offscreen

OffscreenWell, that year flew past.

I’ll give a more detailed account soon but, for now, suffice to say SitePoint kept me pretty busy in 2013. I left in December and a mere month later I’m ready to again pick up the digital pen.

I’m going to start with a review of the seventh issue of an industry magazine that has become a favourite of mine, Offscreen.

I’ve mentioned Offscreen before in my reading lists: the first issue and the third, in fact. Offscreen is an independent magazine about “people who use the internet and technology to be creative, solve problems, and build successful businesses”. The previous six issues have profiled some fascinating people, often giving unique insights into what they do and how they came to do it.

Issue 7 raises the bar.

The format has really settled in, now: six detailed interviews with “people behind bits and pixels”; a series of topical first person essays by industry folk; a photo essay on industry workplaces; a mini interview or two; A Day in the Life Of (3 out of 4 subjects check their emails in bed when they wake up); and another photo-heavy feature article – with gorgeous photos.

The six major interviews in this issue are with Cameron Adams, Jake Nickell, Alice Taylor, Scott Thomas, Oliver Reichenstein and Josh Williams. Each interview is conducted by Kai Brach, who is also the Publisher, Editor and Art Director of Offscreen. While the interviews are held in various places around the globe, Kai is based in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood (just around the corner from SitePoint HQ). Clearly, Offscreen is his baby, and he has nurtured it well.

Notwithstanding the plethora of web industry commentators, analysts, forecasters, sages and gurus which overpopulates the web itself and mainstream media, Kai is a rare case where journalistic excellence combines with a genuine understanding of the subject matter to put his interview subjects at such ease as to draw out of them deeply personal and revealing statements. He has done his research, and while his questions are short, the responses they elicit are often long and detailed.

The six people profiled are all great choices: interesting people with fascinating stories to tell, and the end results are an absolute credit to Kai’s editing skills. Great photos, beautifully rendered, add to the reading experience, as does the superior quality of the type rendering. I much prefer the thinner paper debuted in this issue: that slimming by 20gm2 per page has made the whole magazine more flexible and easier to handle.

Reading these interviews reminded me of what I most used to love about the interviews in Playboy and Rolling Stone. Yeah well, in my world, that’s a huge compliment. Excellence is excellence, wherever you find it.

What I found really interesting in reading Offscreen #7 was that, while each interview was individually compelling in its own right, I kept noticing some through lines, some commonalities in the experiences of the subjects, and that these were often also reflected in the surrounding essays and other articles. Deliberate or not, this had an immensely satisfying – and unifying – effect for me, making this magazine something more than just a set of component articles. Here are seven (aptly enough) themes I found.

1. It’s not all beer and skittles

Several subjects reveal the hard times they’ve experienced, the mistakes they’ve made and the self-doubt they’ve had to negotiate. Each has had recoveries, changes of heart or direction and/or regrets to deal with. Christopher Murphy’s final essay brings it all to a head.

2. You gotta have heart

The passion these people have shines through. Hardly anyone knew what they were doing when they started doing it, but they loved doing it. The work often came out of the play they had when young. Ideas and creativity have a currency of their own, and dreams are there to be followed. Romantic, sure, but these people DO it.

3. It’s business

Ideas and passion are not enough. Not when there are partners and children, family and employees depending on the success of your little venture. Several profiles feature a change of fortune when someone comes on board who understands the business side of things.

4. Multi-skilling helps

Most people profiled have more than one string to their bow. Sometimes they track toward one skill or discipline, then another, then they find a way to bring them together. Every ideas person is also a technology person, and everyone is focused on their end users. Perspective and empathy are assets.

5. See the world

I was struck by the collective travels of all of the people in this issue. Not just that it’s a geographically diverse bunch of people, but that so many of them seem to have travelled to distant places to work, or where they ended up working.

6. Family matters

This issue of Offscreen is full of family: husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings, everything. Geeks and nerds abound, for sure, but they aren’t solitary, nocturnal loners – they’re family folks. In most cases, family brings a down to earthness, a feet on the groundness that directly informs their work, and their attitude to their work.

7. It’s possible

What I found most touching about this Offscreen is that the subjects are simultaneously amazingly creative, unusual and unique individuals, as well as being ordinary people with ordinary stories who work in an industry that welcomes people who want to make the impossible possible. They’ve taken risks and learned lessons, many have worked for some of the biggest web entities and walked away. That’s inspiring.

Having been Managing Editor at SitePoint, being the Digital Director of Anne Summers Reports and having come to freelance web design and development from a background in print, I see Offscreen as occupying a very special place, defined by excellence. Offscreen #7 isn’t perfect – there are a few typos and layout glitches – but it pursues excellence, and with Kai Brach at the helm, might just attain it.

Offscreen is $22 a copy, or cheaper in a three-issue subscription. All issues can be ordered online at http://www.offscreenmag.com/.

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