John Murphy: The Editor in Brief | Leah Driscoll

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John Murphy’s face might not be one you recognise, but as editor our very own Motley Magazine, he has been responsible for each and every meticulously crafted copy of the magazine this past academic year. I was given the chance to chat to John about his role as editor and learn a little about the head honcho himself.

A Kerry man born and bred, John is currently finishing up his PDE, teaching English and CSPE in a secondary level school. Contrary to popular Kerry racism, he is not the nephew of Jackie Healy-Ray, nor has he spent his summers turf cutting ‘I don’t encounter much Kerry racism, mostly just from a certain Mr Murphy!’ In spite of this discrimination, John has risen through the ranks to become the top dog in Motley. Where did it all start? ‘My interest in writing probably came around first year in secondary school; we were told to write a short story, and I think it was the first ‘A’ I got in English that year. My English teacher was brilliant – she always encouraged me to keep writing. I applied for loads of things and got printed once or twice.’

John’s first piece in Motley was for a section that was to stay close to him for years to come. ‘I think I had two articles in my first issue with Motley. One was a review of a film called The Hole (an absolutely appalling film), and the other was a book review of John Banville’s The Infinities.’ Entertainments is a personal love of John’s: ‘My favourite magazine is Empire. Empire is high-quality; it looks great, and is monthly – like Motley!’ He also has an encyclopaedic knowledge of quotes. ‘I can quote (almost) every line from a lot of musicals: Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd – the list goes on. Anyone who knows me long enough will “experience” me coming out with a random quote.’

Entertainments was to remain his area of expertise for some time. ‘Motley Magazine was looking for editors, and on a whim I applied to be Deputy Entertainments Editor. I got an email saying I had gotten it, working with the Ents Editor Kellie Morrissey and the Editor Aisling Twomey, so I started writing there. Loved it. Then I went on to be Entertainments Editor under Kevin Curran, the Editor at the time.’

John’s hopes for Motley were the main reason why he chose to apply for the position of editor. ‘I thought I could do a lot with Motley – it has so much potential. I wanted to broaden its readership; I wanted to increase the likes on Facebook and get Twitter up and running – both of which have gone on to be amazing successes. We have also set up a website through many trials and tribulations! The main reason I applied to be Editor is just because I love Motley: I love writing for it and I think it’s a fantastic publication.’ He explains how Motley has changed under his leadership ‘I think Motley has broadened. For example the Twitter account, before I got my hands on it, was last used in 2010 – needless to say that needed to be changed, and now we try to tweet something every day. We got the Facebook page going very strong as well – I think we have gotten 500 extra likes since I became Editor.’ It even boils down to the simple things for John. ‘We also got better quality paper this year, which I was very pleased with!’

While John has clearly had a great impact upon Motley, the reverse is also true. ‘When I got into my first year of college I was very quiet and passive. In second year I realised I had to change things and so I joined Motley. For that reason I have a strong personal connection to Motley – it has helped me personally and professionally.’

Editing Motley has also given John a chance to broaden his topics of writing. ‘I mainly focused on Entertainments, but I finally wrote my first Current Affairs piece this year! It’s a summary and analysis about the “new Junior Cert”. I’ve written a few Features but when it came to it I never put them in – just because there weren’t enough pages.’ However, there are still some areas he isn’t likely to touch. ‘I’m wary about writing for Fashion. I am not a fashionable person! But I do think editing all the sections has built up my knowledge for writing on any section on any topic. I’m more confident about writing now thanks to it.’

It’s safe to say John is a very friendly guy. But there’s one thing you can do to get onto his bad side. Call him whatever you want, but do not take the name of Motley in vain. ‘Its title is Motley or Motley Magazine. There is no ‘the’ in the title. It’s Motley.’ Think Vogue, and John is Anna Wintour minus the Botox and cold disposition.

While Motley may not have the same following as Vogue, it’s fair to say each editor faces some similar challenges. ‘It’s a great challenge to get a variety of articles that will interest students, as well as getting them on time to be printed. I’m a stickler for deadlines.’ Other challenges are concerned with the support UCC media receives. ‘It’s difficult to print an issue and then, two days later, to still see them in the Boole, not moving. Just the other day I was talking to someone in my course about our extra-curriculars and I mentioned Motley, and he said “Oh is that a local newspaper or something?” This was his sixth year in UCC.’ Attracting readers is one thing, but getting writers is a whole different kettle of fish. ‘Someone will email saying they want to write a piece and we put them in touch with the relevant editor, and then you don’t hear anything back from them. It happened a lot this year and can cause a lot of problems.’

Along with the challenges, being Editor provides some laughs. ‘I think one of the funniest things I got was an email that read something like, “Hey, just wondering if I could try editing a section of Motley for a month?” – actually, it was “the Motley”! Plus in the email she was not doing herself any favours, there were spelling mistakes and the like. But there was a full stop, I’ll give her that much.’

We now know how not to apply for a position at Motley, but John gives some advice to people considering giving it a shot. ‘Know the publication – you would be amazed at the amount of people who would email saying they want to be a regular writer and then they say they would like to write a sports article. Motley doesn’t publish sport. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, you’re going to encounter a lot of problems that will come back to haunt you. Another piece of advice would be to be hard on deadlines and to give as much support as possible to everyone on your team. And always, always, always respond to emails. Emails help you establish a relationship with people, especially with PRs; they will help you out if you keep in touch with them.’ The most important piece of advice is saved for last. ‘Be careful what you publish. It might only be a student publication, but if you print something that’s libellous, it will come back to bite you.’

As the academic year draws to a close and John’s time as Editor comes to an end in late May, he reflects back upon his time with Motley. ‘I would not trade this year for anything. It is a lot of work, but if you put in the work you will see a result. If I were to go back to this time last year I would be a lot more realistic in what I would try to achieve. I’d be a bit more reasonable if I was applying again, but I have a feeling that Motley will continue to grow and improve.’ And John’s plans for the future? ‘Right now, I’m coming towards the end of my course. I teach a first year group English and CSPE in a secondary school. In an ideal situation, I’d be able to teach somewhere; I’d like to teach full-time, but that’s very unlikely in the current climate.’ However, he has every intention of keeping up writing: ‘I want to get back to my writing portfolio. I’ll probably start off with local papers. I don’t see writing as a full-time job for me; teaching would be full-time and I would write part-time I think.’

As Motley continues to grow, John is thankful he had a part to play. ‘It’s great to put your stamp on something and leave some kind of legacy, I guess.’ While John moves on to bigger and better things, it’s guaranteed that John’s legacy is one that will be staying with the magazine for a long time to come.