8 Nov 2020

Rural women's stories for rural readers

From Mediawatch, 9:08 am on 8 November 2020

The magazine scene is being rejuvenated by small publishers after the Covid crisis turned it upside down. Among the new titles launched in a difficult market is Shepherdess - made for rural women by rural women.

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Photo: photo / Colin Peacock

The 2020 New Zealand Magazine Media Awards in Auckland recently was a more low-key than it's been in previous years with a slimmed-down range of categories. 

That was a reflection of a tough year caused by the chaos Covid-19 brought to the business. 

Six months earlier Bauer Media had closed the country’s top titles, advertising had stalled and for a while printing and distribution was effectively banned under lockdown rules. It looked like many magazines would not see out 2020 - let alone be in the running for gongs at a fancy shindig. 

But the Magazine Publishers Association was pleased with the number of entries and the way magazines' publishers adapted to Covid-19.

Food magazine dish was the Supreme Winner on the night. 

“This year dish showed us all how to survive a pandemic and a publishing shut down. It sneaked in under the wire with a 'Home Comforts' issue full of food that was spot-on for locked down Kiwis … and then delivered spot-on email missives throughout the lockdown to back it up,” the judges said. 

A new category - Best Covid Response - was won by new architecture magazine Here, launched and edited by Simon Farrell-Green in June just two months after Bauer closed his former magazine. 

Also recognised in the category was Shepherdess - a new magazine for and about rural women - and produced by them too.

It’s edited by Kristy McGregor from her own family’s farm in Horowhenua.  

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Photo: supplied

“This came out of my own experience of moving from Australia to here and now being on an intergenerational family farm, talking to women here in rural areas and understanding what life is like for them,” she said.

“I found that there wasn’t really anything that was targeted at them and with real stories of relatable rural women,” she told Mediawatch.

Not only is Kristy far from the heart of the publishing industry in Auckland and the advertising and media-buying businesses that are the lifeblood, she has to distribute the magazine to readers in remote places all over the country.

“We have a team that's spread right across the country – freelance writers and photographers on farms and in small towns in both islands. We make the most of Zoom and spaces online to stay in touch," she said.

Each edition has a contents page with a map showing where all the stories come from - and in each one there is a spread of locations from north to south.

“I want women – and men – to be able to pick up the magazine and to be able to relate to someone or somewhere in it,“ she said.

“We want to make it a whole-of-New Zealand magazine. Even in terms of pricing and subscription. A lot of people in rural delivery areas get socked with an extra delivery charge when they go to buy something,” she said. 

“Our ethos is that that this should be as accessible to women in remote spots as it is in Auckland or Wellington,“ she said.

Shepherdess editor Kristy McGregor

Shepherdess editor Kristy McGregor Photo: supplied

“In the same way that we try and get the geographic diversity in our stories we want to ensure we get Māori and Pasifika stories too,“ she said.

Shepherdess was conceived before the Covid crisis was brewing but launched just as it hit New Zealand.

A planned launch party in mid-March for friends in a butcher’s shop in the Manawatu town of Rongotea was scrapped in favour of an online 'Flock In' linking readers and supporters with the magazine’s team. 

“Getting a magazine to public places like cafes was obviously off the table we had to think how we could connect with people at home,“ she said.

Pania Tepaiho Marsh of Wahine Toa Hunting - in the Spring edition of Shepherdess magazine.

Pania Tepaiho Marsh of Wahine Toa Hunting - in the Spring edition of Shepherdess magazine. Photo: Helen Lea Wall

“We ended up doing an online launch which attracted 300 women from all over the country. It did force us to think outside the box to this magazine in front of women,” she said.

“It’s just been a constant period of adaption as we’ve gone along," she said. 

While McGregor is new to magazine publishing, it’s not her first experience telling stories about and for rural people. 

In partnership with the ABC’s audience-based platform Open she created Voices from Yaraka to give voice to a community in Western Queensland. 

It's a model she's now adopted in her new home region with a 'Voices' initiative for Horowhenua already under way and it will be exhibited and published online soon.

Meanwhile the deadline is approaching for the final edition of the year, due to be distributed on 3 December. But there's another deadline approaching too. 

"On the day the magazine is due on the shelves, my second baby is due. I'm hoping it stays in long enough to get it to the printer," she said.