Beyond clicks: Food & drinks media with Swill Magazine editor Myffy Rigby

Food and drinks media in Australia. Six words that would divide a room of hospitality workers in mere seconds. It is the media we look to consume, to be a part of and one which can help businesses go from popular to cult-status. But it is equally fraught with content that can seem at odds with hospitality venues and the industry. There is however another side to food and drinks media, beyond the ‘6 Best Bars in Fitzroy’ listicles and reviews that can leave restaurateurs and journalists at war. We chatted to Myffy Rigby about what it means to be in food and drink publishing in 2023.

Credit: Ethan Smart.

WS: What lured you into the physical world of magazines?

MR: I’ve never been away from the physical world of magazines, for me it’s always been the number one thing, I don’t care what anyone says, you cannot smell the internet. I understand the quick nature and information-driven power of digital but I’ve always looked at it differently. 

I think if there is an opportunity to offer someone something else that they’re not already getting then I want to take that opportunity. I feel that every good food media outlet worth its salt in the country is already doing digital so well, how do you compete with that as a new product? So you find a hole or gap in the market and you make a little home there. 

WS: Is there a common thread or theme you see with venues and people that Swill Magazine tends to write about?

MR: The common theme with Swill Magazine is obsession, it’s people that are obsessed with a particular thing. They could be obsessed with perfecting the art of sashimi, or they could be obsessed with growing one particular thing, or making a certain dish, they could be obsessed with making sure they are a completely independent entity that is driven by a chef or restaurateur. For us, it’s obsessive people completely devoted to their craft no matter what that craft is.

Credit: Ethan Smart

WS: How does Swill approach a venue to do a story?

MR: That’s my job, and so as a group it’s me, Jordan McDonald who is the Swillhouse creative director, and then Ally Webb who is the Swill mag art director, and then Anton Forte who is the Swillhouse CEO and the creator of the whole thing. We sit down every few months and agree on the stories we’re going to write, the sort of venues we want to approach, the personalities we want to highlight and then we make sure the mix is right. The right amount of diversity across people of colour, women, front of house, back of house, growers, musicians, artists, it’s a long list and we try to hit as many of those points as we can in each issue. And how we go about it is we just really delve deep into the things that interest us in that issue. Every few months people’s opinions change, people have different ideas of what they’re obsessing over at any one time and we try to explore all of that as much as possible.

WS: Would you consider when you’re going in to investigate something that’s interesting to you, that you’re in any way recommending venues to people?

MR: I don’t know. I mean, yes you’re recommending by sheer inclusion but I would not see Swill Magazine to be a restaurant review magazine. We’re not in for that, we’re not into telling people what is good or bad or hot or not. We’re into giving people stories of what interests us. 

If a venue doesn’t get a mention in one edition it might be mentioned in another, it’s about the mix of stories in any one issue rather than what is or isn’t included. 

WS: Do you think the relationship with venues and food media has changed or evolved over the span of your career?

MR: It depends on who is in the seat and what they’re pressuring you to do a lot of the time, not talking about my current job, but other jobs I’ve had definitely, there can be a little bit of pressure from other sources or senior sources who want you to write about certain people or give that person a bit more attention because they see that person as more newsworthy, and you just do your job. But it’s a hard question to answer, because I think it’s always been that sort of relationship whether people want to admit it or not. 

Myffy Rigby. Credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

WS: Before you started, did you get the sense there were lots of obsessive people to write about or did you think it would be quite small?

MR: When you think about it around the world, everyone is obsessive over something. Everyone has this niche to their personality that I think a lot of the time, these things just don’t get covered. For good or bad, with major media, you really only have a certain amount of column space and you need to make a big noise quickly about something that grabs people and I don’t really care about that. I care about fleshing out stories. I don’t care about making a big noise, I guess I don’t care about clicks and I kind of want readers to feel something other than ‘oh well I just read that, I’ll go to that restaurant’, or ‘I just read that, there’s that bar, I guess I’ll visit it’. What else can you take from it? It’s kind of nice to learn things again, I feel like we miss that a bit, I know I learn something every time I write a story for Swill, I like always talking to all sorts of people from all different walks of life. It’s very nourishing.

WS: Do you feel Swill acts as a respite then against the faster-paced media?

MR: In some ways, I think it’s really nice for people to have some choice. And the choice isn’t necessarily between a TimeOut or a Broadsheet or a Delicious or a Gourmet Traveler or a Sydney Morning Herald and an Australian. It’s a choice of something else entirely. You have to seek us out, we’re not feeding it to you, you have to come and find us, you’ve got to really want to read it and they’re the people we want. We want people who are interested to read these stories. 

Credit: Ethan Smart

WS: Drinks media in Australia has largely died off, so it’s nice to see that choice still exists in food media.

MR: That’s sad, and it’s a point I would like to make about food media too, is if you don’t feed it, and by feed it I mean fund it, if you don’t feed it it will go away because you’ve got to invest your time and energy and money into this field otherwise it will die the way drinks media has died or music media has died. It’s not for a lack of talent and a lack of want, it’s for a lack of attention that these things go. 

To have the opportunity to write in a creative way about what we eat and drink and listen to and watch and wear, it’s a bit of a privilege. 

WS: Do you think that the future of food media could come from groups like Swillhouse, a collection of venues, rather than a traditional media company?

MR: Possibly, there’s no harm in seeing more people do this kind of work. It’s hard and expensive but it’s fun and rewarding and the more voices that are out there the better, no one wants to see a monoculture food media, it’s boring. You want lots of people making lots of noise because the more people who make noise the more enthusiasm for the subject and the more space there is to make something of your own out of it. 

Credit: Ethan Smart

WS: Lastly, can you recommend some things to read that you feel offers that choice or something completely different?

MR: Swill is a good one, please buy it. 

I also really like Luncheon, Noble Rot, I read The New Yorker most weeks, The New York Times, The Guardian, I love The Observer Food Monthly. I read a lot of books to be honest, and a really cool thing to go back and read if you need inspiration is old Penthouses, and old Playboys, they have the coolest sections and really cool layouts. There’s plenty to read out there, you just have to seek it out. It depends what your motivation is, if you’re seeking out information then all those places (like TimeOut and Broadsheet) are fantastic for that, but if you want to read for a little bit more engagement and entertainment then you do need to try a little bit harder and seek these things. 

Let’s get to work.

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