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Why We Made Realpolitik

Written By Martin M Dolan
Cover Art by


Realpolitik is a space for the typically excluded young and outspoken voices to share more complex pieces of writing, like personal essays and op-eds, specifically in the always-tumultuous field of politics.

Editors’ Note

As a young person – either a student or an entry-level employee – so much of what you’re assigned as work has a sense of being busy-work; stuff that’s not all that in-depth, cookie-cutter, and similar to a lot of what other people are doing. A try-out, if you will, for the ‘better’ jobs, the ones where creativity, leadership, and your own personality get to shine. As an English student, I think no field better exemplifies this phenomenon than journalism. Put in the time, people will always tell you, and get your name out there. Do some surface-level reporting and most of all, don’t let your opinions get in the way of a story. That’s how journalism works: to climb the ladder, you have to play ball.

It’s contradictory, though, because the highest positions as a journalist – editors, columnists, or even just long-form reporters – have job descriptions that are essentially the opposite. Instead of avoiding opinions and angles and experimental styles, these upper-level professionals make their names from these things, pushing boundaries and staying dynamic. These jobs are what everyone in the industry aspire to, but landing one is impossible without some connections, skill, and goodwill – all of which require ‘playing ball.’ Its stupid, then. If every journalist aspires to be a creative columnist, then why do we spend so much of our careers working on precisely the opposite?

That, essentially, is the idea behind Realpolitik, a zine (self-published, cheaply reproduced magazine) that a few friends and I spent our winter semester putting together. Any budding journalist has dozens of opportunities for surface-level reporting work, at school newspapers, internships, or on blogs. My idea, at least at its beginnings, was to create a space for the typically excluded young and outspoken voices to share more complex pieces of writing, like personal essays and op-eds, specifically in the always-tumultuous field of politics.

Our zine has no theme besides the loose definition of what is political, and as we worked on the first issue, both print and digitally, a whole lot of ideas about structure and design were changed on the fly. Zines are a medium firmly planted in the 20th century, with roots in punk-rock fandoms and feminist/LGBT advocacy groups. It’s a medium I’ve always been interested in since stumbling upon some old comic zines, and one that I think captured the same energy I wanted to channel in my zine. The zine culture is a really cool legacy to be a part of, and my intention with Realpolitik was take their unique aesthetic and remix it for a post-internet, specifically political perspective.

I’m a writer, first and foremost, and 100% did not realize what I’d be getting into when I settled on producing a 48-page print magazine. While I had tons of friends and friends of friends each chip in with some writing of their own or some accompanying art pieces, assembling the zine, something I had hardly given any thought in the planning-stages of this whole crazy thing, ended up being far and away the hardest part of the project. I suffered a rude awakening at my less-than-adequate Photoshop skills, and realizations as simple as having to make a writing piece fit a whole page, or that the pages of a printed book have to be a multiple of four ended up being big headaches in terms of redesigning entire sections. Still, all my collaborators were so cool about irritating logistics like those mentioned and were more than happy to help in any way they could. To say it was a relief when I finally held a printed proof in my hands – without any major errors – would be an understatement.

Making a zine was a ton of work, way more than I anticipated at least, and the majority of which was spent not working on our initial mission statement, that of hosting a platform for young, student, and alternative op-eds. But still, I think the process of taking this project from idea to printed matter taught me a lot, in terms of writing, editing, publishing, marketing, and even in terms of the actual content we published. I got a bunch of really smart people to contribute columns on stuff that I barely know anything about, and I think this huge variety of voices, tones, and topics is what made our first issue a success like it was. Even something as simple and supposedly-expected as having people react strongly to essays in the zine – both positive and negative – has been a really cool experience. More than one conversation (or argument) has been started in-person or over Instagram DM with people reacting to an essay in Realpolitik. That, I think, more than anything, shows that our original intent, to make this space for essays and for debate, was a good idea. It makes me more excited, even more than before, to publish again, and build this little zine into something a little less little.

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