For budding journalists, starting a publication from scratch seems like a farfetched dream, but the glossy covers of SMEAR Magazine are proof that a concept can turn into reality.
SMEAR Magazine, an online publication with a fourth issue in the works, is by and for people with a passion for arts and culture. The volunteer-run magazine was founded by Mary K. Cantrell and Emily Gibson during their junior year at UT.
Cantrell said though SMEAR is an arts and culture-based publication like TRIBEZA or Austin Monthly, they’ve focused their appeal to young Austinites by writing about stories on issues and people that fly under the radar.
Cantrell said her passion for journalism began when taking a journalism class during her freshman year. In one class, her professor quoted a statistic about the number of journalism majors at UT — there is one for every three public relations and advertising majors.
“That really hit me. I could either go to school and be a talking head for someone, or go out there and tell the truth,” Cantrell said. “I realized it was an important job that had to be done.”
Cantrell met Gibson wh ile working in The Daily Texan’s Life&Arts department. Both writers felt like there were too many guidelines to follow, and after all the editing they were required to do, the stories released under their names didn’t feel like they’re own. Once they started talking, they realized they shared enough common ground to start their own magazine.
“We just thought how cool it would be to not listen to an authority figure and (to) be in charge of our own means of production,” Cantrell said.
Darby Kendall, the managing editor of SMEAR and a friend of Cantrell’s, said she also has a commitment to writers’ visions and thinks it’s important to stay true to their voices in the industry.
“I feel like a lot of editors will go through someone’s piece and cut half of it and not really give an explanation as to why,” Kendall said. “It leads to a good end product, but it doesn’t teach the writer anything.”
Because it’s a volunteer organization, none of its staff are getting paid, making it unique in the sense that it’s thoroughly a passion project that brings together a tight-knit group of self-motivated current UT students and alumni.
Nathan Burgess and Crystal Garcia, two former Daily Texan artists who were part of the Comics department, are now illustrators and co-art directors for SMEAR. Both Burgess and Garcia were also a part of SMEAR since the beginning. Burgess and Garcia said they’d like to see their staff get paid but for now are happy to work for something they’re both passionate about.
“I remember moving from coffee shop to coffee shop,” Burgess said. “Brainstorming ideas and thinking about what our mission statement would be.”
SMEAR hopes to expand and advance their magazine, while staying true to their journalistic values.