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Inked’s Charlie Connell on Tattoo Journalism and Growing a Print Publication in a Dwindling Industry

Many of Charlie Connell’s tattoos aren’t visible unless he pulls up his sleeves. This was done intentionally, as he saved his forearms for meaningful tattoos. 

“One is still empty, but on the other, I have a portrait for my late mother. The artist who did it, Susa aka Suflanda, designed the most beautiful portrait of my mother as a dalmatian,” Connell said. “She’s sitting at the kitchen table with her Diet Coke, ready to gossip well into the night. There are so many tiny elements incorporated that remind me of my mom. When I’m having a tough day I just look down at my arm and draw inspiration from it.”

Connell has his fair share of permanent ink. Like many folks who have tattoos, some of his have deep meaning and others don’t mean a thing. 

“I have tattoos that I thought about for years that ended up looking like trash and tattoos that I got on the spur of a moment that are beautiful,” he said.

Not all of his tattoos are works of art like the pup on his forearm. “I have a Chicago flag tattoo where all four stars look wildly different, it’s horrific, but I’d never have it removed. It’s a story,” Connell said. “That’s what tattoos are to me, stories.” 

It’s no surprise the writer has spent a decade writing and working with Inked.

He first joined the publication as a freelance writer in 2010. The tattoo-centric publication had launched in 2004 as a quarterly magazine. He began by contributing a few small articles. By late 2012 he joined the full-time staff as the web editor and stayed until in 2017. In November 2019 he returned and took on his current role as the Senior Editor of the publication. Inked was purchased by Project M Group in 2020.

Why Connell loves to write about tattoos

Tattoos may seem like a niche topic for a publication but as Connell says everybody has them.

“From musicians to movie stars to TikTok influencers to the bartender who has your drink ready before you even sit down. When you get a tattoo you become a member of a family, we all have that one thing in common, so it gives us common ground,” he said.

“It allows us to write about just about any topic,”Connell added. “To profile practically everybody we find interesting as long as there is a tattoo-related connection.”

Inked has grown since the launch, and Connell has been around to witness the changes over the years. During that time, he’s noticed what works and doesn’t when growing a niche publication in the modern media landscape. 

“While we adore the print publication, Inked has never been afraid to branch out into different directions. We’ve developed a powerful social media presence across all platforms. We love writing silly blogs showcasing every single type of tattoo you could ever imagine. We’ve put a ton of work into our YouTube channel and I’m incredibly proud of the video team we’ve assembled. Most recently, our TikTok channel has been growing like crazy thanks to our team putting in a ton of work into making it so much fun,” he said.

Inked is no stranger to the dwindling interest in print magazines. Yet Connell — a self-declared pessimist — feels the lows have been few and far between at the publication. 

“We’re a media company with a print publication, it’s not the easiest industry to be in these days,” he said. 

How Inked continues to grow in a dwindling print industry 

While many editors may rely on metrics such as page views to determine success, Connell is interested in the quality. He feels it’s more of an artistic approach to gauging success. As long as the article is amazing, he’s ecstatic to have the chance to publish it.

OutVoice is a critical tool for Inked, helping Connell to ensure his writers and photographers are paid in a timely manner. 

“As an editor and former freelance writer, there’s nothing I hate more than when writers and photographers don’t get paid on time,” he said. “I had never heard of OutVoice, but from the second I was brought up to speed on it, I was in love. I didn’t have to spend a ton of time wrangling W-9s and invoices from writers, then get the invoices to accounting, only to be left out of the loop as to whether or not they actually got paid.”

Connell despised being the middleman between writers and their paychecks. “I hated having writers ask me where their money was,” he said. “I hated when the answer was that I had failed to see an email with an invoice, meaning it was my fault they didn’t get paid.”

He’s grateful OutVoice streamlines the process, leaving him more time to work with writers on their stories.

Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist. She writes about sustainability, travel, culture, and wellness for many print and digital publications such as CNN, ELLE, SELF, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, in addition to her responsible travel blog, You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @LolaAnnaMendez.

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