January 23, 2018

Magazine Workshop: The City Story

By Payal Khandelwal

It’s raining independent magazines, hallelujah! And thankfully, most of them have come into being with a very specific purpose – to create a much-needed alternative universe of stories, opinions, ideas, and in many cases, even design. Despite many challenges, the last few years have been fantastic for this space. We have seen so much original and brilliant work from independent magazines from different parts of the world. And this piece about the predictions for independent magazines in 2018 on AIGA Eye on Design got us even more excited.

We have started ‘Magazine Workshop’ to interview independent print/digital magazine makers from around the world (we will try to be as diverse as possible). The idea is to create a platform where we can learn more about and from each other. Of course, it would be great if it also leads to collaborations. We also hope that this column serves as an ongoing workshop of sorts for those who are new to or interested in this space. Most importantly, it’s a great excuse for us to indulge in conversations with the people behind the magazines that intrigue, fascinate, or inspire us. For the first edition, we have one of our favorites – The City Story.

The City Story is a city guide and local discovery platform that maps cities through their hidden stories. It also has a commercial arm, The City Studio, under which it works with brands to create content. We speak to its co-founders, Shivani Shah, Genesia Alves, and Juhi Pande, to learn more:

L to R: Juhi Pande, Genesia Alves, Shivani Shah

Could you tell us how The City Story was born? Also, is there a particular reason why you chose digital as your publishing medium?

Juhi: The City Story began with the idea of making cities familiar. We wanted to create a platform that focused on stories that are the true essence of a city – not just events or restaurant reviews – but more the spaces, people, ideas, architecture and food & drink that really make the city a breathing, living unique giant. I’ve lived in over ten cities in my life and because of moving so often, I’ve always ached for a certain familiarity that only comes with time. The City Story is a shortcut to that sense of familiarity. It’s a time-saver and it lets you in on all the secrets with just a fistful of stories.

Shivani: We love print, but digital was just more in tune with what we are doing with The City Story. We publish daily as opposed to monthly that print limits you to. Also our costs are lower, which matters to a startup!

What is the most challenging and the most fun part about making/running a magazine?

Shivani: The most challenging part is that you have to learn about things you may not be familiar with and get used to working outside your comfort zone. You have to write, edit, have an eye for photography and design, build relationships, manage budgets, understand basic contracts…it’s endless admin that you don’t necessarily realize you’re signing up for.

Juhi: The most fun is working with the team – the three of us generally have a great time working on ideas and how to make the site work/sustain. But also the team of freelance writers, photographers and graphic designers that contribute to The City Story is an absolute delight. They all know so much about both these cities that they manage to surprise us on a weekly basis.

You don’t have to come from the same background – differences are better, in fact, because they force you to think about things from a new perspective. But the people who work together to make that vision come to life make all the difference. – Shivani Shah


What inspires you to keep going?

Genesia: I have worked for more than 20 years as a writer and I’ve never met two women like Juhi and Shivani. I think we have a chemistry that is cracking. We agree on the important things, aesthetic, tone, authenticity, integrity, and when we disagree on stuff, our trust in each other comes into play.

The City Story is for me a very special medium for the sort of writing I personally love. It encourages people to look at their own everyday environments as places of interest and personal history. And in addition to all the wonderful writers we work with, it has now become a receptacle for compelling, heartfelt, inspiring, and illuminating stories even from people who would never put ‘writer’ in their list of accomplishments. I’ve never experienced this anywhere else I’ve worked.

Shivani: The team – Juhi, Genesia, plus our extended team of writers and photographers – is a joy to work with. Everyone is brimming with amazing ideas and there’s so much positivity. It makes the hard days easier. It also feels wonderful when we hear from our readers about how a piece resonates with them or how we helped them discover a new place or recall hidden memories. We love to hear their stories.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a digital magazine?

Shivani: Find the right people to work with. People whom you can trust and respect, because it’s not easy and your vision for what you are creating has to be bigger than egos and personal goals. You don’t have to come from the same background – differences are better, in fact, because they force you to think about things from a new perspective. But the people who work together to make that vision come to life make all the difference.

Juhi: We’re not exactly a digital magazine but as a city guide and local discovery platform I’d say – think long and hard, have a very solid idea about what you want your platform to be and understand how it will help your audience/readers, and most importantly, have a sustainability plan in place. The idea is to start something interesting and unique that’s long-lasting – all the while having fun. Also, it’s important to work with good writers who know their craft well. That pretty much makes or breaks a digital publication.

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