The Riveter is a Minneapolis-based publication that focuses on longform storytelling by women.
Founders Kaylen Ralph of Illinois and Joanna Demkiewicz of Iowa met as students of the University of Missouri while working for the city newspaper. Frustrated with the lack of female journalists given a space to write in areas other than beauty and fashion, as well as the media’s obsession with trend pieces and click bait articles, Ralph and Demkiewicz made their dream publication come to life. Natalie Cheng, also a Mizzou graduate in journalism and business, hopped on the team as The Riveter’s CEO.
With two issues already in print, The Riveter wants to start putting out issues on a regular schedule. On Galentine’s Day (February 13), The Riveter’s Kickstarter campaign launched not to raise funds to start something, but to raise funds to give readers a new copy of The Riveter on a consistent basis.
The Wake: Are you happy with your decision to base The Riveter in Minneapolis?
Joanna Demkiewicz: I used to visit Minneapolis in the summers and stuff because my dad moved here when I was 12. I was pretty familiar with the city in the sense of what it’s like to grow up here. I thought that the community cultivated a creative brainthurst. I remember meeting my dad’s friends and everyone had an idea and was doing their own thing.
Kaylen Ralph: We were thinking Chicago or Minneapolis. We knew not New York.
The Wake: Why? Just too big?
KR: No, not too big, but I just think there’s a national trend right now to reconsider what we think about the Midwest in terms of a creative hub, and I think we’re at the front of a curve toward a lot of creative industries and powerhouses basing themselves here. There’s a certain way of doing business here that fits with our mission a little better.
JD: Yeah, we wanted to branch out of what was traditional about women in journalism, so why not branch out from the traditional hub? Do we have to go to New York City to make this a successful entity? No, we’ve never believed that.
KR: So far, we’re not pleased with the media that’s available, so why would we go to the place that it’s coming from?
The Riveter has held several events in Minneapolis including one at Public Functionary in the fall, and a Galentine’s Day Kickstarter launch at Proper & Prim. Is this something you’re planning on continuing?
Natalie Cheng: We definitely have more events in the works. That’s part of what we’re trying to do. We want to be a publication and create a community around our mission. We’re a lifestyle brand in addition to a magazine. I love the idea of getting people together who have common interests and want to chat about it.
The Riveter has a website with a lot of different content than the print form. Tell me about that.
JD: When we started, we didn’t differentiate between the website and the magazine. Now, they’re linked but have very different lives of their own. They’re mutually exclusive. We were print focused from the start, though. When we started, we were in our capstone magazine courses. But other than that, we had zero experience. So we were totally learning as we went, and we still are.
KR: I think it’s important that we’re conscious of the fact that we didn’t come from editorial jobs at big glossy women’s magazines. We don’t have the institutional knowledge, and being totally honest, sometimes that’s a bit of an insecurity for me. But most of the time I think it’s better this way, because most of what we’re doing is different and we don’t need to work from a model.
JD: I think it puts us at an advantage. When times get tough, we don’t automatically, subconsciously bounce back to very traditional experiences that we might have had.
How do you go about finding writers and contributors? Is it ever a struggle?
NC: There are so many writers hungry for opportunities.
JD: It comes in different waves. Either we seek them out or they seek us out. There’s social media seeking that happens. There’s network seeking that happens.
KR: We read a shit-ton. We know which writers we like, and it’s a mixture of reaching for the writers we really admire and want to write for us in dream world, and using our network from Mizzou.
JD: People seek us out in that this is a space where people write thoughtfully. We’re a space for people who don’t want to write click bait pieces or trend pieces.
NC: It’s indicative of our mission, too. The fact that such a young startup hasn’t had much trouble finding writers shows that there are not that many platforms out there doing the same thing.
JD: One of our missions is redefining celebrity culture. When you’re really young, the women’s magazines you can reach for only highlight Hollywood actresses, musicians, and models. But we’re trying to dig deeper and look at all of the people behind the scenes. If you’re just a naturally curious person, you’ll want to know how Sarah Heyward [Girls writer] got where she is and where her creativity comes from. Even if you’re not a writer, you’ll still find that interesting. There’s not just one narrow path of what it means to be a celebrity or in the public eye. There are so many different facets of that.
KR: To us, interviewing a production assistant from Saturday Night Live is just as interesting as interviewing one of the stars.
JD: We live in a capitalist country; why not celebrate work, and all the kinds of different work that happens?
“People seek us out in that this is a space where people write thoughtfully. We’re a space for people who don’t want to write click bait pieces or trend pieces.” – Joanna Demkiewicz
Tell me more about the Kickstarter campaign.
JD: Donating to our Kickstarter has a lot of perks. No one has really bitten for this specific perk yet, but I think it’s one of the best ones. We’ve been in contact with really cool lady writers, and they’re part of our perk system. They will have a Skype sleepover with you and talk about whatever you want: advice, or like, anything.
KR: One of them is with Sarah Heyward, a writer for Girls. So like, if you want to know how to be a writer on Lena Dunham’s show, she’s probably not going to get you a job, but, she’ll give you frank advice.
NC: With the Kickstarter, we wanted to go a different route than the whole investor route. We had a lot of support from people who maybe aren’t those head honchos. For our venture, it was important to us to be able to stay true to what we want to do. We were nervous about the possibility of someone else, who we aren’t familiar with, taking equity and thus creative control of The Riveter. We wanted to motivate those that have been so supportive of us in the past to come out and help us feel validated.
KR: We knew we wanted to go to a subscription model. I was nervous about crowdfunding because that’s how we financed issue two, but I’m super excited to use Kickstarter as a subscriber drive. We’re using an already established platform to do something that magazines do all the time.
JD: When you put capital into something that’s based locally, you directly benefit overall.
NC: We read everybody’s name that supports. As soon as they contribute, we look. We care, no matter what amount.
As former journalism students, do you have any advice for aspiring journalists and aspiring creatives in general?
JD: Going back to the origins of why and when and where The Riveter started, I think Kaylen and I were really taking a risk in terms of what other people were doing. We didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon. We wanted to create our own wagon. There’s this idea that when you graduate, you have to stay on a trajectory and make sure you’re on that path, and then you’ll be cool. I feel really grateful when I realize that we didn’t have to do that.
KR: We didn’t apply for one job.
JD: We knew what our job would be.
KR: The time when our friends were sending in applications, we were building our dream job. And I love that. It makes me emotional.
JD: We were building it for others, as well.
KR: Straight advice to journalism students: What you’re trained to do as a journalist is trust your intuition. That applies to stories because chasing down a good story relies on your intuition and your fortitude to see a story through, but it also applies to the gut feeling you have about what is meaningful about a story you’re trying to tell. You need to keep that. That’s your true north. If you always listen to that, whether it is trying to start your own publication, or just to produce content that is meaningful for yourself and your audience, then you’re doing the right thing.
JD: If it matters to you, I’m sure it matters to other people.
NC: My advice is be daring and hustle. I think that’s important for young people. But be intentional about what you’re daring to do.
KR: Work harder and smarter.
JD: When you’re feeling frustrated or feeling like you’re really struggling, I’ve always looked at that as proof that you’re succeeding.