In recent years, independent community publications have begun springing up around Austin. High traffic street corners and the entrances to popular stores and restaurants are littered with stacks of free publications.
Each competes for readers and advertisers, generally seeking an advantage by catering to a niche market of some sort.
These newspapers and magazines are largely reflections of the people who created them and seek to make an impact on the Austin community.
When Will Atkins returned to Austin after living in Vermont for 10 years, he settled in Oak Hill.
"It’s not your normal suburb," Atkins said. "It’s a community that’s been around since when Austin was founded.
"It’s had a couple of newspapers before... When other people that I met, like at Rotary Clubs and things like that, found out that I had owned a newspaper before in Vermont, they practically begged me to start a newspaper in Oak Hill because it really does have its own sense of community."
When the Oak Hill Gazette launched in 1995, Atkins ran a series of stories about the "unkept promises" which Austin made in the 1980s when it annexed Oak Hill.
"When they annexed this area, they promised a new library, a swimming pool, a southwest branch way park and several other things but none of this had come through," Atkins said. He credits the paper with helping sway the community to pressure the city.
Yet landing enough advertisers was problematic.
"We stuck with it beyond the time any reasonable businessperson would have. We were so stupid, we didn't know any better to quit, and we liked what we were doing, and could see that we were a positive influence in the community. So we just kept at it," Atkins said.
"A lot of serious advertisers, you know, they won't take you seriously until you've been around about 3 years… We had to basically gain people's trust and I did that by going to business and professional meetings, and getting to know the owners... and making sure our newspaper reflected their concerns."
Instead of launching a large newspaper, Atkins said he grew the Gazette "organically"—adding more articles and pages only as more ads were sold.
The Downtown Planet
In response to the tremendous growth in and development of the downtown area, Atkins launched the Downtown Planet in June 2004.
To do so, he enlisted the help of Corinne Carson, who began as an intern at the Oak Hill Gazette in 2003 while studying linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin.
The start of the Downtown Planet was hectic, Carson said.
"Everything was really disorganized. I didn't have a lot of direction or supplies or staff or help. It was definitely a challenge and I was learning a lot," she said.
Carson is the only full-time staffer for the two papers other than Atkins and Levers.
She said she liked working for the small community newspapers because she gets to dabble in many different roles—ad salesperson and designer, Web designer, receptionist, writer, photographer and editor.
The newspapers do not try to break news before the Austin American-Statesman, Atkins said. Instead, the Gazette and the Planet seek to cover the issues more in depth, with more photos and emphasizing the community's reaction.
Atkins says he hopes "to keep growing the newspaper[s]." But he also has ideas for magazines for niche markets in the works. Hear interviews with the Oak Hill Gazette and The Downtown Planet in their entirety:
Will Atkins, Oak Hill Gazette and Downtown Planet publisher and editor, interviewed by Kim Loop on Nov. 15, 2005
Corinne Carson, Oak Hill Gazette and Downtown Planet assistant editor, interviewed by Kim Loop on Nov. 15, 2005
Laurie Winfield grew up overseas—in Libya and Singapore—because her parents were in the oil business.
She loved listening to other languages and immersing herself in different cultures. It was not something she forgot when she grew up.
Winfield taught English in Japan and elsewhere before settling into her current full-time job in the software industry. Today, Winfield has translated this love of other cultures into travel and educating others.
After writing a few articles about travel and culture in the summer of 2004, she decided that she wanted to do something more. She had the idea to create her own magazine—Austin Traveler Magazine.
By November 2004, Winfield had recruited her friend Lisa Roe to become a partner in the project.
Roe had experience in publishing and spent some time in Iran growing up. Although she was raised primarily in Ft. Worth, she watched PBS showings of Masterpiece Theater and Monty Python and always felt like she should have been born in Europe.
"I've always loved to travel. It's been a major aspect of my life. I was sick of working at the Statesman; I was ready to do something else," Roe said. "So we just did it."
From that point, the progress was gradual. They chose to focus on travel related topics and people’s travel tales as well as highlight Austin’s culturally-rich, international community.
"We started seeking out people to help us—a website designer, a layout designer. We stumbled around trying to find the right people to help us. We decided how much seed money we thought we could put in," Winfield said.
The two women initially wanted to put out their first issue in March. It actually came out in July.
"Our deadline or target for putting out the magazine kept moving a little bit because I don't think we realized all the aspects involved in it—the planning, the layout design, the distribution, gathering content," said Winfield. "We weren't 100% devoted to this."
Winfield still works her full-time tech job. Roe worked for the Statesman until this spring. She is also raising her two preschool age children.
Time constraints are an issue because of Winfield and Roe’s other responsibilities. It’s hard not to shirk in some areas when you’re responsible for every aspect of a business like this one, Winfield said.
"The other challenge for the free publications in town is there are so many and these business owners are inundated with calls," Roe said. "And they really, they're like us, working 60-80 hours a week and watching every penny, so it’s not an easy sell for a lot of them."
The magazine is currently seeking a paid ad salesperson and unpaid interns for the spring semester.
Despite the new magazine’s struggles, its creators are happy with their creation.
Holding the finished issue in one’s hands and talking to others in the community about it is rewarding, Roe said.
"For me, it’s in many ways a success already because we said we were going to do something and we did it," said Winfield.
Winfield and Roe continue to have big plans for the future, however. A book club, happy hours and T-shirts are just some of the ways they hope to expand.Hear interviews with Austin Traveler Magazine in their entirety:
Laurie Winfield, Austin Traveler Magazine editor, interviewed by Kim Loop on Nov. 19, 2005
Lisa Roe, Austin Traveler Magazine publisher, interviewed by Kim Loop on Nov. 19, 2005
Until May 2004, Evelyn Gardner was the advertising director at the Daily Texan.
With 30 years of experience in the industry, she quit to begin her own newspaper.
The Austin Student was born. The first issue came out in September 2004.
Starting the paper was something she always wanted to do and it was the time in her life when she thought she could, she said.
Writing for students is a niche market which is less affected by economic lows, Gardner said. Parents will try to cut spending in other areas before giving less money to their children.
Gardner was already known to the Austin publishing industry and to advertisers. She admits that she would have had a considerably harder time selling a ads if she had been an outsider.
Austin Student was created in part to give journalism students from the greater Austin area a way to gain clips, Gardner said.
While UT has the Daily Texan, the student papers of other area universities—Austin Community College, Texas State University, Southwestern University, Concordia, St. Edward’s and Huston-Tillotson University—are not often published, small or more like newsletters.
The Austin Student has had writers from all of the universities it serves except for Southwestern, a school to which it expanded just this semester.
Gardner hopes to eventually "spread the model to other markets in the country"—cities in which there is one large and many smaller universities.Evelyn Gardner, Austin Student publisher, was interviewed by Kim Loop and Ruth Liao on Nov. 21, 2005 at the newspaper’s offices.
Student staffers at work in the paper’s newsroom.
The weekly newspaper can be found in blue boxes such as this one, placed around campuses throughout Austin.
The Austin Student office is located near Nueces and 24th Streets
Ilene Whitworth holds a degree in Archaeology. She's also the owner, printer, publisher and publicist for Enjoy Whole Health, a magazine about local health topics for Austin and San Antonio.
Whitworth bought the magazine from the previous owner and expanded to the Austin market by "going door to door," and showing potential advertisers what the final product would look like and convincing them of the need for a mag such as hers.
Magazine owners, she says, have to wear a lot of hats.
"Starting a magazine is a big risk," she said. "The economy is bad and I have talked to other people who were thinking of doing a start-up magazine and I have really questioned them about that."
Some of the pitfalls include having to pay printers and publishers upfront despite the reality that ad dollars are always coming in late. Advertisers like to pay as late as possible, Whitworth said.
Then there are rival publications.
"You can't start a magazine and be a wimp," Whitworth said. She's had to defend herself from attacks as nefarious as other publications stealing her racks or placing their product on top of hers.
Whitworth shows no signs of stopping publication anytime soon. In fact, Enjoy Whole Health may be serving the Dallas and Houston areas very soon.
Ilene Whitworth, Enjoy Whole Health publisher, interviewed by Jonathan McNamara on Nov. 22, 2005 over the phone
Edit: Full Disclosure-- Kim Loop wrote three articles for the Downtown Planet during the spring of 2005 and is currently interning for Austin Traveler Magazine. Both positions were/are unpaid.