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Mark, starting first with One in Four magazine, of which you were founder and editor, and which folded earlier this year, following a short statement made to subscribers...
Shortly afterwards, you elaborated on that statement in a piece in The Guardian, which was then commented on by Ruth McCambridge in Not For Profit Quarterly.
1. Is there anything more that, at this remove, you wish to say about the reasons why One in Four ceased publication ? (If appropriate, please point to accessible places where you have already said something more than in the sources above.)
After all, the announcement did come soon after the publication, in the editorial of the Summer 2013 issue, of the magazine’s five-year mission. On the other hand, in a statement when an issue had not appeared on time, you told readers that the depressive experience of having a diagnosis of Bipolar II had been responsible : ‘The autumn issue of One in Four eaten by the editor’s depression’. (McCambridge took the opening words of your statement as the title of her piece, So, what kind of a monster eats a mental health magazine ?.)
One of the things about running a magazine is that you always have to talk about it as if it is eternal and will continue forever. Projects like ours live hand to mouth and nothing is ever certain.
In the magazine business, publications begin and end all of the time. It's a ruthless area where the continuation of a magazine depends solely on its profitability.
With One in Four, the revenues available to continue it dropped as the effects of austerity became further and further ingrained. While the individual subscription rates were rising, the bulk subscription rates flatlined.
For the final few years of One in Four, the magazine was overwhelmingly me; and me in a way that wasn't contributing to the bottom line of our company. We cut the costs of the magazine, trimmed all wastage and made it cost neutral - as long as my time wasn't factored into the equation.
Where once I might have been able to continue the magazine, knowing that it was in some way contributing to the continuation of our company and indirectly towards my own wages, we ended up in a situation where One in Four was a great project as long as I and everyone else (apart from writers) gave our time to it for free. This coming at a time where the importance of doing activity that paid was becoming more and more important.
After six or so years, I ran out of energy and steam. When you have limited resources, you fill in for missing resources with your own time and effort. This is always a risky strategy as once you run out of yourself; that's it.
2. Supplementary question :
A #mentalhealth policy pledge I'd suggest: 'No person in UK will fall into poverty as a result of #mentalhealth difficulty' #lab14
— Markoneinfour (@MarkOneinFour) September 22, 2014
Whatever one thought of it, it seems hard to believe that we once had a Social Exclusion Unit (which then became, before its abolition in 2010, the Social Exclusion Task Force)… However, that fact makes this aim that you stated in The Guardian having had for One in Four seem even more relevant :
We wanted to alleviate some of the isolation people with mental health difficulties feel.
Politics apart, but just thinking of the increasing pressures on NHS Trusts to reduce budgets, by losing in-patient beds and cutting services, was it a more realistic expectation that a publication that editorially implied a psychosocial (or other non-medical model) of mental health, e.g. by using a term such as 'mental health difficulty', could be of interest to bodies in the third sector, rather than Trusts ? If so, what would that realization have had you do differently at the outset ?
3. As its issues appeared, one thing that one noticed about One in Four is that, compared with the first ones, they no longer exactly fitted this description (taken from the oneinfourmag.org web-site) :
One in Four is a glossy full colour quarterly 32-page quarterly magazine written by people with mental health difficulties who lived through it and found ways around it. It’s the perfect guide to getting stuff in your life sorted.
Therefore, in terms of how One in Four looked, and, in particular, thinking of that word ‘glossy’, how later issues no longer had the same paper or feel. And, without checking, it seems uncertain whether ‘full colour’ continued to be an apt description…
Were these early signs that what the magazine had hoped to be, i.e. sold ‘in bulk to NHS trusts’, had not happened, and thus that there was not the expected funding for it to be as described. And do you think, in turn, that factors to do with appearance and feel could have impacted on the saleability of One in Four, to potential subscribers as well as to contributors (or advertisers, though the impression that was that advertising revenue was not likely to be significant) ?
To be honest, I don't think that anyone who subscribed to the magazine was hugely fussed about the full colour and glossy bit. One of the reasons that we chose the idea of a glossy lifestyle magazine was to set it apart from either bland and ridiculous corporate brochures on one hand and photocopied ‘anything-you-fancy-putting-in-can-go-in’ photocopied newsletters.
We thought that there was a big gap where something well written and well produced could go. Bringing the idea of mental health out into the open; both in terms of making something that anyone could read, but also in terms of wrestling back the media power over mental health representation a bit. We wanted, as much as possible, to place mental health stories in professional standard settings to show that a) it was possible and b) it was better than the more traditional ways of covering mental health such as ‘the tragedy narrative’, ‘the overcomes adversity narrative’, ‘the everything’s going to be terrible forever narrative’ or the ‘jesus christ them mentals are coming’ narrative.
It was, and still is, an approach that should be taken.
Advertising revenue was never really on the table. There isn’t a notion of people with mental health difficulties as a market to be sold to. If you open a disability magazine, you’ll see adverts for a whole range of disability adaptations and services. There isn't the equivalent for mental health. We took on an ad sales executive for a bit, but I don't think we ever got any bite from an advertiser that we didn’t already know and who wasn’t already operating in the mental health field.
As I’ve written about elsewhere, it was always going to be a risk attempting to make One in Four stand on its own feet financially without any outside support. In some respects, our glossy approach was a double-edged sword. For everyone who was glad that there was a new, fresh way of looking at mental health that you could leave on your coffee table with your other organs of note, there was someone else lining up to have a pop at us for being slick profiteers, looking to turn a quick buck from the misery of others. People equated glossy with inauthentic, something that riled me then and riles me now. People always vastly over-estimate how expensive printing is, while vastly under-estimating how expensive actually getting what you’ve printed into people’s hands is. And the thing is, it doesn’t matter whether you run your magazine off on a photocopier or get it printed on glossy paper, it mostly costs the same to send it to people.
By the end of One in Four we had worked out the print costs so that every additional 1,000 copies of the magazine would cost about £160, as long as we were printing over 1,000. If we could have delivered the magazine in consignments of 1,000 to NHS trusts, we could have charged pennies for them. The problem was : without the bulk orders to make things work, posting individual copies to subscribers was, and is, extremely expensive.
In the first couple of years, we had people complaining that we charged £10 for a year-long subscription, claiming that it should be free. By the end of the magazine, we had put up the price of a subscription to a whopping £12. For the people who believed that the magazine should be free for ideological reasons, the fact that we were producing it at all was an affront, and that it was glossy sealed our fate as moustache-twirling top-hatted capitalists.
So, as I say, the glossy bit never proved to be the definitive you'd imagine.
4. I know of one countywide mental-health advocacy service that subscribed to benefit its clients. However, were such organizations doing so, too, not the norm, even in an area that is the territory of voluntary-sector organizations such as Turning Point, local Mind associations, or Speaking Up! ? Outside advocacy, was the purchase of copies by this sort of charity, to give free to those with whom they came in contact, as good, or even better ?
Yes, there were organizations that purchased the publication to give, free, to members or visitors, but there were never enough. The problem that many organizations had was that the magazine was an actual magazine, not a brochure or a bit of location-specific health promotional material. The thing with a magazine is that it's a thing that you read that’s full of lots of different stuff, like a buffet for your mind and eyes. The key is to having a variety of dishes that combine together well, but which can also stand on their own. This is not the model that organizational comms use to think of ‘mental health promotion'. It’s all about message, message, message.
The thing that we didn’t really grasp initially, but really grasped as the project went on, was that One in Four didn't provide any glory for the organization that bought it in. It didn’t come from them, it didn't have anything specific to them, it didn’t promote them. It was great that organizations thought ‘We’ll buy this in, because it’s good and something different to what we would produce’, but there weren’t enough that thought like that.
5. As mentioned, your colleague and you obviously had intentions and expectations for One in Four, and maybe some sense of what unexpected turns of events might be (to help you plan for What if…) : now, do you see it essentially in the unforeseen that the origins of the demise of the magazine lay – and how that then impacted on what you felt personally that you could achieve (or still desired to achieve) ?
And, with the end of One in Four, is there scope to keep any content available to read through what remains of Social Spider (whatever that may be) ?
In the final two years of One in Four, One in Four became less and less of Social Spider’s overall activity. It went from having one full-time member of staff, one part-time staff writer and me spending a lot of time each week on it, plus a designer and an on-commission ad sales manager, to being just me and a voluntary designer. We always paid our writers, though. Maybe not as quickly as we, or they, would have liked. But we always paid.
In an effort to make One in Four sustainable, we essentially diversified our work around mental health and the other kinds of projects that we do. Since we brought One in Four to an end, Social Spider - as a small social enterprise - has never been in ruder health.
6. Turning away from what has happened with the magazine, what, at its best (as we mentioned above a time when depression swallowed an issue), has it meant to you to be its editor – both as a person, and in what it has enabled in your life outside work ? In particular, I gather that you worked from an office, so what did going there to work on One in Four give you ?
Social Spider has always tended towards the lowest possible overheads. It’s been based in other people’s offices, in the basement of the offices of an upmarket sex-shop, and currently lives in a three-desk office above The Mill, a community run space in Walthamstow. For me, I tend to work wherever I am, via the wonders of plugging in laptops and being on a mobile. I actually moved to Social Spider from another social enterprise that Social Spider was getting free office space from originally. At the point I moved to Social Spider in 2006, I had been editing a creative-writing web-site for three years, and doing creative-writing projects.
One in Four was amazing. A pain in the arse. But amazing. It’s given me the perfect excuse to spend my days talking to people with mental health difficulties, exploring what life is like and thinking about how it might be possible to make the way we deal with mental health as a society less shitty.
And, make no mistake, it is shitty. And shitty for lots of reasons we haven’t even begun to address yet.
Outside of work ? There’s an outside of work ?
In some respects, the whole experience of launching a national project that I made up, and then becoming the reluctant front person for it, has been the making of me.
7. Then, as now, you could be seen Tweeting content from conferences in the UK, and perhaps you are still running some of the training courses in topics, such as effective use of social media, that you did before. Are you in a position to say yet what else you may be doing ‘behind the scenes’, or is too early ?
8. Some will know your comments quite well on Twitter, but, for others, can you place what the magazine was about in relation to what often gets abbreviated in Tweets (maybe unhelpfully ?) to #socent – can you say what it is about a magazine as a social enterprises that makes it distinctive, and what are its strengths and advantages, as well as its likely drawbacks ?
When we were doing One in Four, I always tried to stay on the side of impartial journalism over committed journalism. This meant that we got some flak for covering the facts of the introduction of ESA [Employment and Support Allowance], rather than advancing opinion that it was wrong.
Looking back, one of the things that I wish that we could have had with One in Four was more investigative journalism. But that was out of our reach, I think. I still think we need more journos covering mental health, and that more of them should be people with direct experience...
I really do think there's a huge space that a strong press should occupy in mental health, but that's a very different project to One in Four. I don't ultimately think that there's a commercial model that could sustain both news reporting and investigative journalism in mental health in the UK. At the minute, even with the bloom of mental-health-related stories in UK media, we're only getting the surface of stories, not their core :
A lot of the time in this country, we (me included) have thought we've been doing journalism, when we've been doing comment. Good, but the thing is that I don't see anyone anywhere who can put up the cash for the journalism needed to capture, and hold to account, events in mental health.
I wonder whether we'd see more attempted legal take-downs of mental-health bloggers if we could find a bit of money to finance journalism. At the minute, bloggers who do proper journalistic work, digging and covering stories, are vulnerable to the more powerful taking legal action, and there are a lot of mental-health-related stories that need exploring, but very few homes for them ‘to land in’ and that pay for the work.
Journalism is expensive, because it requires people to go to places, talk to people, find things out… It is out of reach for mental health in the UK at present, because we're blighted by a lack of historical context in the way in which we present current events, because, again, we have no press. And, if you're lucky enough to get the email 'Would you like to write about mental-health issue X ?', no one will stump up the cash for research.
Plus, there are very few people in the UK who know the mental-health ‘beat’ as journos to the level needed to link across stories : I mean, when was the last time that you saw a mental-health-related story that came from a top, high-level source, and was built on research ? Although I know a fair bit these days about mental health in this country, because I used our own money to find stuff out when doing One in Four, writing about mental health for public consumption has only ever been a small bit of what I do to pay the rent.
Money = time to get stories right, whereas, a lot of the time during the life of One in Four, our company and I very nearly couldn't pay the rent. I sometimes wonder who has contacts close to where decisions are made in mental health, and what it would take to turn those contacts into stories…
9. At the time of our previous interview (which has had more than 700 page-views), we looked at what you called The New Mental Health, which tied in with a first-ever trip outside the UK to Australia. I think that it was to a destination in the Republic of Ireland that you recently made another return-flight to give a talk.
How can you tie in these book-ends of speaking engagements both to what has been happening to your experience of life, and as you have seen it affecting the lives of those being told, for example, that they are ‘under-occupying’ property, even if ‘the spare bedroom’ is needed, say, to house dialysis equipment ? And how, if at all, have your ideas about The New Mental Health changed in the intervening time ?
10. Thank you for your time, Mark. Is there anything else that you would like to say in conclusion ?
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