Good Reads: The Signal takes a different approach to current affairs

We hear how the media brand’s debut print publication, The Long Game, draws inspiration from Soviet era graphic design and the alternative spirit of underground publishing

Led by the Atlantic’s former digital editor John Jamesen Gould and chief commercial officer Hywel Mills, the Signal is a US-based, global current affairs brand envisioned for a time of chronic change and uncertainty.

“I experienced the idea for the Signal as emerging in fragments over years. But it started really to take shape after my time at the Atlantic. The more I felt I understood what was fundamentally wrong with the contemporary media ecosystem, the more clearly the idea came into focus,” Gould tells CR.

“We knew from the outset that it made sense for us to begin with our own approach to digital media and that we wanted to move beyond it—not least, ‘back’ to print. I loved in particular the idea of a non-periodical print publication — something we might drop when we had a good idea and the right opportunity.”

Created as part of an ongoing partnership with the Human Rights Foundation and its Oslo Freedom Forum conference, the Long Game seeks to “distil these collaborations into a print publication — specifically, a kind of alternative newsprint publication,” says Gould. To help bring the idea to life they enlisted the help of creative agency Sister Mary, who drew inspiration from samzidat literature that was clandestinely written, copied, and circulated during the Soviet era.

Samzidat references

“There’s a shared ethos between samizdat’s essence and the Signal’s mission — with samizdat having defied literally state-controlled narratives and the Signal now defying ideological narratives, rigid answers, and one-sided perspectives,” says the agency’s founder Leigh Chandler.

“The challenge was, of course, to make the final product feel crafted and beautiful, while still capturing the raw, vital feeling of samizdat publications — which were often thrown together without a designer’s input.”

The magazine seeks to highlight the global struggle between authoritarian states and democratic life, with features addressing questions ranging from how autocrats are adapting AI to how corruption inside dictatorships is spreading beyond them.

“The approach was pre-set, in a way: all conversations, no monologues,” says Gould. “They were eclectic, too: Frank Fukuyama is a very renowned social scientist; Kalbinur Sidik is a former schoolteacher from the Uyghur region in China; Miranda Patrucić is an investigative journalist from Bosnia; and so on.”

The editorial design of the debut issue adds a modern twist to the alternative spirit of underground publishing, using layering, cropping, aged textures and bold typography to both command the attention of the reader and create a sense of urgency.

“Drawing inspiration from Soviet era graphic design, we employed bold, condensed, and underlined headlines in Manuka bold, serving as assertive bookmarks that introduce each discussion,” says Chandler. “To evoke a historical feeling in the final print, we opted for unbleached paper stock while injecting vibrancy through a palette of red and gold, striking a balance between senses of rebellion and sophistication.”

While the clash between democracy and autocracy is central to the Signal’s mission, Gould sees the Long Game as part of a broader set of themes that are central to our understanding of current affairs as a whole. “We certainly want to come back to the non-periodical — the extra, as we call it. And we like the format — the tabloid-style newsprint magazine,” he says.

“We don’t necessarily yet know what theme we’ll develop for our next extra — or what the design approach will be. Which is good, because if we didn’t need a creative journey to get to those answers, I don’t expect it would make sense for us to do it.”

The Long Game is out now;;