For the latest in our series of interviews with media people, James Cartwright, 31, editor of Weapons of Reason magazine, tells Amanda Walker about his accidental entry into journalism and the challenges of editing from Exmoor.
Tell us about the magazine
It’s produced twice a year, and each issue is split into past, present and future, making it easier to understand complex global issues such as climate change, poverty and mental health. It’s on its seventh issue.
Where did the title come from?
Weapons of Reason is taken from a quote by [Roman Emperor] Marcus Aurelius: “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
What’s your background?
When I left school, I had no idea what career I wanted, so I did a diploma in art and design at Falmouth University. Then I went to University of the Arts London and did a three-year course in illustration and got a writing job reviewing gigs at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA).
But when I graduated, I decided I didn’t want to be an illustrator. Instead, I tried being a freelance designer for six months and did a variety of jobs like designing an in-house communications manual for a bank, but I really hated it. Then an internship came up at It’s Nice That and because I’d been writing for ICA I got an editorial internship with them. The editorial assistant then left, and I got his job, working my way up to be print editor.
I now work as a senior editor at the American Institute of Graphic Arts for their design blog Eye on Design while also editing Weapons of Reason.
So you didn’t always want to be a journalist?
No, it was finding out what I didn’t like, rather than what I did like, that led me into journalism. Trial and error and trying to diversify were key.
What does your job involve day-to-day?
The studio is based in London and I’m in Exmoor, Somerset, so it involves a lot of Skype calls and shared documents. I do a lot of the research and then commission the things I’m interested in.
Producing the magazine involves a lot of back and forward with the writers and because it’s illustrated and written by voluntary contributors — journalists, academics, photographers, and teachers — I organise all of that information and figure out how to display it so it fits with our structure. Then I work with the writers to refine and develop their stories and once all the main body is in, I work with the design team to help develop the illustrations.
Does living in a rural location make it difficult?
Yes, it makes it difficult to stay connected to people I want to work with; building connections as a journalist is half the battle. I also didn’t get a lot of career advice at university, so I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do job-wise. That’s why I ended up doing a creative degree rather than a journalism degree, meaning I didn’t make any strong connections in the journalism industry early on.
What do you enjoy most?
The best part is the flexibility. My partner has recently been on maternity leave so for the past six or seven months I’ve been the only one earning in the house. The flexibility means I can take on a lot of extra work to make sure that we’re financially secure, and if you want to take on less work at any point you can do that as well.
Also, when I’m working on an issue, I love doing research. I get to satisfy my curiosity about certain subjects, read loads of different books and get really engaged with it.
The flexibility is simultaneously the best and the worst thing. It can be difficult as you never know exactly how much work is coming in and you will go through periods when you’re not earning very well or your magazine isn’t selling very well.
Is slow journalism our future?
It’s definitely on the increase. Stories are released less frequently, breaking the idea of the 24-hour news cycle that we’ve all been trapped in. In order to get a fairer and balanced press, slow journalism might be the way to go.