Journalists have long been democracy’s watchdogs. The job of a good reporter, editor or producer is to monitor the powers that be and shine a light on issues and events that deserve scrutiny. Since the launch of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, we’ve followed a simple premise: monitor the watchdogs and shine a light on issues and events in journalism that deserve scrutiny. As we celebrate our silver anniversary, we take a moment to congratulate ourselves, to show how well our graduates are doing, to remind ourselves (blush) of some of our less stellar moments and to let our three primary leaders have their say on our origins, our financial woes and our insistence on high journalistic standards. In the many discussions about what could be an appropriate cover for this issue the consensus was a watchdog—a perfect symbol of what we’ve done well, and what we will continue to do.
Good Christ, what have I got myself into? It was gorgeous August day in 1983, and I’d just got back from kicking around Malibu with a screenwriter pal and blowing my magazine awards dough.
Now it was time to put away childish things and get down to my new job. I’d just been appointed chairman of the School of Journalism at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, my alma mater, the first Rye grad (class of ’59) to lead the school. So there I was on my first day at the office, surveying my domain. More accurately, I was standing amid the floating dust motes and the peeling walls of a newsroom that seemed about the size of a squash court. In the gloom, I could make out a few clackety typewriters that reminded me of the first-come-first-serve ones in the old Telegram newsroom on Melinda Street. They were of about the same vintage and in the same state of disrepair. Nothing much else to feast the eyes on except a row of grimy paste-up tables along the front of the room. “Good Christ,” as my late friend Robert Markle would say, “what a bring-down joint.”
Thus thrilled, I headed for my office to see what bureaucratic challenges awaited me there. Going through the files, I noted that at the end of the previous semester the faculty had voted to introduce in the fall term a curricular innovation named streaming, which called for all students to specialize in one of three journalistic genres—newspaper, broadcast or magazine—in their final year. All their senior classes would directly relate to the skills required by their specialty and those skills would come together in a hands-on course called Masthead. For newspaper students, then, Masthead was the campus daily, the Ryersonian; for broadcast specialists, on-air newscasts and documentaries; and for magazine majors, a magazine. The trouble was there wasn’t a magazine and there was no money to launch one. Acknowledging this small setback, the faculty had generously decided that the magazine students could have a few pages at the back of the Ryersonian, oh, say, once a month. Then they’d buggered off for their summer-long break, leaving the rest to me. Oh yeah, they’d also canvassed the senior class and turned up 11 doughty students who were willing to take a chance on the magazine stream.
Only there wasn’t one. As with the missing magazine, there was neither time, money, office space, faculty or even course credits to make the new stream possible. Just the same, there was no way that I, a magazine editor to my bones, was going to let those 11 kids take a back seat to the Ryersonian. If nothing else, they’d have their magazine.
First off, I called Jim Ireland, whom I considered then and consider still to be the best editorial art director in Canada. Jim and I were old colleagues and old friends; we’d done The Canadian and Toronto Life together and stayed in touch. I laid out my plight to Jim, who by then had his own design business, and sort of, kind of, wondered if he’d be willing to design and produce a student magazine for whatever little dough I could dig up, probably less the cost of his materials.
“Anything to stop your whining,” Jim said, or words to that effect. “Got a name yet?”
“The Ryerson Review of Journalism.”
It was always going to be a critical review of journalism. For a slew of reasons—not least that Canada had never really had one—I never considered any other kind. I loved the idea of bright, independent students kicking the tires of the established media, the idea that they weren’t going to buy this streamlined baby without looking under the hood, the idea that, for better or worse, they wanted to find out what made it run, and write about it. At the time, God knows, nobody else was. This isn’t to say that I wanted to hand them a forum for smart-assed polemics or common-room punditry. They’d learn nothing from that—and, worse, their efforts would be ignored. No, if they were going to be the least bit respected, they’d have to adhere, with everything they had, to the standards they were promoting, both in the contents and the production values of their magazine. It would have to engage and hold its audience on the basis of good writing, good thinking and good looks, just as any other commercial magazine did. No slack could be cut for student work. Anything that smacked of it—undisciplined prose, circus design, sloppy typography, stupid heads and decks—would doom their magazine as just another classroom exercise. They had to be too credible to be dismissed—and then they had to get better.
We started out in a broom closet in the basement that had once served as a dark room. A dirty sink in the corner still stank of chemicals. We were almost all smokers—little tin ashtrays overflowed on every surface—so it’s a wonder we didn’t choke to death. Still, it was a place to hang our hats and store our files of typewritten manuscripts. Draft after draft of them. For the Review, computers—and the ease of email—were still many years away. Manuscripts got to the typesetter, proofs to paste-up, paste-ups to printer by student express—that is, on bicycles, the TTC or, in emergencies, by cab. We worked evenings and weekends (our orphan course wasn’t timetabled); we met in my office or the halls or anywhere else we could gather (the big board that kept us to our copy and production deadlines was, of necessity, portable); we made do… over and over again.
None of this fazed the intrepid 11. Theirs was an instant camaraderie born of being outsiders, rebels against the ink-stained ethos of the place. “We felt we were pioneering something,” recalls Kit Melamed, one of the driving forces, “and it was a lovely feeling.”
We spread out from two centres: Jim and me. Between us, we put the arm on a lot of professionals we’d given work to over the years. We were shameless. Production assistants worked for a pittance, photographers for expenses, two guest writers for, as one of them put it, “zero.” A colleague from The Canadian, the late Frances MacDonald, agreed to help the kids smooth out their stuff. Since she was one of the best maga-zine copy editors ever, her polished hand enhanced just about every sentence they published.
I dug into every corner of the budget and outside grants, hoping to excavate bits of money. My biggest single score, I think, was from Reader’s Digest, which annually gave the school $500 for student travel. I called the editor-in-chief, Charlie Magill, whom I knew, and asked him if I could use the grant, on a one-time basis, to help start a magazine. He called back a couple of days later with permission.
It went like that. The late Tom Skudra, who’d done award-winning documentary photography for us at Toronto Life, donated two gallery-quality portfolios for the inside front and back covers (black and white ads for those pages didn’t appear until 1985; colour came along in 1987). Our front cover subject drew our front cover. Gratis, of course. One of the 11, Mickey Trigiani, did a revealing piece on the great editorial cartoonist of The Globe and Mail, Ed Franklin, who believed his art form was being destroyed by interference from the Globe’s editorial board. I asked Mickey if there was any chance Franklin might be willing to depict himself and his predicament for us. The result was a wonderful self-portrait of the artist at his drawing board trussed up a straitjacket and leg shackles. As a bonus, he gave us permission to use eight of his best cartoons inside.
Other memories abound. Tommi Lloyd, in her metallic silver jacket, going from grimy job printer to grimier job printer looking for one we could afford. Jim checking out the shop she finally found and discovering sheets of our film on the floor. He asked for van dykes, photo proofs that were the final check of everything in a magazine, and was told they’d never heard of van dykes. But he got them anyway.
Then there was Kit Melamed’s memorable moment. She was possessed of a singular determination and used it to get Joey Slinger to drop a guest column into our tin cup. When it arrived she was thrilled with it and promptly put it into production. Weeks later, she got a small-voiced call from Joey: had she hated the column so much she couldn’t bring herself to tell him? Is that why he hadn’t heard from her? “I’d had no experience,” Kit says now. “It never occurred to me that a writer of his stature would want a response from me.” The next day found her picking her way through the Star’s newsroom, bearing a bouquet of roses for Joey Slinger.
The day the books came everybody was out in front of the journalism building, waiting for the truck to pull up. We grabbed the first couple of boxes, headed inside and tore them open. There it was: 48 pages of classic design on black-and-white newsprint (the only colour was spot red in the cover logo), 10 solid stories, ranging from the biased coverage of the Korean Air Lines tragedy to the internal strife at CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning, plus profiles of the Sun’s Christie Blatchford, the Globe’s Shirley Shazar and Ed Franklin, together with insider reports, book reviews and a Q & A with Seymour Hersh. Compared to the glossy, four-colour award winners to come, it was a modest beginning. But to all of us there that day, it was the most beautiful thing in the world.
Don Obe is the founding editor of the Review. He is now a professor emeritus.
Who’s written books
Chris Turner (1998) has a knack for converting what he wrote for Shift magazine into successful books. An essay on everyone’s favourite family from Springfield became Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation. Published in 2004, it was an international bestseller. His second book, The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need, which came out last year, is rooted in a piece called, “Why Technology is Failing Us.”
Siobhan Roberts (1997) used the same trick with King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry, based on a profile she wrote for Toronto Life. And The Politics of Bones by J. Timothy Hunt (1999) began life as a Saturday Night article on the symbolic funeral of Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Hunt is now writing a book about the recently discovered skull of French literary icon Madame de Sévingé. Moira Farr (1985) wrote After Daniel: A Suicide Survivor’s Tale. Judy MacDonald (1988) penned Jane and Grey: Stories for Grown-Ups. Gemma Files (1991) wrote Kissing Carrion, a collection of dark fantasy stories. Howard Ackler (1991) is the author of The City Man. Cori Howard (1992) edited Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood. Sarah Curtis (1992) wrote Health and Societies: Changing Perspectives. Anita Lahey (1993) published a collection of poetry, Out to Dry in Cape Breton. Dominic Ali (1996) is the author of Media Madness: An Insider’s Guide to Media. Karen van Kampen (née Moffat,1999) wrote The Golden Cell: Gene Therapy, Stem Cells and the Quest for the Next Great Medical Breakthrough. Ryan Jennings (1999) co-authored Cooking With Booze. Adria Vasil (2003) turned her columns for NOW into Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada. Several others graduates have written children’s books, including Garry Hamilton (1986) and Doug Paton (2004).
By Hayley Citron
Who’s in broadcasting
After Mark Leger (1995) sold his New Brunswick– based weekly, Here, in 2004, he traveled to Ghana to help Liberians in a refugee camp improve a newspaper called The Vision. Between the two gigs, he spent a year and a half reporting and producing for CBC Radio in Fredericton. After adjusting from weekly to daily deadlines, Leger noticed that preparing radio reports and documentaries required many of the same skills as magazine writing, especially the need to find good colour. “Journalism,” he says, “is the same wherever you go.”
Marichka Melnyk (1994) started out as an editorial assistant on The National, then reported on upcoming events as the Go2It Girl for CBC Radio One show Here and Now. Her jobs got her pole dancing, climbing the CN Tower and dodging glass during an anti-poverty riot at Queen’s Park. She is now a producer of the program.
Kit Melamed (1984) and Marie Caloz (1987) are both producers at CBC TV’s the fifth estate, while Susan Bonner (1985) has been a parliamentary reporter for CBC TV since 1999.
Beyond CBC, Pilar Segura (1988) produces Outlaw In-Laws, a reality show about insufferable in-laws on Slice. And Mick Gzowski (1992), who did time as a copyboy—or “coffee boy”—at the Toronto Sun while in school, worked on more than 10 documentaries, including Corporation, Subway Elvis and Ocean Ranger Disaster. In 2004, he became the prime minister’s videographer, travelling with Paul Martin’s entourage. He chuckles about the time he entered a room in the White House and found himself awkwardly facing George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice. He now travels with Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.
By Alina Seagal
Western Living editor Charlene Rooke (née Yarrow, 1993) still occasionally considers chucking everything to go back to school to become an architect or engineer. “Then I realize I could never afford my current lifestyle of global travel, privileged experiences, great meals, etc., without this career,” she says. “Humbling.”
David Dias (2001) isn’t complaining either. He wrote the story he dreamed about writing at Ryerson this year, when he flew to California on a private jet to check out GM’s new electric car, the Chevy Volt. Last year, he mingled with execs in Hong Kong. “In business, you’re always talking to geniuses and egomaniacs,” says the associate editor of Financial Post Business. “It’s been great.”
Closer to home, Angie Gardos (1989) is executive editor at Toronto Life, where she has been for 19 years. Neil Morton (1995) has moved around a bit more, landing his first full-time journalism gig at Elm Street (“paying job including benefits!”) and later doing a stint as editor of Shift. Both magazines are no longer with us and he is now the founding editor and associate publisher of 2: The Magazine for Couples.
Dawn Calleja (1999) is acting deputy editor at Report on Business Magazine while Samantha Israel (2005) just left her job as managing editor of Financial Post Business to take the same position with Oxygen and Clean Eating. Michael Totzke (1987) is editor of Canadian Interiors. Elizabeth Pagliacolo (2002), Susan Nerberg (1999) and Paige Magarrey (2007) are at Azure. Jackie Kovacs (1988), Sandra E. Martin (1992), Lisa van de Geyn (née Goldman, 2002) and Dafna Izenberg (2005) work together at Today’s Parent. Maureen Halushak (2002), Vanessa Milne (2005) and Jacqueline Nunes (2006) are at Chatelaine while Leah Rumack (1998) is fashion features editor of FASHION. Patricia D’Souza (1998), senior editor of Canadian Geographic; Aaron Kylie (1999) at Outdoor Canada; Liza Finlay (1991) at Outpost, Cathy Gulli (2003) at Maclean’s; and Dick Snyder (1994) at Redwood Custom Communications are some of the others still working in magazines.
By Mimi Szeto
Who fell in love
The close quarters and high stress of working together can strain even the most promising relationships, but at least three Review couples are now married. Nicolle Charbonneau Wahl and Andrew Wahl (1998) started dating in third year after deciding to ditch the second half of a psych class. Though Lynn Cunningham was reluctant to put the pair on the same issue, separating couples had resulted in crankiness in the past, so she took a chance. Today, Wahl is a senior writer for Canadian Business while Charbonneau is the manager of marketing and communications for the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. They have a three-year-old daughter with another child on the way at press time.
Two of their colleagues—Kathryn Hayward and Andre Mayer (1998)—got together too. She has been at Toronto Life since 2000 and is now the senior editor there; he is the arts producer for CBC Arts Online. They have two girls.
Drinks and video games after long nights in the magazine lab led to something more serious for Lisa Weaver and David Fielding (2001). A brief hiatus in their relationship created some awkwardness at the launch party, but it didn’t last. Weaver has gone from making $260 a week at natural health magazine, Vitality (“We were eating canned beans for a while,” he says), to copy editor at Toronto Life. Fielding, who spent three years at Toro, is now associate editor at Report on Business Magazine. No babies yet, but he says, “I would discourage my kids from going into this industry—I’d get them to pick up sports or something.”
By Chlöe Tse
Who’s at indie mags
In their final year at Ryerson, Melinda Mattos and Nicole Cohen (2003) created a prototype of a magazine for teenage women. After graduating, they turned their class project into Shameless, an indie publication “for girls who get it.” Mattos and Cohen were co-editors and publishers for three years. “Shameless was an incredible amount of work and exhausting at times, but then we would go to a launch party, I would say, ‘Oh, this is why I’m doing this,’” says Mattos. “There would be young people sitting on the floor reading, which was awesome. Every time I saw one girl feel a little less isolated, or alone or freaky, that was enough.”
In 2007, Mattos—who is now special sections editor and copy editor at Eye Weekly—and Cohen—who is doing her PhD on the political economy of media at York University—passed the editor’s chair to Megan Griffith-Greene (2004), who also works at Chatelaine. In addition to putting out the magazine, she is co-editor of a Shameless anthology of essays about teenage experiences written by women that will be published in 2009.
Lindsay Gibb (2002) always felt more connected to the art scene than traditional journalism, and she found her alternative niche as editor of Broken Pencil, the magazine of zine culture and independent arts. “The people that I end up talking to, who then went on to work at Canadian Business or something like it,” she says, “they had a different view of journalism than I had.”
By Jasmyn Burke
Who got out of journalism
Lee Oliver (1995) didn’t think anything was awry. While interviewing a government official for a story about air ambulances for Emergency Pre-Hospital Medicine magazine, he noticed the bureaucrat’s brand new Mercedes-Benz. “At the time,” he says, “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, bureaucrats must make more than I thought.’” He mentioned it to another reporter, and six or eight weeks after his story came out, the Toronto Star revealed that the bureaucrat was taking kickbacks from ambulance suppliers. Anybody could have missed that, but it made Oliver question his journalistic instincts—and he eventually decided journalism wasn’t for him.
He is now the communications director for the Toronto Humane Society. “I needed to feel like I was going to do something more important in my life than just writing or just editing,” he says. “And unfortunately, a lot—oh, man, I’m gonna be in a lot of trouble now—a lot of magazines are just really looking to separate the ads with some copy.” Working at the Humane Society means saving animals. He’s personally rescued eight or 10.
Another person working in public relations is Kristy Woudstra (Thorne, 1999) who does communications for World Vision, a charity for Third World children. Education is among the other professions former Review staffers have entered. Danielle Black (née Dobi, 2001), for example, is now a teacher; so, too, is Keri Schram (2004) after years of working at small-town papers.
Simon Smith (2000) does scientific research into marketing in his self-run Commune Media Inc. He can pinpoint the exact moment he knew journalism wasn’t right for him: when an instructor said, “Journalism cannot change the world.”
By William Stodalka
Into the Deep
Our current leader reviews why we write long, demand 40 interviews and more
By Bill Reynolds
Jan Wong walks into the Review’s annual launch party in a downtown Toronto nightclub. It’s just past 5:30 on a warm April afternoon. She’s one of the first luminaries to arrive. Wong sees me. She doesn’t say hello, only: “Where’s Julia?”
Julia is Julia Williams, writer of the Jan Wong profile that has just landed in the Summer 2004 edition. “Over there,” I say, “I’ll take you to her.”
Wong sees Williams in a booth. Wong sits down, uninvited. She opens the magazine and finds “Little Miss Mischief.” She reads the story directly across from her profiler.
Williams is pinned to her chair, awkwardly awaiting a response. Who the hell is going to mess with Jan Wong?
The woman who once took people for lunch and then eviscerated them in The Globe and Mail blasts through 3,146 words. “Not bad… could have been tougher.”
Coming from Wong, “not bad” ain’t half bad, especially after she told Williams at the beginning of the assignment: “You’re not going to write a puff piece, are you, like the one the Review did on Eddie last year?”
Eddie being Edward Greenspon, editor-in-chief of the Globe. Melinda Mattos, who wrote that Summer 2003 cover story, poked and cajoled for six months, trying to get someone, anyone, to say something, anything, less than positive—you know, maybe Eddie, once upon a time, on his way to the top, maybe he made a bad decision, maybe he showed he was human like everyone else. Uh-uh. No way. No one, not one journo, wanted to go negatory on the big guy.
Journalists are like that. They pry, they sweet-talk, they ask invasive questions—they do get stuff out of people. But try, just try, getting something out of them and see how far you get. What’s your angle? Who’ve you been talking to? Why would you want to do that story? There’s no story there. I’ll tell you what your story is. Listen, what would you know about this world anyway? The Review messed up a fact in a story eight years ago, I’m never speaking to you guys again. And my new favourite: really love to meet the wise guy who told them to do 40 interviews.
Forty interviews… yes, we tell them to keep interviewing until they start hearing the same things over and over. You know what, sometimes that takes 40 or more interviews. Oh I know, out there, in that real world of real journalism, this is not always possible, practical or even preferable. But we tell them to do it anyway because, being rookies—we treat them like professionals but we do recognize that in fact, yes, they’re students—sometimes they need a bit longer than a Jan Wong to understand their material. They don’t have the accumulated knowledge pros do, so they need to spend extra time getting up to speed, feeling comfortable, confident. They want to be able to say to themselves, “Guess what? I’m an expert on this subject. I get to make that claim, that statement, that thesis. I’ve earned that right.”
Yes, final-year university students, under the guidance of professionals, write the Review. And yes, some see an institutional flaw imbedded in the magazine—how dare these callow students criticize the methodology, the practice, the actions of real journalists? And, by the way, just exactly how stupid is it for students to criticize the very people on whose doors they’ll soon be knocking? And oh yes, it’s not a real journalism review like the one they have in New York, the Columbia Journalism Review, now is it? Those stories are by real pros.
I used to buy all these arguments. Now I don’t.
If the students do the work—not always a done deal, I know—they’re entitled to make a professional judgement based on the evidence. We offer counsel. We ask them to provide context. We ask them to prove their statements. We do not advise them to do hatchet jobs, but we don’t want them to let anyone off the hook either.
And strangely, as other magazines abandon long-form features, we’ve made a conscious effort to embrace them when appropriate. If our reporter works long and hard to dig up stuff we hope will surprise our—let’s face it—skeptical readers, we let her run with it. Last year, Lauren McKeon was so diligent in following up leads about The Walrus magazine’s charitable status, including filing Freedom of Information requests, that we ran her story at nearly 7,500 words, the longest ever in the Review. Her effort didn’t go unnoticed—she received congratulatory letters from people who’d been inside the beast itself, a former Walrus editor and a former Walrus consultant.
Even with profiles, we sometimes let our most talented writers go long. When Spring 2007 cover subject Ian Brown realized Julia Belluz might, just might, underneath that irrepressible, effervescent, quirky, slightly Valley Girl–esque tone, actually be taking in absolutely everything he was saying and doing—everything—he joked half-menacingly, “Look, Reynolds, how would you like it if I talked to 40 people about you? I can write a story about you, too, y’know!”
More recently, Erin Tandy earned the respect of Toronto Star editor-in-chief Fred Kuntz (Spring 2008) when she confronted him point-blank about those nasty attacks courtesy of Frank magazine way back when. His reply: “I was wondering when you’d get around to asking some tough questions.”
Asking questions, asking them again in more detail, and taking the time to explain the complexity of an issue to the reader … look, we know we’re fighting a rearguard action, okay, but we preach going long and going deep. We believe that when our graduates hit the marketplace they’re equipped to write well-researched features—even if this now goes on more in theory than in practice in Canada.
That’s just the way it is, and the way we are.
Bill Reynolds has been in charge of the Review since 2004. He is an assistant professor.
Our longtime leader reviews—listen up, media suits!—our financial weaknesses
By Lynn Cunningham
Five years ago, as the Review’s annual launch party was approaching, I sent out some email invitations. You can guess my mood from the fact that I appended a note along the lines of “Come celebrate our 20th anniversary—the way things are going, it may be our last.”
The way things had been going was this: a senior administration official, the one who had to sign off on cheques, had failed to okay payment to the design and layout studio. The art director, who had been waiting for some of his money for months, in turn was refusing to release the finished pages to the printer (quite reasonably, in my opinion). It was the time of year familiar to all current or former Review staff. The project that had seemed either a lark or a chimera back in the fall had by now engulfed us all. Most were in the office six or seven days a week, except when they were in class or at work. The stress level was stronger than Kryptonite. Even people who weren’t criers were weeping over their keyboards. Those who were normally laissez-faire about style issues were obsessing over serial commas. This phase has been forever encapsulated by the memory of one beleaguered staff member, normally the most self-contained of men, shouting plaintively, “I want my life back.”
I can’t remember whether I cried, but I did storm the office of the money-withholding official and demand he pay the art director. He did. Later, though, I had to sit through a meeting in which he offered deeply unhelpful suggestions for cost cutting. How about no colour inside? Well, then there would be no colour ads, which generate much more revenue than black and white. Maybe we should apply for government money from the Canada Council or the Department of Heritage’s magazine fund. We aren’t eligible for funding under either of those programs. Maybe downgrade the paper stock? The magazine is printed on floor stock, the equivalent of buying at Winners rather than Holt Renfrew.
Around the same time, a representative of an international media company invited me to lunch to share his idea of how the magazine could be “saved.” All we had to do, he explained, was move our deadlines back about a month, ship the film to England, where the books could be printed at cost, then shipped back to Toronto. “Cost” turned about to be about what we were paying our local printer. Oh, and the company would want the outside back cover ad position for free. Couldn’t they just give us, say, $5,000 a year?
The notion behind the Review from its inception has been that it provides the staff with real-world experience and demands real-world standards. Unfortunately, for much of its life, it has also experienced real-world money troubles. The magazine is largely self-sustaining, generating most of its income from ad sales, circulation revenue and, more recently, fundraisers. Last year, these brought in $40,000. But just like everywhere else, there are always the unforeseen expenses: a scanner dies, an advertiser reneges, mailing costs go up. This is why, for years, the offices I really wanted to storm were those of the major media outlets. My speech would go something like this:
“You regularly look to Ryerson to provide your new hires. You do this because you know that our grads are smart and well-trained and will make excellent employees. They’re getting your magazines out, reporting for your papers, staffing your copy desks and writing and editing content for your online sites. In return, you may fund an award or two at Ryerson, but your ads are noticeably absent in Canada’s only magazine about journalism practice, and the incubator for a lot of the talent you engage each year. If your company, and all the others, were to commit to a double-page colour spread in the Review each year, you would be demonstrating that you’re genuinely interested in something other than your profit ratio. Yes, we may on occasion have criticized some aspect of your operation. Remember the old adage, ‘Speak truth to power?’ You’re not in the PR business and neither are we. While I’m at it, buy some subscriptions instead of being comped year after year, and stop stonewalling our writers. Your business relies on people talking to your staff, so talk to ours.”
Of course, the likelihood of this fantasy playing out is about the same as the National Post endorsing the NDP in the next federal election. But it’s seductive to imagine getting issues out without fretting that a full-page colour ad—worth $2,500 these days—has just fallen out. Or turning the staff into unskilled labourers, hand-inserting “blow-in” cards into the 1,000-plus newsstand copies.
You’ve heard of the Columbia Journalism Review and the American Journalism Review, neither of which is student-produced. In their markets they have circulations of 19,000 and 25,000 respectively. Apply the standard multiply-by-10 rule, and the Review would be in the same realm, at 50,000.
There’s some solace in recalling that both titles have had their own financial troubles over the years. And there’s more than a little smugness in contrasting CJR’s one nomination and AJR’s zero in the U.S. National Magazine Awards, which were established in 1966, versus the RRJ’s 13 in the Canadian equivalent since we started entering in 1993.
At a more seemly level, it’s gratifying to think that there’s hardly anywhere in the media universe that Review grads haven’t colonized. They are or have been producers at W-Five and the fifth estate and The National, reporters for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, writers or editors at everything from Maclean’s to Masthead, Cottage Life to Western Living, Canadian Business to Canadian Lawyer. They’ve published books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry. They win writing awards regularly. One, Graeme Smith, is currently reporting for the Globe from Afghanistan, where I hope he manages retain his very talented head.
I also hope that the media conglomerates might lose their heads long enough to pony up out of gratitude for all the years they’ve benefited from the Review journalism boot camp.
Lynn Cunningham has been responsible for more issues of the Review than any other instructor. She is an associate professor.