FLINT, Michigan — Flint native Jamal Jones is the proud founder and owner of TREAL Magazine, a news publication he founded in 1999, that has been able to grow and hold an audience for 23 years. Since establishing TREAL (true + real), Jones has been a constant staple of on-the-ground news that's complicit to Flint's north end as well as current issues going on in Black culture.
Having covered a little of everything over the years — from exclusive interviews, concerts, and music videos to fires, car crashes, and police chases — Jones admitted during our conversation that covering breaking news for TREAL can often intervene with his own safety which is something he's constantly aware of.
In solemn respect for his hometown, he understands the dangers of being in certain environments but knows the value of telling the authentic stories that need to be told.
Keeping up with the current social climate, Jones chose to move TREAL Magazine to the social media platforms Instagram
where he posts about issues primarily affecting Flint residents. Jones sat down with Flintside to talk about the magazine's origin, some of his favorite issues, the importance of ownership, and what it truly means to be TREAL.
Jones holds a print issue of TREAL Magazine during a Flintside photoshoot with Bryce Mata in downtown Flint. Flintside: Jamal, thank you for sitting down with us. So, what made you start TREAL Magazine?
: "The exact reason I started it was because of my brother. When I graduated [from high school] and my brother asked, ‘what you're gonna do now?’ I didn't really know. I remember like it was yesterday, he suggested that I start a magazine, and I was like, okay, it sounds cool. The next day, I went to go do my financial aid and I was reading a book that said, “If you print it, they will read it.” This was the exact next day, and I decided to start TREAL Magazine. I started the first issue with my open house money, we started selling them, and it started working."
Flintside: Is there a certain issue or interview that stays with you?
: "One interview that stuck with me was with Jon B and that was my first interview. He was doing a show downtown and I did the interview in the flat lot. I used to write for Word Up in the Flint Journal and that's where I learned to get in contact with people for interviews. The head of the music section told me to basically call a record label, ask to speak to an A&R or publicist and tell them I wanted to do an interview. Before I knew it, I would have so many people calling that I couldn't even take on all the interviews."
Flintside: What kind of content or topics do you primarily focus on?
: "I'm trying to provide a mix of everything, from the topics that are relevant today to the ones that can help us move forward. Everything from music, what's going on in the neighborhoods in Flint, politics, critical matters. Honestly, I never was really into politics — music is my thing — but I felt like I should cover a little politics to make sure we get where we're going."
Jones displays a special edition of TREAL Magazine that featured himself on the cover. We reassured him that Oprah does it all the time.
Flintside: Would you consider yourself a journalist or a reporter or something different? How do you define what you do?
: "Investigative journalist. I look at it like this: a journalist gives you a general story and the investigative journalist gives you the rest of it. You just can't see an accident and say, 'oh, it was just an accident.' You don't know what happened. We need to know what happened for real. All in all, I'd describe myself as a businessman. My father called me a capitalist, but my uncle said somebody's got to get the money."
Flintside: Would you ever consider printing again?
: "Yes, definitely. I honestly feel like print magazines are coming back. I don't think they ever really left. A lot of major ones nowadays went digital but there's still a market for print."
Flintside: What are some of the main social media platforms you prefer to use to stay connected to your readership?
: "I actually found out that I had two different markets. Considering the age group, my main market is 20 and 40-year-olds so I share news and stay connected with the Facebook market, but a lot of my younger audience has come from Instagram. So, the people that I basically started with or that's been in business with me go to Rubes and maybe their kids or their nieces and nephews go to Vibez, but I can connect with both crowds. It's a tricky thing but it’s cool, though."
Flintside: What kind of changes would you like to see on the north side of Flint?
"One thing that I know is missing is more information about the voting processes and how laws work in the city. I think many of us don't know where to go or where to find this [information]. A lot of us don't know what our power is. We don't know how redistricting works. How does it happen? Why does it happen? I see people starting to go downtown more but, like I've been telling everybody, we're gonna have to leave the bricks and come back North. We got to take our money and we got to understand what our money does, and how valuable our money is."
Find and follow TREAL Magazine on Instagram and Facebook.