Farrago has the social media bug. On the eve of its 90th birthday, Australia’s oldest student magazine is looking to engage a readership beyond the A4 matt colour pages of its eight monthly editions.
And so far, so good. Arts graduate and co-editor Kevin Hawkins told The Citizen that he was satisfied with the magazine’s recent Facebook performance.
“We’ve invested a fair bit in targeted Facebook advertising and have managed to almost double our Facebook likes in less than five months, which has been really exciting,” he says during a break ahead of publication of the team’s fourth magazine.
Farrago currently has more than 2800 likes on Facebook, as well as 2250 followers on Twitter and 227 on Instagram. The social networking sites widen the magazine’s reach but they also encourage engagement by allowing readers to express their opinions on each edition’s articles. This feedback, both positive and negative, is often published in the “Lettuce to the Editor” section of the magazine on page five opposite more conventionally penned letters.
“Impressed by the piece on bipolar in @FarragoMagazine,” tweeted @xerinstewart recently. Altenatively, @kalsno: “@FarragoMagazine, your mag just plain stinks. IDK if it’s the paper or the ink but the sour stench emanating from your pages turns me off….”
Although, by far, the weightier criticism appears to be reserved for missives of a few hundred words, not 140 characters. The latest edition ticks off the editors for giving News Corporation publications a kicking, and for peddling cliches about Myanmar.
“While there is certainly a trend against print publications such as newspapers, I think there is still a strong market for magazines, especially those that cover a niche topic or appeal to a certain audience.” — Kevin Hawkins, Farrago co-editor
The editors claim not to be discouraged by negative feedback. On the contrary, Mr Hawkins says, “we secretly kind of like them. We don’t mean to be a troll, but if people are responding to our articles if often means our pieces are thought provoking, which is our intention.”
Since its first edition in 1925, Farrago has been written by students for students. Its contributor list is eclectic, drawn from a range of disciplines. And despite the shifting landscape for print in general, the 2014 editorial team is confident that the hard copy Farrago will continue to flourish despite the rise of online publications.
“While there is certainly a trend against print publications such as newspapers, I think there is still a strong market for magazines, especially those that cover a niche topic or appeal to a certain audience,” says Mr Hawkins. “We feel that we’re still the most accessible place on campus to get quality news and opinion about the issues that concern students.
“We feel that we provide an invaluable opportunity for students to get their written and artistic work published for the first time, and an easy way for people to engage with the University and the Student Union.”
The fourth edition of the year, unveiled on May 28, appeared well received, with Facebook users praising its design and layout. “The cover looks so good!” chirped Facebook follower Jennifer Nguyen.
Mr Hawkins said that a financial boost since the introduction of the Student Services and Amenities Fee in 2012 had enabled a print makeover. The magazine also carries advertising but a guaranteed 5 per cent cent of the Union’s budget underpins the publication.
“The magazine began to look a lot more slick in 2012 but we’d like to think we’ve take another step forward this year,” Mr Hawkins adds. “The design we’ve gone with is very clean and consistent, and hopefully wouldn’t look out of place at a magazine store among high-budget mainstream publications.”
All four editors, who were chosen in a student election, share the workload in terms of editing, management and production of the magazine but they also have their specialties.
Mr Hawkins’ 2014 partners include Sean Watson, Michelle See-Tho and Zoe Efron.
“Zoe is great at design and works with the illustrators. Sean is excellent at fiction and poetry, and deals a lot with our creative writers. Michelle is a news whiz and takes care of our news team and breaking stories,” says Mr Hawkins with satisfaction. “And I fill in a lot of the gaps, but specifically I work with our radio team, our marketing team and I do a lot of our social media.”
The magazine’s website invites contributors who can offer “smart, well-written, weird, inventive, genuine and unpretentious writing” on politics, society, arts, science and “pretty much anything else you think would be of interest to Melbourne Uni students”.
That diversity is mirrored by Farrago’s fourth edition, which includes stories and information about university courses, under-represented students and new clubs and societies. The edition also focuses on the State Government’s May Budget and university fees and funding.
A news article by Master of Journalism student and co-editor Michelle See-Tho on the history of education funding breaks down the information in a timeline “for those who can’t get their heads around the subject”. A feature article on page 19 by Martin Ditmann explains “What the Budget Means For Students”, while a contributors Travis Lines and Matthew Lesh opine about “the pros and cons of free university education”.
Biomedicine student and contributing writer Lines argued in favour of free university education and commended Farrago for allowing him to write an article on a matter close to his heart.
“I was very keen to tackle this piece, as it’s something that I feel very strongly about,” he says. “I’ve come from what I would describe as a poor background and went to school with plenty of people far worse off than me. Their crime was being born to parents who couldn’t afford a great education for them. I think it’s our responsibility as a society to put forward talent, wherever it may come from.”
Mr Lines adds: “Farrago is chock a block with ridiculously talented writers, many of whom will go on to have very successful careers themselves. Though its readership isn’t huge, it is a successful magazine and it still has the ability to cause a stir. Given the current climate, I know that readers are interested in taking up the debate about whether we should pay for education. So far, I’ve received positive feedback from readers and from Farrago’s editors.”
“Farrago is chock a block with ridiculously talented writers, many of whom will go on to have very successful careers themselves. Though its readership isn’t huge, it is a successful magazine and it still has the ability to cause a stir.” — Farrago contributor Travis Lines
When asked which article had caused the greatest stir this year, co-editor Hawkins says: “Incidentally, it was an article that wasn’t even true! On April Fools Day, I wrote a piece about Melbourne Uni and RMIT merging to become a ‘Superuniveristy’. A few people got the joke, but a lot took the bait. We ended up getting 11,000 hits on the website that day and a lot of concerned questions from students.”
While readers’ responses to the article amused the editorial team, Mr Hawkins says the editors knew where to draw the line. “For the most part, we like our writers to maintain their ‘journalistic integrity’ per se and respect our readers. But we also like our writing to be provocative, not for the point of being provocative, but because [the magazine is] well-written and well-argued. The April Fools joke was fun but we wouldn’t want to do it too often to risk losing those who trust us.”
Mr Hawkins believes that a stream of thought-provoking articles in conjunction with its social media strategy would underscore the magazine’s prospects.
“Farrago isn’t just relevant, but growing on a year-to-year basis and I can’t see the magazine taking a backwards step in the near future.”