In conversation with

Dipal Acharya

Director of Arts & Entertainment The Evening Standard Magazine Founder Somewhere for the Weekend

Introduction

Introduction

What better place to learn the ins and outs of journalism than the weekly Evening Standard magazine? Dipal Acharya served as Arts and Entertainment Director there for three years (out of seven at the publication). “A former ES editor once told me that the hardest part of what we do is getting people to physically pick up the magazine,” she says, “in an age where print is dying.” 

Every week, it was down to Dipal to pitch and commission the cover profile for the issue, along with a second profile inside (no small feat when interviewees include Naomi Campbell, Jodie Comer and Gwyneth Paltrow). But it wasn’t all about celebrities. There’s arguably no magazine that better captures the multifaceted spirit of London. In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, she commissioned six artists – Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jamie Hewlett, Ai WeiWei and Gillian Wearing – to create a piece of work to reflect the city’s resilience. We spoke to Dipal about life inside The Evening Standard, how to pitch to an editor and what’s next on her agenda.

Question and Answer

Any specific books that really speak to your experience of growing up?

I was fortunate that my older sister was a voracious reader growing up.  As a result, a lot of my childhood was spent reading books she had outgrown. Nothing especially literary, but I remember tearing through classics such as The Famous Five, the Worst Witch and Point Horror, as well as all the requisite teen mags (Sugar, Smash Hits etc). When I was a little older, it was her Faber paperback copy of Ariel that first introduced me to the poetry of Sylvia Plath. I stole it and still have it – sorry Lily!

What one book will you make sure your child reads when they grow up?

We’re a family of bibliophiles. If the process of marrying our libraries is anything to go by, landing on a single selection for our daughter would be impossible. If you could stretch to a collection of books by a single author, it would have to be the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling’s writing feels as rich and relevant now as it did when the books first came out. No child should go through life just watching the films, as brilliant as they are.

When did you first know that you wanted to become a journalist?

Growing up, I loved poring over the weekend papers and supplements (who didn’t skip to the back pages of Style every weekend to read A.A Gill’s brilliant restaurant column?) but it wasn’t a profession I had considered until I reached university. Durham wasn’t exactly what I had in mind and craving a creative outlet, I became involved with the university newspaper. It was while learning how to craft stories and lay out pages that I really fell in love with it as a prospective career.

Can you tell us about your role as Arts and Entertainment Director of ES Magazine?

Interestingly, the role didn’t exist when I joined the magazine seven years ago so I’ve been able to grow it in a direction that I think approaches culture and arts coverage in a non-bookish or boring way. The biggest part of the role involves pitching and commissioning the cover profile or concept for each issue, along with a second profile inside the book that serves as a foil to the cover.

The most thrilling part is when you land on an exclusive profile with someone just as they are about to get their big global break (I’ve secured UK exclusive covers with everyone from Bella Hadid to Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer) or a person whose career you’ve followed and admired for a long time. Personal highlights include our landmark beauty specials, with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Kylie Jenner, getting Gwyneth Paltrow to spill on what’s next for Goop, and the annual art issue which has been fronted by icons from Marina Abramovic to Bjork.

What's the most rewarding part of working at The Evening Standard Magazine?

I think the other most rewarding aspect of the job is that as a weekly, you really can shape the conversation for the week. A former ES editor once told me that the hardest part of what we do is getting people to physically pick up the magazine (we all still judge a magazine by its cover) in an age where print is dying. He said you’d know if you were doing well if people picked it up on the way to a dinner party on Friday and were still talking about it on Sunday. That advice has always stuck with me whenever I commission or pitch a piece.

Are there any stand-out pieces you’re really proud of publishing?

I remember heading into work the morning after Grenfell and thinking how as the London magazine we needed to respond to the tragedy in a way that reflected the capital’s resilience. I commissioned and secured six incredible original covers from six iconic artists – Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jamie Hewlett, Ai WeiWei and Gillian Wearing – in tribute to London’s resilience. The Gillian Wearing shoot was perhaps one of the most intense I have ever been on. We wanted an image of a diverse group of Londoners in sober reflection to riff on Gillian’s landmark piece ‘Sixty Minutes Silence’. Unlike the source material, however, we had very little time to pull our shot together and virtually no budget for a proper set build. Most of the participants were cast from the street, and the set was made of benches and plinths we had to source from local pubs and studios. The result, however, was a total career highlight and something I’ll always be proud of.

What have you learnt working at a magazine vs being freelance?

I don’t remember my freelance days with great fondness. There was a lot of procrastination, extreme anxiety about if and when I’d get my next gig and feelings of longing for the collaborative environment of an office. I’m also a bit nerdy when to comes to the actual process of putting a magazine together – whether it’s the selection of writers and creative teams to the typography used on a particular headline – which is obviously something you can’t be as close to as a freelancer.

Who are the key voices in journalism right now that you listen to?

Everyone seems to be a multi-tasker these days – panel host, podcast creator, weekly columnist  – without much that differentiates them from their peers. I find it hard to cut through all the noise and always come back to the writers that have a distinct and engaging voice. At the moment it is columnists such as Jo Ellison and Janan Ganesh at the FT, Joel Golby, Lynn Enright (her book Vagina: A Re-Education was excellent), Oobah Butler, Dolly Alderton and the rising star Frankie McCoy.

Your three tips for pitching to an editor?

Keep it concise, with your news peg and exclusive angle up at the top. Check and check again to see if the magazine (and its competitors) has covered the subject previously – if it has, what makes your pitch timely and appropriate for the publication? And start with straightforward feature pitches before trying to land the big cover interview. We all want to interview Beyoncé but an editor you haven’t worked with before will want to see that you’ll deliver copy to brief, wordcount and deadline before giving you the headline gig.

What kind of press release catches your eye?

The ones that misspell my name? That’s really annoying. But I’m mostly going to click on a release from someone that has made the effort to reach out in person or on the phone first. A generic release isn’t going to give the magazine agenda-setting content.

Any dreams of how you could change the industry for better?

Diversity in journalism is still a huge problem. I feel a bit sick when I look at newsrooms and magazine mastheads and still can’t see a single person from a BAME background on staff. The issue is systemic and I’ve realised it’s not enough (or effective) to just point the problem out. I’d love to eventually work on a mentorship program for younger journalists from a similar background to me, with practical advice and guidance on how to gain access to the industry.

What’s next for you?

I’m also taking some time while I’m on maternity leave to explore my passion for travel through setting up @somewherefortheweekend. It’s a platform on Instagram to champion some of the best places to spend your weekend, whether it’s at a hotel in the Highlands with fabulous interiors or somewhere more exotic with bucketlist potential. I would love to turn it into a book at some point.

What are your desert island books?

My husband and I share a love for the works of Virginia Woolf (my favourite Woolf novel is and always will be Orlando). Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita were fairly life changing when I read them as a teenager and in my twenties.

Dipal's Storylist

Books

  1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  4. Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  5. Feel Free by Zadie Smith
  6. Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown
  7. Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Magazines

  1. Bon Appetit
  2. Conde Nast Traveller
  3. Cereal
  4. British Elle
  5. Goop
  6. T Magazine

Websites

  1. The Cut
  2. Dazed Digital
  3. Vulture
  4. British Vogue
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