Interview with Publisher Jamil Fletcher
by Joe Siegel
Geographic coverage area: National, distributed free of charge directly in 70 cities within 30 states
Year founded: 2008
Staff size and breakdown: Three plus a number of independent contributors
Key demographics: Black LGBTQ
Web site: www.SWERVMagazine.com
PPQ: What feature or features of Swerv have been the most popular with readers?
Publisher Jamil Fletcher: It varies. The basis of our popularity is centered on the fact that we tell stories about a community at the intersection of race and sexual identity that are not being told elsewhere. The entertainment, columnists, and cover profiles are very popular.
PPQ: Who came up with the name and what is the inspiration for it?
Fletcher: The name was suggested by a friend. It's a play on the word swerve, meaning "to change course." We dropped the closing "e" for style purposes.
PPQ: What challenge has Swerv had to overcome since its inception?
Fletcher: There is little to no advertising market invested in Black LGBTQ people. Thus, advertising is a HUGE challenge. Entities interested in reaching LGBTQ audiences are not interested in segmenting based on race, and those looking to reach Black folks are not interested in segmenting based on sexual identity. Beside the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture medicines for HIV/AIDS patients, no one really has this unique demographic in mind.
PPQ: What challenge or challenges is Swerv facing now?
Fletcher: Advertising, advertising, advertising. On top of that, advertisers discount the value of this demographic, so they don't want to pay market rates.
PPQ: How has the publication changed since it was first launched?
Fletcher: The look and feel of the publication has evolved over the years. Since 2012, my brother, who is an experienced graphic artist, has been coordinating the layout. We look a million times better than before. It's like night and day.
PPQ: What one change would you like to make?
Fletcher: I would love to add more pages to the publication, but that is currently based on the advertising support.
PPQ: What’s the biggest news story or stories Swerv has covered?
Fletcher: Some of the more widely viewed stories thus far have been our cover profile of Bishop Yvette Flunder, as one of the great spiritual leaders in the country, our profile of former adult film star Mustang, and our musical profiles of both B. Slade and Toshi Reagon.
PPQ: On the Kinsey Scale of 0-6 (exclusively straight to totally gay), how gay is your publication?
Fletcher: Totally gay or same-gender-loving, but we include allies and things that are relevant to all Black people, no matter the sexual identity.
PPQ: Do you see yourself as an “activist journalist”? If so, in what way?
Fletcher: No, not activist. Just creating a forum to capture and celebrate the humanity of Black same-gender-loving people.
PPQ: What's the most surprising feedback you've received from a reader?
Fletcher: Honestly, nothing has surprised me yet. I am always inspired to hear feedback about how a particular story may have had an impact. What I do find startling is what many in our community are not aware of about each other.
PPQ: What advice would you give to anyone who may want to launch their own LGBTQ publication?
Fletcher: I would say if you are looking to make money from the publication as an LGBTQ entity, then you must gear it towards white gay men. That's the only demographic within the LGBTQ community that advertisers appear to value. Otherwise, be prepared to basically finance it yourself.