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Venture South Magazine: Connecting The Dots Regionally For People Passionate About Hometown Destinations And All That Goes With It – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jason Niblett, Co-Founder & Publisher…

September 21, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“There was such a desire for something like Venture South in Laurel (Miss.). There are so many dynamic things happening here right now. We have the HGTV series, “Home Town,” that’s filming its second season. And last year we had the Matthew McConaughey movie, “Free State of Jones,” which is about our county. Once we announced the magazine, it has just been insanely popular. It’s crazy.” Jason Niblett…

It’s always uplifting to Mr. Magazine™ to find that the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well in this country, especially when it comes to the magazine business. Venture South Magazine is a hometown publication, but with large regional possibilities. And one of its co-founders and publisher, is not oblivious to that fact. He sees the potential of this magazine reaching far beyond the city limits of Laurel, Miss.

Jason Niblett is a University of Mississippi graduate and a newspaper man that has stepped off the broadsheet and onto the slick and glossy pages of a monthly magazine. And he is ready to move it as far as possible into the marketplace.

I spoke with Jason recently and we talked about this hometown endeavor that has suddenly found itself with a noticeable popularity and readership. And no one could be happier about it than its publisher. Having planned to offer it free to the public, depending on advertisements for its survival, Jason and his two other partners in the magazine, were shocked when they found themselves with about 200 subscriptions before the first issue even came off the presses. But that kind of shock is a good thing to new magazine publishers and owners.

So, grab your glass of sweet tea and come along with Mr. Magazine™ as we “Venture South” and learn about the spirit of one entrepreneur that just won’t be denied, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jason Niblett, co-founder & publisher, Venture South Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Venture South: I’ve been working for newspapers for many years. And of course, with the newspapers we’ve always had the newspaper-style magazine that we were required to do. I’ve always done social and lifestyle magazines, and I’ve had this concept in the back of my mind for a long time; something for everyday, normal people, not all about the million dollar houses, the gardens, huge swimming pools, but a magazine that everyone could use. From girls’ night out, to family weekends; things like that.

On whether he believes people think he has lost his mind for starting a print magazine in a digital age: (Laughs) Probably so. But there was such a desire for something like Venture South in Laurel. There are so many dynamic things happening here right now. We have the HGTV series, “Home Town,” that’s filming its second season. And last year we had the Matthew McConaughey movie, “Free State of Jones,” which is about our county.

On how he is taking what he learned from his newspaper career and applying it to his new magazine business: Definitely market research and demographic information that I’ve learned over the years at the newspaper. We have beautiful lifestyle magazines already, and we did not want to be a lifestyle magazine. There’s a huge audience in Mississippi that’s just normal, everyday people; the nurses, teachers, office personnel; those are the normal people in Mississippi. Of course, there’s the upper class echelon, but that audience isn’t huge, especially in our area. And so, you definitely have to learn how to target your audience.

On whether he has any plans to “venture further south” than his own city limits: Absolutely. We had a name that I’d had in the back of my head for five or six years, and once the three of us starting meeting, we were all leaning toward that name and going in that direction. Then suddenly, we had an epiphany and decided that wasn’t what we needed to name the magazine. We knew that we needed to go in a different direction where we could expand into New Orleans, Mobile, or Pensacola, or wherever. There is potential to do just that, explore and expand more regionally.

On the first conversation he had right after the first issue came out: One of my former high school teachers emailed me and she was just telling me how wonderful the magazine was. She loved the content and the direction and ideas. And she lives in Mendenhall, Miss. She started sharing it around, and that’s why we see the potential for a more regional publication, because once she started pushing it toward the city she lives in, and her friends and family in surrounding areas, and even her hometown of Natchez, Miss., we began to receive requests for subscriptions and we had planned to be just a free distribution-type magazine.

On any advice he would offer students should he ever speak to a class: Keep an open mind. When I was at the University of Mississippi, I was majoring in broadcast journalism. I went to NewsWatch 12 and the SMC (Student Media Center). I didn’t pay too much attention to the Daily Mississippian or to the yearbook, because I wanted to be on TV. I did that for about six months after I left Ole Miss, and I hated it. I ended up in newspapers.

On the advice he would give his newspaper colleagues about their own magazines: A problem that we had at our operation was not to make it a glorified people section of the newspaper. You have your daily, weekly, or biweekly newspaper, or whatever frequency you have, for that people section. Your magazine needs to be something nicer, with exceptional features, photography, and design. Don’t skimp on your freelancers, and if you don’t have the skills to design it yourself, hire a good graphic artist, because there are so many magazines in Mississippi that look like nothing but glossy, people sections.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: That I always tried to be a big community proponent; family first, work second, but if you enjoy your job, you don’t really have to work. (Laughs)

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Definitely playing with the dogs. And I do love to cook; I joined one of those meal delivery services to try different things, and we’ve been doing that for about a year now. We get this cardboard box every week and sometimes the food is great and sometimes it’s not, but we’re always trying it. We love to travel to the Coast a lot, even if it’s just to walk on the beach or grab something good to eat. Here lately, we’ve been reading a lot of magazines and reading industry publications.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s definitely advertising, even though we broke even. It’s one of those things that you have to trust in God, because yesterday was a horrible advertising day and we’re going to press very soon. And then that afternoon late, bam, bam, bam; we booked several ads. So, I try to just have faith, because this is definitely a God-thing when I talk about divine intervention for the timing and everything. It’s all going to be okay. Even when I get stressed out, I know that it’s going to be okay. So, I try not to let that keep me up at night. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jason Niblett, co-founder & publisher, Venture South Magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Venture South magazine.

Jason Niblett: I’ve been working for newspapers for many years. And of course, with the newspapers we’ve always had the newspaper-style magazine that we were required to do. I’ve always done social and lifestyle magazines, and I’ve had this concept in the back of my mind for a long time; something for everyday, normal people, not all about the million dollar houses, the gardens, huge swimming pools, but a magazine that everyone could use. From girls’ night out, to family weekends; things like that.

That was in the spring. I was working for a newspaper corporation in Laurel, Miss. And in Laurel, there were two newspapers, which it was a struggle for both newspapers to make it. And I knew that our newspaper was probably in trouble, but I thought that they would get rid of me and put the newspaper operation under a neighboring operation in Hattiesburg. So, we were all surprised when the paper closed completely in June.

In the spring, we had moved our office across town to a place that was a little bit cheaper, and about a week later, I got an email that my salary had been cut drastically. So, I knew that it was time for me to figure out what I was going to do next. I had been laid off from three different newspapers throughout my career and I’m only 38 years old. That’s a lot of layoffs for someone my age.

So basically, me and two of my friends decided that it was time to pull the trigger and do our own thing. So we started meeting that spring, after I received that email about the salary cut, and I had planned on sometime this fall, maybe winter, quitting my job to do this magazine. Then I find out my last day to work would be July 14, because we were being laid off and the paper closed.

So, everything accelerated, but honestly it was perfect timing, and definitely some divine intervention, because right after we started selling advertising, we had our media kits ready, but we didn’t have our premier edition to show everybody, we started hearing that there were two other groups, one an individual and one a corporation, looking at Laurel for starting a magazine. And so we knew we had to get ours out. Thankfully, we were able to break even for the first one, which was wonderful. But we had to get it out to stave off any victims of the competition.

Samir Husni: After seeing what’s happening with newspapers, and after being laid off three different times, do you still believe in ink on paper? Why are you starting a print magazine in this digital age; do people think you have you lost your mind?

Jason Niblett: (Laughs) Probably so. But there was such a desire for something like Venture South in Laurel. There are so many dynamic things happening here right now. We have the HGTV series, “Home Town,” that’s filming its second season. And last year we had the Matthew McConaughey movie, “Free State of Jones,” which is about our county.

And once it was announced that the paper was closing, my own phone and the office phone rang constantly for the next few weeks with people telling me that I had to do something. And of course, while I was still at the office, I was very professional in closing down that operation the way that it needed to be. Once we announced the magazine, it has just been insanely popular. It’s crazy. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: We’re seeing a lot of new magazines appearing, and as you mentioned earlier, almost every newspaper in Mississippi has its own magazine, or two or three. I remember in one of my seminars at the Mississippi Press Association, I challenged the newspaper people to follow more of a magazine style on a daily or weekly basis, because the problem is not with the ink on paper, it’s with what you put on that ink on paper. How are you taking what you learned from your newspaper career and offering it now on a monthly platform to your audience?

Jason Niblett: Definitely market research and demographic information that I’ve learned over the years at the newspaper. We have beautiful lifestyle magazines already, and we did not want to be a lifestyle magazine. There’s a huge audience in Mississippi that’s just normal, everyday people; the nurses, teachers, office personnel; those are the normal people in Mississippi. Of course, there’s the upper class echelon, but that audience isn’t huge, especially in our area. And so, you definitely have to learn how to target your audience.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you broke even with the first issue, which is rare in our business. If you wanted to use your crystal ball for a minute; what does the future hold for Venture South? And also, with a name like Venture South, do you plan on going beyond the city limits, maybe down toward the Gulf Coast?

Jason Niblett: Absolutely. We had a name that I’d had in the back of my head for five or six years, and once the three of us starting meeting, we were all leaning toward that name and going in that direction. Then suddenly, we had an epiphany and decided that wasn’t what we needed to name the magazine. We knew that we needed to go in a different direction where we could expand into New Orleans, Mobile, or Pensacola, or wherever. There is potential to do just that, explore and expand more regionally.

Samir Husni: When you mention the “three” of you, who are you referring to?

Jason Niblett: Lacey Slay, our editor and designer, and Kevin Dearmon, who handles advertising, are the other two owners. And Lacey and Kevin both hold down full-time jobs in addition to the magazine. I’m the only full-time person.

Samir Husni: What was the first phone call or conversation you had after the magazine was distributed?

Jason Niblett: One of my former high school teachers emailed me and she was just telling me how wonderful the magazine was. She loved the content and the direction and ideas. And she lives in Mendenhall, Miss. She started sharing it around, and that’s why we see the potential for a more regional publication, because once she started pushing it toward the city she lives in, and her friends and family in surrounding areas, and even her hometown of Natchez, Miss., we began to receive requests for subscriptions and we had planned to be just a free distribution-type magazine. And we ended up with 200 subscriptions before the magazine even launched.

Samir Husni: If you were to come and speak to journalism students here at the University of Mississippi, what advice would you give them?

Jason Niblett: Keep an open mind. When I was at the University of Mississippi, I was majoring in broadcast journalism. I went to NewsWatch 12 and the SMC (Student Media Center). I didn’t pay too much attention to the Daily Mississippian or to the yearbook, because I wanted to be on TV. I did that for about six months after I left Ole Miss, and I hated it. I ended up in newspapers.

So, keep an open mind and definitely learn the different concepts and multimedia, and always have integrity and do what’s right, and you will be blessed.

Samir Husni: What advice would you give your colleagues at other newspapers about their own magazines?

Jason Niblett: A problem that we had at our operation was not to make it a glorified people section of the newspaper. You have your daily, weekly, or biweekly newspaper, or whatever frequency you have, for that people section. Your magazine needs to be something nicer, with exceptional features, photography, and design. Don’t skimp on your freelancers, and if you don’t have the skills to design it yourself, hire a good graphic artist, because there are so many magazines in Mississippi that look like nothing but glossy, people sections.

And we want to be debt-free, because we know in the publishing industry that debt can weigh you down, or put you out of business. We’re actually working out of my house, we turned a third bedroom into an office. We close the door when we’re done for the day and we stay out of that room, but you also have to be disciplined enough to get up in the morning, get a shower and get dressed, and act like you’re going to work. If you don’t, the day gets away from you.

Samir Husni: Who’s going to be on the cover of issue two?

Jason Niblett: Actually, we’re doing a story on “Phantom of the Opera” at the University of Southern Mississippi. So, that’s probably going to be our cover story.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Jason Niblett: That I always tried to be a big community proponent; family first, work second, but if you enjoy your job, you don’t really have to work. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, after you had closed that office door, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; playing with your dogs; watching TV; or something else?

Jason Niblett: Definitely playing with the dogs. And I do love to cook; I joined one of those meal delivery services to try different things, and we’ve been doing that for about a year now. We get this cardboard box every week and sometimes the food is great and sometimes it’s not, but we’re always trying it. We love to travel to the Coast a lot, even if it’s just to walk on the beach or grab something good to eat. Here lately, we’ve been reading a lot of magazines and reading industry publications.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Jason Niblett: It’s definitely advertising, even though we broke even. It’s one of those things that you have to trust in God, because yesterday was a horrible advertising day and we’re going to press very soon. And then that afternoon late, bam, bam, bam; we booked several ads. So, I try to just have faith, because this is definitely a God-thing when I talk about divine intervention for the timing and everything. It’s all going to be okay. Even when I get stressed out, I know that it’s going to be okay. So, I try not to let that keep me up at night. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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