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Old world. New beginnings

Anastasia Mangafas is the driving force behind Why Athens - the new online kid on the block presenting the delights that make up the Greek capital

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The pillars of a city; the foundations for Western civilisation. Pictured here at the National Archaeological Museum looking back to the modern city. PHOTOS: WHY ATHENS

04 July 2016

Born in Sydney, Anastasia Mangafas spent most of the last decade working in television for Australia's Expo Channel. Today she's based in the Greek capital at the helm of an online magazine that's going places - exploring the length and breadth of Athens for a large and growing online audience.

Anastasia Mangafas

What motivated you to start Why Athens?
I've visited Athens frequently throughout my life, and coming here over the last five years in particular, I could see an enormous change. People were doing extraordinary things culturally, and I could see an emerging entrepreneurial spirit, particularly among the younger generation which, in the current economic climate, has been forced in a sense to think outside the box.

I wanted to shift the narrative, delve a little deeper and show what I was seeing amid all the hardship, and also tackle what I believed was a disconnect with the in-bound tourism market. I spent nine months researching, writing and gathering stories, to see first and foremost whether my idea and vision for an online site dedicated to Athens would hold up, and also to see whether this would keep me creatively engaged enough to devote myself to it full-time. The short answer is I haven't been able to stop! I was living in London; I packed my bags and moved over here permanently last year, launching whyathens.com in September 2015.

It was a big decision to leave. I knew it had to be 'now' to execute this, and it also fitted in with me personally wanting to do something autonomous and explore the digital space, which I'm fascinated by. I do handle change well - being married softens the blow of relocating anywhere because you're in it together. It never felt like an adjustment in Greece, it's always felt like a second home. My spiritual home. My love for Australia is just as big and I do miss it immensely. I go back once a year to see my family.

I am first and foremost Australian and proud of it. It has given me that fighting spirit to succeed, the curiosity and desire to travel. You understand and appreciate what it means to be Australian when you're living overseas. There is nothing more magical flying over Sydney, I get goose bumps every time, it's very emotional for me.

Tavli in Plaka. "The man in the suit was on his way to work! He thought he'd squeeze in a game of backgammon against the street vendor who sells nuts, but who is really looking for a game. The third guy could be trying to keep the game honest."

What makes Why Athens something different than a blog?
I haven't seen another online source of information (in English) dedicated to Athens in this way. Our tag line is Old World. New Beginnings and I really do use that as a compass when I'm gathering or writing stories. We are an online magazine focused on the capital and we tell the many stories that make it unique. A big part of that puts a spotlight on Athenians, who are having a go in very hard times. We present this cultural narrative in all sorts of ways, incorporating lots of imagery and video as well. We merge all of this with our city guide for travellers.

The Why Athens website.

How is the magazine produced and how are you meeting the challenge of making it commercially viable?
The stories and features start from a very organic place. Ideas flow from the time I step out everyday, whether it's speaking to people or just walking around. Interviews are set up, me and Niky (my Nikon) will go out and shoot. Write ups of restaurants, bars, and beaches happen just as organically, based on great experiences either I've had or that friends have told me about, but I'll always go there myself to see if it's good enough to share.

The team is still quite small; I have a researcher, who helps me keep abreast of events happening around town, and a small technical development team keeps the site running smoothly. I'm lucky that my husband loves taking photographs as well, so he often assists me when he has the time.

Monetising is always the crucial piece to the puzzle, so that we can expand and keep up with the size of our audience. The challenge of course is finding a balance between good business and content, and not allowing the editorial decisions we make be affected by the type of income streams we bring in.

We are in the early days, less than a year old. There are a lot of ways to monetise a blog; this industry is still in its infancy and it's going to continue to change because of how fast social media moves. I am building a specialist brand, so it's not about me personally. What we offer our audience and our brand partners is Athens-centric advice and information - we're not trying to capture the whole of Greece and not flipping from city to city each day on a world adventure.

I'm not passing through for a season, I'm here for the long term, so building an engaged audience all year round is paramount. With my television background, the philosophy of 'content is king' has been etched into my brain, so I'm always thinking of things from that perspective, content and audience.
We are testing the waters right now with some small boutique brands that we trust and that can enhance people's experience of Athens. This will mark our first revenues for Why Athens. To date, we have decided against taking on advertising for the sake of it and are focusing on understanding what our audience is searching for.

Gaining brand trust is equally important for sponsors as it is with the audience. It takes time to build a rapport with your audience as does developing business relationships over here, but I love dealing with the Greeks - they have something we Australians have, a very matter-of-fact way about them and can sniff out impostors from 20 paces. In a hard economic climate you have to think creatively, there's no right or wrong way.

Anastasia with her 'Niky'.

Tell me about your audience. Who reads it?
Our audience is a mix of history buffs, foodies and people who want to delve a little bit deeper and discover the culture and many sides of this wonderful city. It's also for those not travelling here, Philhellenes and the millions of Greeks living outside of Greece who want to be kept up to date with what is happening culturally in Athens all year round.

We've established a growing audience on our social media platforms with more than 20,000 registered users from the United States, Australia, Canada and the UK and our website fields over 15,000 new users each month from people all across the globe.

"The Greek way of life in summer occurs outdoors with music and 'zoe' (life). It's not a luxury, it's accessible to all. Tickets are priced so that everyone can afford to come."

What's next for you and the magazine?
I would obviously love to expand our audience and reach as many people as possible. We plan on translating our content into other languages so that we can do this more effectively. If Why Athens can continue to consistently offer people another way to think about the city beyond the vivid images of protests and economic doom and gloom, well, I really couldn't ask for more.

To explore Athens with Anastasia Mangafas go to www.whyathens.com

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