5 Minutes with the Media – Brian Finnegan, GCN

Every week here at MediaHQ we chat with a member of the media landscape, from print journalists to radio producers and everyone in between to shine a light into what it’s like to work in the industry.  

Ever wondered what it’s like to edit a national magazine? This week’s guest gives us the inside scoop as we chat to Brian Finnegan, Novelist and Editor of GCN. 

1) What is your current role and what does it involve?

Mine’s a very busy role, with never a dull moment! I’m the Director and Editor of GCN, a role that not only includes creative control and commissioning of every issue of GCN, but driving and overseeing all the other arms of my team and diverse work, from our growing digital platform (which won Digital Product of the Year – Consumer Media at the Irish Magazine Awards 2017), to engaging with LGBT organisations across the country, to appearing in the media and at events to represent LGBT issues, to hosting a monthly podcast.

 

We also run events like Mother nightclub on Saturdays, huge parties like Yestival (on the anniversary of the Yes vote for marriage equality) and Mother’s Bloc Party at Dublin Pride and our annual Eurovision Douze Points party. In an effort to stay ahead in a fast-changing industry, magazine publishing has grown to be an all-encompassing job, and GCN is proof of that we’re working it, in that we’ve reached our 30th birthday this year. We’ll be holding a multi-media exhibition from June 21 to July 1 at the Gallery of Photography to celebrate the fact and the momentous journey LGBT Ireland has made over those three decades.

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2) How long have you been working in the media?

I ended up working in the media by accident in the early 90s. I’d graduated with a degree in Fine Art, and I was struggling financially, so I got a job laying out listings in a magazine in London. It was a co-operative, so everyone got paid the same wage and got a chance to do other things. I wrote a book review, and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do. I moved back to Ireland at a time of mass unemployment and got a place on a community employment scheme for one year with GCN. That led me to write a non-fiction comedy book, called Camp as Knickers, which in turn led to the then editor of In Dublin, John Ryan, asking me to come on board as their ‘Queer Editor’. After creating a magazine called GI, which ran for two years, I was asked to come back and edit GCN, which I was delighted to do. I’ve been with GCN for 15 of its 30 years.

3) What does a typical workday look like for you?

We start with a staff meeting at which everybody contributes what they’re doing for the day, and we look at our website analytics to see what’s working well and what’s not. Then there’s a special meeting for our online content, at which we tie down what will go out on the website and be shared on social media at key times during the day.

From there on in much of my work is about juggling lots of different elements, from commissioning (and chasing!) writers and photographers to do features and interviews, to writing online content if the team needs me, or working with our designer on the next issue, to lots of different meetings with stakeholders, to going to media briefings and launches. You have to be organised or it just all tumbles in on top of you, and suddenly you have another print deadline to meet.

4) What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?

My favourite part of the job is still when the magazine comes back from the printer. There’s always a feeling of satisfaction, even if you do notice all the mistakes no one else would notice. When I was a child I used to make my own magazines, handwriting articles and laying them out on copybook pages with pictures cut from other magazines. I still have that sense of creative excitement about making GCN, and seeing it in the flesh.

5) What piece of work are you most proud of?

I’m proud of GCN as a whole. When I took over I made it full-colour and it was my intention that every picture of an Irish LGBT person featured in it would be smiling. I wanted to hold up a bright mirror to the LGBT community, showing us to ourselves as diverse, self-confident and empowered. I’m proud of GCN’s pivotal role the decade leading up to the marriage equality referendum in 2015. It was a hub for all of the information coming from the organisations, and we were in the business of shaping a politically aware and positively engaged community through the pages of the magazine. We’ve played a role in the changing Ireland that we see today.
My proudest issue is the special we printed on the Monday after the marriage referendum win. We’d designed two versions of the magazine, one with all editorial based on a Yes vote and one with No. It seems strange now, given the overwhelming result, to look back and think that we were deeply worried it might be a No. I never want that issue of the mag to see the light of day!

I also love our current Repeal cover, which was shot on an iPhone on the day that Maser’s mural was painted over on the Project Arts Centre.

6) Do you find it difficult to juggle the time between your role as Editor of GCN Magazine as well as write novels?

I can’t lie and say it’s easy. I have to get up very early in the mornings to write before I go to the office because there’s not a chance in hell that I’ll do it after the working day is over. My weekends tend to be filled with writing too, so it means there’s little time off. I need a holiday!

7) Finally, do you have any pitching tips for those looking to share a story?

We’re interested in stories that are of interest to the LGBT community of course, and particularly stories about ordinary people and their lives, especially if extraordinary things have happened to them. For instance, we have an interview in the next issue with a gay asylum seeker who had to flee Russia after the secret police tried to recruit him so that he would tell them about the activities of other LGBT people. He knew that if he refused, his life would be in serious danger, so he had to suddenly drop everything after the meeting, and leave his family, his partner and his university career behind to get out of the country. Now he lives in a Direct Provision centre in Ireland and will be within that system for
years.

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