaw Project came to our attention as one of our contributors spent some time with them in Pakistan. Their work is a constant motivation, as they are actually doing something to make the world a better place and I urge everyone to get behind them.
What does Flint’s future look like?
We are looking to start another site in South-East Asia and depending how this goes, we’ll focus on a North American one mid next year. Obviously, this costs money and we’re looking for a return but at this stage, it’s all about developing our content and audience beyond the Australian website. We also have a lot of goodwill from our contributors and I would love to be able to give them an income from what we do.
When we started Flint, the site was secondary to the idea of publishing a quarterly magazine, now web publishing has become the main focus. However, I would like to see us produce a yearly retrospective journal as print publishing is innately more powerful than digital. If we could combine the two, it would be really gratifying.
This is the first Q&A in a series focused on smaller websites and digital magazines that make-up the new-new media landscape. Please get in touch, if you’re interested in being featured.