Industry Insights is a new GSP blog series. Each week, we hope to bring some publishing knowledge to our avid readers. This could include anything from writing tips and how to get noticed by publishers, to designing your own e-book cover. A new industry insight will be posted every Monday evening.
Amelia Bensley-Nettheim is a student of the Publishing and Communications Masters program, at the University of Melbourne. In 2018, she ventured to Copenhagen to explore her passion for magazine editing, successfully landing a job as an editorial assistant at Danish design, art, food and lifestyle magazine Oak the Nordic Journal. We asked her about her experiences taking publishing abroad.
GSP: You did your undergraduate degree in Politics. What compelled you to pursue an MA in publishing?
ABN: 2016 was a pretty catastrophic year to be completing a degree in Politics and Gender Studies. I’d had hopes of pursuing diplomacy post-BA, but that year’s headlines squandered any desire I’d once had to be a woman in the political arena. At a bit of a loss as to what to do next, my prophetic mum reminded me of my 11-year-old fantasy of being Editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair magazine. I used to dress my friends up in colour coordinated ensembles and recruit my patient dad, a professional photographer, to hold photo shoots around the neighbourhood. I’d print the finals out on his glossy photo paper and write a little editor letter just for myself. It probably means I’m stunted or preternaturally nostalgic but in recalling this, it still felt exactly like what I should be doing. The University of Melbourne’s Master of Publishing program seemed like a good move toward the 12-year-old dormant dream.
GSP: After a year in the program here at the University of Melbourne, you took your skills on an exchange semester to Denmark. This was such a brave and exciting decision – what was the motivation behind this move?
ABN: I fell in love with Copenhagen on a weekend trip a couple of years ago. It’s a city that feels both totally connected to the rest of the world but still a bit small and secret. No hour-long waits for brunch is what I’m saying.
Doing a university exchange felt like the perfect way to be both a tourist and a local for a time. The city also happens to be a bit of a hub for the pastel-hued perfectly-bound magazines of the moment. Alongside Oak, Kinfolk is also based in Copenhagen. In terms of opportunities to appreciate other people’s creativity, I’m not sure you’ll find a better city.
GSP: Has anything surprised you about taking the theoretical skills that we have learnt in this MA, into the working-world? Was it easily transferable?
ABN: It’s because of the MA that I know why parenthetical commas don’t work there in the Volume 9 press release, or why Instagram rather than Facebook is a better platform for this story about some Icelandic boutique hotel. This knowledge has been so important to feeling like an asset at Oak.
But I’m also so glad that I chose courses in the MA that teach that there’s more to understanding why something resonates with people than simply how it is made. I love that I can’t totally explain away why a style catches on what it is about that phrasing that is so gripping!
GSP: Have you always wanted to pursue a role in the magazine industry? And is it what you expected it to be like?
ABN: I’ve always been jealous of those people who seem to have found that ‘thing’ that they love to do. In a somewhat masochistic move, these are the people I try to surround myself with.
The magazine industry allows you to be this co-opter professionally. You’re working with the people that have found that ‘passion’ that’s always been so elusive to me. Writers, stylists, designers and photographers all direct their creative energy toward this one object. This is why I think the magazine is the perfect medium and I feel lucky that I get to support those people to create a beautiful and, hopefully meaningful, document.
GSP: Oak the Nordic Journal is so beautiful! I can’t help but wonder – what are their offices like?
ABN: Pretty bloody cute! A biannual magazine means it’s a tiny team in a tiny space. We overlook the famous King’s Garden and I have an amazing view of Rosenborg Castle. Twice a week the Royal Guard–think the navy blue version of the Buckingham Palace guards–do a march around the office and the busy cycling thoroughfare of Gothersgade comes to a halt. At the basement level of the office is a studio shared by architects and designers who are often commandeered by Oak as contributors. I sit next to a bookshelf that has every pastel hued magazine you could possibly want for your coffee table and there’s always some tulips in a Finnish handkerchief vase. It’s all very hygge and not at all Devil Wears Prada.
GSP: Are there any challenges or logistics involved with publishing an English-language magazine to a readership of mostly-Danish speakers?
ABN: This is actually where I feel of the most use. Being a boring mono-lingual English speaker and with the help of the copy editing skills I developed in the MA I feel a bit like the translator/thesaurus for the multi-lingual staff. I help find the perfect synonym for that word that the Design Editor is searching for–“What’s the word for like a fancy man?” “A gentleman?” Useful!
GSP: Scandi style is minimalist, curated and refined. Is this what living in Denmark has been like for you? Is it what you were expecting?
ABN: I’m working at a magazine that almost functions as the bible for this Scandi aesthetic obsession. Being in the Oak office and surrounded by those images kind of makes you feel like you’re in a Pinterest wet dream. But Copenhagen isn’t pastel hued and could never live up to the expectations of being a city with a constant Instagram filter.
But unlike other cosmopolitan cities it’s easy to find places that are pristine but not pretentious in that Scandi way. The chair room in the Danish Design Museum, the sculpture garden at Lousiana Museum of Modern Art and the reading room at the Black Diamond Library are great spots for feeling like you’re living in a Kinfolk photo shoot.
That said, my apartment kind of looks like an IKEA furnished hospital room that for some reason has a blood red bathroom. So I can say with some authority that being a poor student isn’t aesthetically pleasing no matter what country you’re in.
GSP: Do you have any advice for people interested in doing an exchange abroad?
ABN: A semester-long exchange whizzes by. Just as soon as you’ve found your favourite coffee shop and have started making small talk with the barista you’re on the 22-hour flight home. Taking steps away from the tourist mind-set toward local-life will make you feel less like a cultural interloper and help it last just that little bit longer. Get a job, do some volunteering or try to meet locals to get a taste of what living in, rather than simply visiting, your chosen city is like.
GSP: Does everyone in Copenhagen really bike everywhere? What about in winter?
ABN: They bike everywhere! They also do it with the confidence of people who’ve never experienced the sense of universal hatred that teaches Australian cyclists timidity.
It seems to be unpleasant weather three quarters of the year, so I think Danish people must be able to tap into a ‘just get on with it’ mind-set to face snowy morning commutes. I think Australians can access that headspace for the fan-force-oven-like 45 degree days, but are hopeless at the other end of spectrum.
I’m writing this during the first days of double digit degrees. The city is slowly thawing out so I’m now able to look back on my first freezing months with the humour only afforded by retrospect. Sure, it was kind of funny when gale force winds blew me off my bike and an old Danish lady laughed at me and cycled confidently on.••