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Q&A: YNST founders talk about inspiration, success and the future

YNST (You’re Not Seeing Things) Magazine is a print and digital media company founded in 2023 by a group of WVU Reed College of Media alumni “to amplify the unseen creative voices of Appalachia’s arts and culture.” They feature stories and work about and from the region’s authors, designers, photographers and artists. Founders include Adam Payne (BSJ, 2021; MS Digital Marketing Communications, 2022), Kasey Lettrich (BSJ, 2022), Annika Godwin (BSJ, 2022), Olivia Gianettino (BSJ, 2022) and Savanna Shriver (BSJ, 2021).

YNST Executive Team

YNST Executive Team: Joseph Lucey, Olivia Gianettino, Adam Payne, Kasey Lettrich, Annika Godwin and Savanna Shriver

A freelance writer who has published work in Black by God and WeeLunk, Payne lives in Wheeling, West Virginia, and works fulltime as YNST’s editor-in-chief. Lettrich is the executive director of YNST and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works for an arts nonprofit called Chashama. Godwin is YNST’s editorial director and lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she works parttime as a receptionist and social media assistant in a hair salon. Gianettino is the creative director and a contributing artist for YNST, and lives in Shinnston, West Virginia, where she also works at a local bakery. Shriver is the creative coordinator of YNST and also works as a server at Dockside in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Shannon Cunningham: How did the name of the magazine or the idea of the magazine in general come about?

Lettrich: So, when we were in college, we all worked for Mirage Magazine, which is a student org in the Reed College. We wanted to create a grown-up Mirage Magazine. That was the reason we started this in the first place – we all loved working for Mirage and working together as a team. We worked so well together. So we started playing with the word mirage and what mirage means – it's an illusion and you don't really know what you're seeing. So, we slowly eventually got to You're Not Seeing Things from the word mirage. But then it made so much sense. There is so much in Appalachia that you are not seeing because of the negative stereotypes of the region. So we started to build a brand off that.

Payne: Funny enough, we actually came up with the idea to pursue this while on our New York City trip with Mirage. We were eating dinner in Little Italy, and we were all very sad that we were about to be graduating and letting this die. Then we were like, we could just start over. It kind of snowballed from there.

Cunningham: You talked about how the magazine specifically highlights West Virginia and the Appalachian region. Why did you choose to focus on this area in particular?

Payne: Growing up, you see it in bits and pieces, but when I got to college, I felt like I was flooded with that sense of creativity and innovation, but I wasn't seeing that represented in the media associated with our region very often. There is positive media coming out of West Virginia, but in the national sense, the creativity of the region is often not represented at all. We started with the idea that we just want to create something cool, but it became a lot more mission-minded as we started getting into the work and realizing that this is a need that we want to address.

Shriver: I interviewed the two sisters that own Base Camp Printing and we were sharing the same ideas about growing up in West Virginia. You get a little bit embarrassed to say you’re from West Virginia when you go to another state because the only thing people know are negative things. If I had something like this growing up, a magazine that highlighted cool things happening around the area, it would be something that I could be like, “Well, yeah, there are negative parts of West Virginia, but there's a lot of stuff that people don't see.”

Cunningham: What are some of your favorite moments or experiences from launching the magazine so far?

Godwin: One of my favorite moments was in April when we went to the West Virginia Business Plan competition. None of us had heard Adam's full pitch before. We were so nervous, but the second he started talking and we saw our plan fully formulated and all the passionate things we feel about YNST, it made us all tear up. We were just so happy to see the support from the audience, and the judges had really thoughtful questions that weren't just, “Why print media? Isn't print media dying?” It was nice to see that people were really interested in what we were doing.

Shriver: I completely agree. Literally, every time Adam does his presentation, I get chills. My parents tuned into the live stream for the Show of Hands, and they hadn't heard his speech yet. My mom called me, and she was like, “I started crying. He did such a good job.”

Payne: Well, I give a lot of credit to the Launch Lab right next door to the Reed College of Media because their resources really helped us understand the business pitch side of things a lot better. One of my favorite moments was when Olivia, Joseph and I took a road trip to distribute the magazines throughout West Virginia. We've taken a couple road trips now, but that first leg when we were getting to walk into businesses organically and just pitch ourselves and tell them, “Hey we created a magazine. It's all about uplifting arts and culture that's unseen in West Virginia.” The amount of people that just instantly were like, “Yes. Yes, I've been waiting for something like that,” or “I'm so interested – this is something that I feel strongly about, passionately about and I've just been waiting for something like this to exist.” That reception, and getting it in person, it still makes my heart tingle.

Lettrich: At the Business Plan Competition, there was this moment where they started calling awards and we were all holding hands and everybody was shaking and so nervous, and we won. Everybody was crying. It was this moment where I was like, “Oh my God, people believe in this. It's not just us.” Internally, we love what we're doing and it's so much fun and we think it's a super important thing to be sharing with the world, but that was the first time that I had seen a response in person and the whole audience was super supportive. The person that was announcing the awards asked the audience what YNST stood for and the whole audience responded. I was like, “they know what it is! People know what this is, and they support us and believe in us!” It was just such a beautiful moment to be a part of.

YNST Magazines at Wheeling Public Market

YNST Magazines on display at Wheeling Public Market in West Virginia

Gianettino: Selling the magazine at events has been really, really exciting in the same way. People are so receptive of what we're doing, and meeting artists, and inviting them to the magazine has been awesome.

Cunningham: On the flip side, what are some of the most stressful moments that you have experienced or had to work through?

Payne: Understanding the business side of things now that we are an established business and have navigated advertising, sales, distribution, organization and taxes. That side of things has been a steep learning curve, but I think we are getting it. It's definitely been challenging. Once again, the advisors at the Launch Lab have been wonderful and helping with all of that. There are also so many other resources that we have benefitted from, like the Small Business Development Center and different organizations that have reached out to help. Navigating the business world as creative people can feel intimidating, but I think we are carving out our space, which is nice.

Lettrich: My day job had our biggest event of the year during the first week of June, and I was partially in charge of planning this event. At the exact same time, YNST was wrapping up its first issue and sending it to print. I remember having articles to finish and edits to make. It was a very, very stressful time trying to balance that. It was very chaotic, but we made it happen and got the issue out with no hitches.

Godwin: I would say that all of us being in different places is kind of tricky sometimes. Having to be pretty much completely virtual as a business, it is a big learning curve. We're starting to get used to it. It's just not going to be the same as having a physical place where you go to work, and you're just focused on that. So, it is a bit tricky, but we're working on it.

Cunningham: How do you manage working from several different locations? Do you set a time to meet each week?

Payne: Yes. We've been meeting pretty much weekly for months. We have our weekly check in, but I think we're transitioning to a place where we are independently working throughout the week and having those checkup messages and texts throughout the day. Everyone is working between day jobs as well. So doing this part time, everyone's really committed to meeting in the evenings and giving up their evenings for this company, which has been really challenging, but also very rewarding. Everyone seems to be going all-in for it.

Gianettino: Also, working with your friends is really fun. We look forward to it, so it's easy for us.

Shriver: That's exactly what I was going to say. We have the chance to catch up. We get a lot of work done during our meetings, but at the end of it, it's like, “Alright, bye guys. Be safe. Love you.” We're all really close and everybody works really hard.

YNST Team Meeting

Payne, Shriver and Gianettino during a YNST team meeting

Cunningham: You have mentioned Mirage Magazine a lot, which is affiliated with the Reed College of Media, but what are some other ways that the College has prepared you for embarking on this endeavor?

Godwin: I wouldn't have even known where to start making a magazine if it weren't for Mirage. On top of that, with all of the challenging courses and everything, I feel like I have a pretty diversified portfolio of skills in terms of writing, editing, design, photo and video. Realistically, I could tackle any challenge that were to come up because of the Reed College of Media.

Gianettino: So many of our peers in the Reed College that weren't directly involved with Mirage have submitted photography and articles, so we've made a lot of connections through the College too.

Payne: Yeah, the multi-faceted tool belt has been really helpful. Everyone on the team is doing a little bit of design, a little bit of writing, a little bit of photography, a little bit of videography. Also, the journalistic practices that we were taught, especially early on in our education, we carry it with us in every single thing that we write, every single interview that we do. Journalism 215 and my capstone are in the back of my head every time I do an interview, every time I'm writing. So much of our audience building – Dr. Britten was our advisor for Mirage and really helped us with audience development. That's something that we’ve carried with us.

Lettrich: The first person that comes to mind is Dr. Britten because he really guided Mirage. I had multiple classes with him while I was there, and I learned so much from him about branding and magazines specifically and audience building and knowing exactly what order we should do things. In the Reed College, we also learned about making a website, which is a super important skill to have. Newsletters, social media – really the Reed College helped us learn every facet of this so that we could put it all together.

Shriver: I completely agree with all of that and working at the newspaper helped develop my interview skills, so I felt confident doing it at YNST too.

Cunningham: All of this is very creative, so how do you continuously find inspiration?

Lettrich: Everywhere. It's always in the back of my mind, and I'm constantly thinking about it. I'll walk down the street, especially being in New York and seeing all the different types of people; you'll see someone's outfit and be like, “Oh my gosh, that is totally something we can talk about.” Or other magazines – I've been doing a lot of research into other niche magazines and the way they design them, and the way they style them, and the way they talk about things. Social media, TikTok constantly – we're always finding new Appalachian artists and recently we've been doing some digging into some musicians on TikTok. There is inspiration everywhere as long as you're always looking for it.

Shriver: Adam is always on the lookout for smaller events that might not have an online presence. In Fairmont, there's an event called Patty Fest, which is an old-time music festival, so I went to it, and it was so fun. It’s something that I feel needed to be covered and talked about, but you wouldn’t find it otherwise.

Payne: I have been finding inspiration in individuals and new people that we've been encountering. Even at the Show of Hands this week, hearing three other small businesses talk about their business and how passionate they are about it and why they are choosing to do it is incredibly fulfilling to hear. Now that we've entered the business world, we're encountering so many people that are really invested in the well-being of the state and really invested in helping young entrepreneurs succeed. So many artists that we've encountered – the passion is just oozing off of them. Every time we meet a new creative or a new resource center, it feels rewarding and fulfilling to keep going.  

Cunningham: What are some of your goals or next steps for the future? How will the prize money that you received at the Show of Hands competition help you achieve those goals?

Gianettino: I'm on my way to Asheville, North Carolina, to drop off some magazines. So, in the near future I'm really looking forward to us expanding across the Appalachian region.

Payne: The prize money that we were just awarded in the Show of Hands will help expand our distribution route further into the Appalachian region, as well as invest in marketing. We're about to launch our official website in a few weeks. We've been working with another WVU alum who is building an incredible website for us, so I'm really excited to be able to have that online presence to expand our reach and the magic of West Virginia as far and wide as possible. I'm really hoping YNST can become a resource center for artists and creatives that are looking for opportunities and business help. As we've all learned in this journey, it is hard to be a creative or artist in the business world. We want to make that transition as smooth as possible for other young creatives. We want to promote and connect them with as many opportunities as possible, like open calls, events and submissions statewide and across the region.

Lettrich: My long-term goal is to eventually do this full time and be able to put all of my energy into it.

Cunningham: Is there anything else you'd like us to know about the magazine or all of you?  

Savanna Shriver: The last thing I would add is that we really, really, really care. If you haven't picked up on that, we all are really passionate about this and about showing Appalachia in a good way and highlighting artists that are here. We want to do it for as long as we can.

Lettrich: I'm so happy to be doing this and we are all so passionate about it. I want that to come across in the work that we produce, and I hope we can keep doing this forever.

Payne: We’re very grateful to the Reed College of Media because this passion started in those doors for sure, and we've met so many other incredible media professionals that have come out of there. There’s a network of incredible work coming out of the Reed College and we're very grateful for the skills that y'all have bestowed upon us.

You can order YNST online at or pick it up from more than 50 retailers across the state. Follow @ynstmagazine on your favorite social platforms and subscribe to the newsletter. You can also submit works including photography, writing, design and art during open calls.