First Hand — Callum Green on running COURT magazine alongside a full time job
This article was published as part of our soft launch in 2016.
Callum Green and Louis Bennett started COURT magazine in the final weeks of their degree at the University of Buckinghamshire in 2013. Created as an alternative to trade rumour reports and power ranking speculation, COURT is an online magazine for celebrating basketball culture from around the world.
Unknown to most of their readers due to the quality of the articles and commissioning the magazine is a side project undertaken in the evenings and weekends. Here, Callum shares why they started COURT as well as the many benefits (and struggles) running a magazine in your spare time can have…
First off, why basketball? As we’re London based, and covering a predominately American sport, this is a question that crops up again and again when we talk about COURT. The long and short of it is that what started as a childhood obsession for me percolated to Louis whilst we were living together at university. Staying up until dawn watching dodgy, pixelated (and probably illegal) streams of NBA games. We didn’t care who was playing, as long as it was basketball.
But… Why basketball? It’s played by over 450 million people worldwide, which is 6% of the global population, and watched by innumerable others (30.8 million for the last game of the 15/16 NBA finals). It informs and overlaps with numerous subcultures globally: from hip-hop to the catwalk, politics to education. To say basketball’s media offering, especially in the UK where we were looking for relevant and cultural stories, was lacking is an understatement. How can it be that basketball media is awash with the incomprehensible salaries and trade rumours of the ~450 active NBA players, ignoring the myriad of other incredible stories that are out there.
We’d had enough of this, so decided to do something about it. So one evening in our final few weeks of university, with the sense of invulnerability that art courses bestow on you, Louis and I sat down and put our design and art direction skills to good use, creating COURT Basketball, an online basketball magazine that ‘celebrates basketball culture, worldwide’.
As soon as possible we sacked off our stifling commuter belt town, moved to London, found jobs, and spent our evenings and weekend working out what we wanted COURT to be. We quickly found that there was a myriad of benefits to running your own self-initiated project whilst working full-time, The most fundamental of these was that you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself (well, ourselves in our case). It’s up to you what visual direction you head down, who you commission, what you write about, even the format of your project. This was extremely liberating for us as we both have strong concepts for what we want to create and resent having to compromise, yet during our days jobs clients always had the final say, no matter how dubious their decisions where. But for COURT, there’s no-one bearing down on us about profit margins or ‘return of investments’.
The first decision we were faced with was weighing up how to present COURT to the world. Did we want to do a traditional print magazine, or something else? Something digital? One look at the collective COURT bank account answered this question. The production costs surround a print magazine were out of our league. But going online wasn’t a difficult pill to swallow. It made COURT more democratic, easier to access from around the globe, and also allowed us to experiment with more mediums and prototype and trial things much easier. We saw online publishing as the modern day equivalent of photocopied ‘zines in the 70’s.
However we quickly realised that coming from a purely creative background, with purely creative skills, wasn’t going to cut it as an embryonic magazine in the publishing industry. Before we knew it we had to be art directors, editors-at-large, project managers, accountants… learning the basic skills of an endless list of positions. This dive into the deep end forced us to learn these skills on the job, as the actual ‘visual’ commissioning ended up being one cog in the Rube Goldberg machine of the magazine. Learning whilst working on a self-initiated project is the perfect catalyst though, as you truly care about what you’re doing, right down to the nitty gritty bits that are often overlooked. This makes you get down to business and actually learn how to add VAT or speak to PR people!
But if you mess up, it’s not the end of the world. No one is relying on you, only self-set deadlines have been missed, and at the end of the day you’ve learnt a bonus skill to add during your next CV update.
Working on something personal, no matter the scale or project, whilst having a full time job can be stressful. But don’t forget you have a whole network of professionals surrounding you everyday, so don’t be shy to talk to your colleagues about your project. You never know what skills are in that studio or what connections could be made—They could help you solve any problems your stuck on, or even who would be a good fit for your next commission. Just by talking to the people we work with we’ve found so many surprising connections to basketball, from colleagues to potential collaborators. In fact, we would never have been able to publish the first two issues of COURT at the standard we did if it wasn’t for the ever amazing Maisie Skidmore, who worked at It’s Nice That and came on board as editor.
Both mine and Louis’ day-jobs have opened up connections in the sportswear industry and exposure to potential collaborators we had never dreamed of working with. All because we were open and passionate about COURT to our colleagues.
Having our day-to-day (or, evening-to-evening) instantly deviate from what we expected to be doing whilst running a magazine was only one of many tricky elements that reared it’s head whilst we got to grips with COURT. We also had to find money to try and pay all our collaborators, as business can’t be sustained on favours alone, and there’s nothing worse than having the reputation that you’re exploitative. (We know the freelance struggle!) Then there’s finding the time to keep on top of everything… As previously mentioned, it takes a lot more work then just commission artists and thinking up weird story ideas. There’s so much behind the scenes maintenance. From social media, endless emailing (I swear this is all we actually do), scheduling photoshoots, liaising with writers… This means you have to be clever with your time, utilising your commute to work, your lunch breaks, any spare moments to get a little done. Organising your time efficiently is essential to the creative world, no matter your discipline.
We’re happy to do all of this though, as it helps grow COURT and it’s audience. Our main goal for the immediate future is to have the magazine become self-sustaining, so any monetary gain is fed straight back into COURT. This will help us continue doing what we do so well; interview NBA All Stars, working with our favourite photographers, and creating stories that would normally be laughed out the room by traditional clients. Once we hit this milestone we can start to expand the consultancy work we’ve been doing with COURT, helping these clients see just why they’re so wrong.
Creatively, we also want to keep pushing people out of their comfort zone, both readers and the artists we work with, to create the utmost, weirdest, most spectacular work they can. One thing that will never get old is talking through your vision with people who you respect and having them get animated and enthusiastic to work together. We don’t want to become another stale, faceless giant like ESPN, we want to stay true to COURT’s original purpose, ‘celebrating basketball culture, worldwide’.