Interview with Publisher Ray Rico
by Joe Siegel
Focus Mid-South, based in Memphis
Focus Middle Tennessee, based in Nashville
Geographic coverage area:
Memphis, 100-mile radius
Nashville, 80- mile radius
Staff size and breakdown:
Managing editor Joan Allison
Contributors Sarah Rutledge Fischer, Robin Beaudoin, and Melinda Lejman
Designers Joan Allison, Ray Rico, and Daphne Butler
Digital media Chellie Bowman
Associate publisher Selena Haynes
Managing editor and layout manager Brian Goins
Contributor Lauren Means
Physical dimensions of publications:
8.375” x 10.125”
Average page count:
Memphis, 56 pages
Nashville, 32 pages
PPQ: What feature or features of Focus have been the most popular with readers?
Publisher Ray Rico: Our profiles of local unsung heroes add a special touch each issue. Also, travel stories and pets stories are popular. Finally, many of the ads are creative and follow the theme of each issue.
PPQ: Who came up with the name and what is the inspiration for it?
Rico: I did. Focus is a word that has multiple meanings and was versatile for its purpose.
PPQ: What challenge has your publication had to overcome since its inception?
Rico: Growing. We had to hire more staff and expand distribution outlets. We have an awesome crew and have implemented a side-business, managing magazine deliveries as a local service [to us and other local publications] to make distribution more effective.
PPQ: What challenge or challenges is Focus facing now?
Rico: We are going through a rebuild of our website and that presents new challenges with how readers will access our publication now and in the future. We have been crafting the new sites with great care and hope to expand our digital footprint more with other potential readers who have a tie back to Tennessee in either market, Memphis or Nashville.
PPQ: How has Focus changed since it was first launched?
Rico: We developed our brand and content flow. We have also developed a protocol to launch in another market. We have plans to continue to expand in the southern region over the next year.
PPQ: What one change would you like to make?
Rico: Educating people with our platform to give insight, decisions, and acceptance of real life issues.
PPQ: What has been the biggest news story or stories Focus has covered?
Rico: A hate crimes series. It was a three-part series covering multiple markets in Tennessee. We worked with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, local and statewide law enforcement, and the DOJ.
PPQ: On the Kinsey Scale of 0-6 [exclusively straight to totally gay], how gay is your publication?
Rico: Hard 4. We purposely try to appeal to our allies too, since they do make up a great percentage of our readers.
PPQ: Do you see yourself as an “activist journalist”?
Rico: I do not. I see myself as a catalyst for sharing information and remain heavily active in the community. I’m more of an activist designer than journalist.
PPQ: What’s the most surprising feedback you’ve received from a reader?
Rico: An LGBT youth came up to me and told me he was trans and had recently had the courage to come out to his parents. They were very confused at first but they began to read more and ask questions to learn more about their child. He told me that they love the magazine and have opened their eyes to a world where he can share experiences with them rather than his parents not having anything to do with his life. It was at a Pride event, and I had the pleasure to shake these folks’ hands and tell them, “They’re doing it right.” I’ve seen them at the last two Prides, and they always come up and say hello. Their relationship with their son is so strong, and it just makes me smile telling that story.
PPQ: What advice would you give to anyone who may want to launch their own GLBT publication?
Rico: Do your homework and make sure you’re creating something that is a viable solution to the needs of your community. Do it for the right reasons. Don’t try to make everyone happy.
PPQ: There have been a number of publications which have either downsized their staffs or ceased operations completely. Is print media dying because of the popularity of digital media platforms?
Rico: I think smart companies diversify their media and understand readers’ trends. In our markets, it is more sustainable because of our approach to showcasing diversity — the community wants it, either in print or digital. Being smart about having a digital presence is necessary. I do feel like in the South folks like to pick up a print magazine and read it though, especially visitors and travelers who identify as LGBT. It may be more old school but our high pickup rates prove it to be true. Still, offering a strong digital presence keeps the brand relevant.