Video “cover” for Issue 1 of STEVIE

There’s a new cultural magazine ‘round these parts: STEVIE ZINE launches today with its first issue—“The West”. The quarterly online magazine is a mix of journalism pieces, memoirs, satire, and photo essays. Relevant to our interests, it’s written by and for women. STEVIE is the brainchild of journalist Alana Levinson, who sought to create a print-quality publication online. Her new zine manifesto is “down with the aspirational brand. We think women want to read journalism that illuminates their unique struggles, instead of adding to them”. We asked Alana just a few questions about the making of STEVIE ZINE, and ended up learning so much about journalism, gender in the media, and Stevie Nicks.

Q&A with Alana Levinson

If you had to describe the STEVIE ZINE reader, who would she be?
Adventurous. Curious. Creative. Smart. Bold. Probably into trinkets, Drake, and eating lots of food. Basically, all of my friends!

What prompted you to start the zine?
When I was younger, I’d read women’s magazines all the time and it was a childhood dream to work for one. But by the time I was an adult, I realized I really didn’t identify with the “aspirational brand” many of them put forthan ideal (usually of wealth and beauty) that readers can never attain. Why would you want to read something that makes you feel shitty about yourself? While at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, I became aware of some scary statistics about women in journalism. It’s harder for us to get published—63.4 percent of media is produced by men. In the New York Times during January and February 2013, men were quoted 3.4 times more often than women in Page 1 stories, and women make up only 23 percent of leadership and power positions in media at large. These two forces came together to create STEVIE ZINE.

Are you a planner, or do you like to learn as you go along? How has that shaped your approach in starting STEVIE ZINE?
I think of myself as a planner, but when you’re venturing into entrepreneurship for the first time, there are unexpected curveballs that get thrown your way. For example, I had to change my original name at the last minute because of a trademark issue. But that’s part of the thrill of doing something on your own, without an established infrastructure. The entire process is very agile.

The current theme for STEVIE ZINE is “The West”. How did you arrive at that theme?
I was born and raised in San Francisco, and so the West Coast, everything from the landscape to cultural quirks, is a huge source of inspiration. Part of it was also practical, as I knew that I wanted to have original reporting, and I live and work here. Additionally, the West is not something typically explored by publications based on the East Coast. When they do cover the territory, it’s often a canned narrative, like “Silicon Valley Is The New Wild West!” But there are many more fascinating stories to tell in this part of the world.

From Justine Quart's photo story, Women Who Ride

From Justine Quart’s photo story, Women Who Ride

Any favorite features in this first issue?
That’s like picking a favorite child, but I’ll try. There’s an incredible piece on the history of the San Francisco burrito, which has beautiful description of El Farolito, my favorite Mexican restaurant in SF. We explore the culture of naked hot tubbing and what goes into the styling of BDSM porn stars. There’s a visit to a girls-only gun club that looks at the rise in gun ownership among women. Through memoir, we take on the whiteness of California, specifically Orange County, and the unique lifestyle of a cowgirl/writer in Arizona.

By trade, you’re a journalist. Has blogging influenced your career?
I grew up on the internet, so when I was conceptualizing this magazine a print version wasn’t even on the table. It didn’t make sense cost wise, and more importantly, my goal is to reach the most people possible, so why create something that’s difficult to distribute? I’m also obsessed with visual blogging platforms like Tumblr, so I put a lot of time into the design of the site. In magazine journalism there’s this invisible line drawn in the sand between “journalism” and “blogging”. That line will dictate a piece’s voice, style and structure. There’s this idea that bloggingor writing online onlyis somehow less prestigious. For example, many print magazines see what runs in the hard copy as their crème de la crème, even though their website has a larger readership. That doesn’t make sense to me. I see STEVIE ZINE as a holistic, digital organism. I’ve curated it as if it’s a print magazine, leading the reader through story by story, but they don’t have to experience it that way. If they’d rather pick and choose what to read and when, they can do that too. In the end, the goal was to try and combine the best aspects of print and digital to create something new.

From Vanessa Rancaño's photo story on Gay Rodeo

From Vanessa Rancaño’s photo story on Gay Rodeo

Any other culture magazines we should check out?
There are a lot of great online magazines out there that also aim to share the work of women. There’s Vela (travel-inspired narratives), The Riveter (long form), and WOMANZINE (a fun, issue-based mag) to name a few.

Who’s your dream collaborator?
Stevie Nicks. Fleetwood Mac is one of my favorite bands, but she specifically has played a huge role in inspiring this zine. Stevie has long been criticized for not playing an instrument (sexism, maybe?) but her dedication to her craft is undeniable. She is one of the few female songwriters I can think of that openly chose her career over having a family. I also came to the decision to launch this mag after a long, windy ride to the California beach town of Bolinas with my girl friends. We blasted her music the whole way. To quote her Wild Heart lyrics as a kind of ethos: “don’t blame it on us, blame it on our wild hearts.”

Any badass ladies inspiring you lately?
My contributors. Both their talent and support motivate me on a daily basis. In the early conceptual days, I wanted to make sure that this magazine helped foster a community for lady creatives, and I definitely think that’s happening. We share drafts with each other, give pep talks, rant about the struggles of being a woman in this industry. It’s great!

See the magazine for yourself at steviezine.com. And that awesome video cover? Besides representing the content of Issue 1, it subverts the traditional glorified beauty shot: “instead of presenting a celebrity in her ‘best’ form, we show a woman chowing down on a soggy burrito,” Alana says. “It’s a little weird and gross, which is exactly the point.” Yes—burritos are everything.