Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Positive perspective: How Sherry Shaw-Froggatt built a publishing career on good news

Airdrielife magazine eschews printing bad news for nearly 20 successful years

Long before the advent of good-news-focused media outlets such as goodgoodgood.co, reasonstobecheerful.world or positive.news, there was airdrielife.

Co-founded by Sherry Shaw-Froggatt (Marketing ’85), the quarterly magazine has celebrated the best of the southern-Alberta suburban city since 2004. Putting the spotlight on culture, it offers uplifting pieces on local artists, entrepreneurs, community builders, as well as guides to food and local events.

And it offers none of the bad news that dominates headlines nearly anywhere else you look.

“We only do the good stories,” Shaw-Froggatt told techlife magazine in 2014, on the 10th anniversary of airdrielife.

Now, with the 20th volume on the horizon, that strategy has paid off – and was recognized this September by the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association, which named Shaw-Froggatt the recipient of the 2022 Achievement in Publishing award.

We caught up with the publisher to talk about that bit of good news, how she built a business out of other good news, and living the good life – in this case on the golf course, from which Shaw-Froggatt spoke on a warm day in Calgary for this interview, between what sounded like mostly good shots.

Congratulations! What are your thoughts on the award?

Thank you! It’s funny – it’s been tough the last several years. Honestly, at the start of COVID I was ready to just fold it and walk away. But I had a good talk with Ellen [Percival] from Calgary’s Child [magazine] – she’s been a mentor to me – and there was the government funding … it kind of kept me going. And it was like I was supposed to continue going.

I’m going to pause for one minute while I hit the ball …

<thwack>

Wow, you’re good luck! I just hit a great shot!

Nice! Thinking about the award, and looking at what you’ve done with the magazine, does it surprise you in any way?

Yeah, because three or four years ago I didn't think I'd still be here. Next year is Volume 20, so we’re starting to celebrate that. Around Vol. 16, 17, I really lost my mojo for it. I just was not excited. But it’s really turned around.

One of the issues I [enjoyed] most was the one we never printed. During COVID we just did a digital edition. We did videos and had podcast links and I had so much fun. It kept my mind occupied during COVID. I got my mojo back.


How interesting that the pandemic would breathe new life into it for you.

You know how everyone reevaluated what they’re doing in life? For me, it was like, What is the purpose of this magazine? And it's to keep people connected. That, at the end of the day, was what mattered.

OK, one more shot …

<thwick>

Is that on the green? OK, I can't hang up – you have to play the rest of the game with me!

Great! You mentioned the magazine is a way to connect people. How did that work during the pandemic?

During that time we started doing news stories, sometimes two or three times a week. We called it “lifenow.” It was always good news. If there was a story about how domestic abuse has increased in Airdrie, my story would have been on what we're doing about it, like about Airdrie P.O.W.E.R., the women's shelter.

Also, when we did my awards program, the Amazing Airdrie Women awards, we had to do it online that first year of COVID. We delivered a swag bag full of stuff [nominees would have received at the event] plus a wine glass and a little bottle of bubbly for when they watched the show. It worked! People were so grateful that it happened.

OK, one second …

<tap>

Oh – you’re no good for putting.

Oh no. Sorry! With the online issue, you got to explore different types of media and storytelling, but you're still not letting go of print. Why?

You can swipe through your feed [on your phone] and it’s there one second, gone the next and you’re on to the next thing. But magazines are something you sit down with a cup of coffee and find that 10 minutes just to curl up and absorb it. I have people tell me all the time, “I read it from cover to cover.”

And when everybody spends their day on a computer screen at work, do you want to spend your free time [that way]? There's something to be said for the printed page.

Hang on …

<crack>

That’s better.

"Three or four years ago I didn't think I'd still be here."

What do you think about going forward with the airdrielife?

Well, I just hired someone to be me. Jim Zang [the new managing editor] and I go back 30 years – he used to hire me at the Calgary Herald when I freelanced. I don't live in Airdrie anymore. We moved two years ago. I've got a really good team there and it's time for other voices.

I would love to sell the magazine and retire. It has legs, but my legs are tired. But until I sell it I can’t ignore it. I may not be physically in the city but I stay on task with everything.

Forgive me, but I’m amazed you’ve been able to maintain the publication this long.

I have no overhead. I've never had an office outside of the home. [In the beginning] I would do everything from deliver magazines to sales to whatever had to be done. I learned [whatever] I didn't know how to do.

What’s the contribution you want the magazine to have made?

It's showing other communities, the province, even around the world, that Airdrie is a place worth celebrating.

I've always been a big fan of celebrating the small successes. Those things matter. From all the different things we've done, from the Amazing Airdrie Women to a lot of different stories over the years, people have come to me and said, “This made a difference in my life.” You know, It's a cool position to be in.

What have you enjoyed most about it all?

Becoming a part of the community. When I started, I got very good advice. I put out the first issue and I had a community leader come up to me and say, “Now what are you going to do?” I said, “Well, I'm gonna do the next issue.”

He said, “No – now what are you going to give back? Because [the community has] supported you.” I was like, “Oh, I have to be a role model!” With great power comes great responsibility. I would use my pages for good. Huh – the heat’s getting to me if I’m talking like this!

Sorry – it’s my turn.

<thock>

[Ha ha.] OK, I just proved how human I am.

For those about to publish, Sherry Shaw-Froggatt has advice for you

After nearly 20 years of producing airdrielife, publisher Sherry Shaw-Froggatt knows the pitfalls a new, enthusiastic magazine maker might experience. Here’s some advice.

  1. “Really research your revenue sources.” Before you start, know where your money is going to come from.
  2. Don’t blow your budget. It’s easier than you’d think, says Shaw-Froggatt. “I've been that publisher that wants more pages because it looks pretty.”
  3. Never lose sight of your purpose. Stay focused on the integrity of your stories and their goal.
  4. Love it or leave it. “If you’re not having fun, get out. It’s meant to be fun.”

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