Speaking to Media | Ann Villegas, Editor-in-Chief at Isa Magazine
This one’s a special one! Ann Villegas is a former Matte PR intern turned freelance writer turned editor-in-chief. It’s been just over a year since her very own Isa Magazine was born, so you know we had to check in with her. Keep reading to find out her take on BIPOC representation in the media, other indie mags she’s loving, and how to submit a story or art to her publication.
Take us back to the moment you knew Isa Mag needed to come to life. From there, what were your first steps to turn it into reality?
Isa Magazine was born out of my own pure frustrations. I had just dived into the world of freelance writing in 2020, juggling my 9-to-5, and I was dealing with an editor, that shall stay unnamed, neglecting my work. It was a whole mess and boy, was I stressed! But what really drove Isa Magazine to fruition was my desire to solve a bigger problem: to fill the gap where diversity and representation are lacking in the media. I was being rejected by white-run publications and that stirred something inside me. I wanted to see a 100% BIPOC-led publication meant for and by BIPOC creatives. So I took up space and created my own platform. This was also at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and I saw that more radical spaces like mine needed to exist– a safe space free from the white gaze.
I still have the video of me manifesting Isa Magazine on June 5th, 2020 at 2 a.m.. From that day on, I went straight into research mode. I was pleasantly surprised that the name Isa Magazine wasn’t active anywhere so I created all of my social platforms under that name. Isa means One in Tagalog if you were wondering! I then went into a wormhole of researching all things magazines. I looked at what my competitors were doing, networked and learned from other entrepreneurs, and familiarized myself with the zine community. For a good two and a half months, I did what I had to do to launch an online magazine: finalize my branding kit and messaging, make the website SEO-friendly and coordinate a photoshoot for organic visuals. I even reached out to folks in the creative industry and had interviews ready for our launch.
I officially launched Isa Magazine on September 4, 2020!
You were a Matte PR intern in 2019! How did learning the mechanics of public relations help inform your editorial trajectory?
I’m really thankful for my short time at Matte — I learned so much during my internship. Although I didn’t have the sight of creating my own magazine just yet, as I was still a sleepless fourth-year media student; the skills I acquired from my PR role certainly benefited me when I did step into the world of publishing. All thanks to those hours spent assisting with media lists, I was now more familiar with the existing roster of Canadian media outlets and publications. I understood the relationship between PR and journalism and the etiquette of external outreach.
With BIPOC stories being your bread and butter, what’s your hot take on BIPOC representation in the media?
Ah, I have so much to say surrounding this topic! But to reiterate some key points from my initial Editor’s Letter, I want to see diversity representation in the media beyond its trendy campaigns and into the working teams behind them.
We’ve seen the sudden surge of diversity in marketing and in mainstream campaigns, but the real question still stands: do BIPOC individuals actually work behind the scenes? Are they a part of the working team? Do they hold a role in the senior and leadership levels? Do their ideas matter? These are the questions I care about and want answers to. The demand for content by BIPOC creators needs to dig deeper than that. I want to see equity, inclusion and diversity reflected within the workplace in these small and big companies.
The publishing industry alone has a very big diversity problem. A 2019 survey by Lee & Low Books found that 76 per cent of people who work in publishing (from publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents) are white. The rest are comprised of people who self-report as Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (7 per cent); Hispanic/Latino/Mexican (6 per cent); Black/African American (5 per cent); and biracial/multiracial (3 per cent). Native Americans and Middle Easterners each comprise less than 1 per cent of publishing staff (!). There is so much work to be done.
This is why Isa Magazine was so crucial for me to start. On top of wanting to be a better ally, and to become a better person overall, I see Isa Magazine as a platform that offers solutions. My aim is to work with and amplify (with priority) the marginalized voices of BIPOC youth and young women through shared stories and art. Before anything, I’m a writer and a learner, and I’ve always found my creative outlet to be so healing. I know I’m not alone on that fact, so why not put the two together: Make art while challenging an oppressive system and servicing myself to the social impact space.
Which other indie mags inspire you and why?
I truly believe indie mags are the future! There are so many that exist — coming from all sorts of niches too. Research a theme you’re interested in and I bet you’ll find a zine for it. Historically, zines were created by writers and artists who felt ignored by mainstream media. They were, and still are, a tool for marginalized people who traditionally are not given a platform to express themselves. I love supporting BIPOC-run mags so to name a few off the top of my head: Ashamed, Aurelia Magazine, Bad Form Review, gal-dem, Living Hyphen, Local Wolves, Overachiever and Reclamation!
To date, which story has been your favourite to come out of Isa?
Can I say ALL of them? Cause I truly do love every single submission. But if I were to really pick and choose, I recommend reading every single story under Culture and Activism. You can read from the most talented young writers who give their take on themes of colourism, diversity, colonization, what it means for the future of “objective reporting” in Canadian newsrooms, and so much more.
What kinds of pitches really make your heart sing?
As long as you’re genuine and super passionate in your pitch, I will definitely respond to you! Rule of thumb is to at least know who we are and know what kind of stories we put out. That way, your pitch is targeted and we know it wasn’t a mass email or anything. Trust me, I can tell if it was. That being said, I love making authentic connections and meeting all sorts of humans from all over the world. Send me your pitches at email@example.com.
What is your message to the BIPOC community re: Isa and its mission?
Isa’s purpose is to (and always) provide a safe platform for all creatives who need a starting point or who are looking to join a bright and inclusive community. My commitment as the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Isa Magazine is to amplify, listen and learn from each and every unique voice who share their stories and art with us. Diversity matters and you deserve to fill this space, more than you know.
Photos by Claire Moncada.
Looking for more Speaking To Media? Read our interview with founder of Mimp Magazine, Andreya Klobucar. Have any suggestions for new guests on this series? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!