On editing a community magazine

by Agata De Santis  

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a writer. I was always a talker, always asked questions, and always acted the storyteller. It’s what I loved to do.

When I was in high school I got my first real taste of journalism. My computer teacher wanted to start up a weekly high school newspaper. My good friends and I enthusiastically agreed to help. And so at the age of 15 I became the co-editor of V.M. Times. It was an arduous task that I took to heart. Every week, I made sure my writers got their stories in on time. I spent numerous late afternoons in the computer lab working on the layout. And the evening before publication was spent in front of the photocopier (our very own makeshift printing press).

Despite our careful planning though, something would always go array. Two hours before going to print, you might find us in front of the computer creating a last-minute piece titled “why I refuse to eat cafeteria food” because an article had fallen through. Or, at copy number 288 (of 400), the photocopier might overheat or simply refuse to co-operate. Never a dull moment.  

The hours were always long and criticism sometimes harsh. But despite the spelling mistakes pointed out to us by non-supportive teachers (once the newspaper had already been distributed to every homeroom class), despite receiving the blame for the broken photocopier, it was worth it. Nothing beat watching students enthusiastically searching through V.M. Times for their horoscope (we had it all!) or for the latest stats on their basketball team. My fellow students showed their appreciation for the newspaper, and that’s what made it all worthwhile.

Once I graduated from high school and passed on the editorial duties to another eager student, I felt somewhat at a loss. Not so much at the fact that I would no longer be an “editor”, but that I would no longer be using my creative juices to create and produce a publication.

As I continued on in my academic career, I dabbled in other non-writing interests. I got my feet wet in radio, in television production, in soccer. But I seemed to shy away from the school presses. It was as if subconsciously I knew that there was nothing there for me to create. The school newspapers were already established; they didn’t need me. On occasion I would write for papers like The McGill Daily, but it wasn’t the same.

Once out of school, I began working as a freelance writer for various publications. It was exciting – mostly because for the first time I was actually getting paid to write. But again, the creative process ended when I emailed my story to my editor. The final look and content of the newspaper or magazine was as much a mystery to me as any other reader.

Earlier this year I was approached by the Quebec Chapter of the National Congress of Italian Canadians to edit a publication for the Italian Montreal community. I was very familiar with the Congress – and they with me – since I had actually covered some of their activities and interviewed some of their members in my freelance work. The Congress’s community publication, appropriately titled La Comunità, had been created in 1977. It was an informational newsletter that covered activities in the community. Published irregularly – sometimes four times a year, sometimes six – the newsletter served as a promotional tool for the various Italian-Montreal associations. Their last issue had been published in 1996.

So when the present executive board decided to re-launch La Comunità, I jumped at the opportunity to run it. You see, I had a vision. First off, I suggested to the board, we should stop calling La Comunità a newsletter. It’s going to look and feel like a magazine and that’s what we’re going to call it. I envisioned regular features, photo essays, short stories, and cover stories. The works. The layout would be hip and the advertisers would be knocking on our door. And we were going to have a logo – a mission, if you will – that highlighted our magazine’s purpose. “By, for and about Italian Montrealers”. It can’t get clearer than that.

That was nine months ago. Since then we’ve published two issues, and we’re working on our third. Advertisers are a little harder to come by than I had anticipated, but they are slowly coming. Some features are still being ironed out and I’m not completely satisfied with the layout. But it is coming along. This baby is still a work in progress.

Starting next year, we’ll be publishing La Comunità every three months, in March, June, September, and December. We’ll be introducing color pages, more regular features, a student essay competition, magazine-sponsored activities and much more. We’ll be adding pages and widening our distribution.

And so once again I’m excited. Excited about creating something new. Excited about seeking out writers and story ideas and readers (oh, and advertisers). It’s been hard, it will probably get even harder. But no other feeling can compare to flipping through a magazine and knowing that you’re responsible for its existence. I love this job. 

Agata De Santis can be reached directly at adesan@total.net

The December 2000 issue of La Comunità  featured stories including: Faces and voices we’ve come to love – Italian Montreal media personalities (cover story); Carmen Colombo on wowzone.com; Italian culinary traditions; and more.


Unfortunately,  La Comunità  Magazine was shelved in Spring 2002 for financial reasons.

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