Industry leaders discussed everything from digital advertising to diversity in newsrooms

Industry leaders discussed everything from digital advertising to diversity in newsrooms at the CJF J-Talk on Wednesday. Courtesy: Jenny Cade via Twitter

On Nov. 30, the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) hosted “Digital or Bust? The Future of Magazines” at the TMX Broadcast Centre in Toronto. It’s no secret that magazines are struggling to find their footing in the digital landscape. So what are the thoughts and strategies of some of the industry’s key players?

The discussion grew heated at times as the four panellists debated everything from digital advertising to diversity in newsrooms. Laas Turnbull, chief audience officer of ZoomerMedia, was moderating. Here were some of the key highlights:

John R. MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine, on digital advertising

“I just want to dispute the premise, because I think there is a premise that there is still gold in them thar hills, in the digital hills. If we just figure out how to monetize it, how to manipulate it, or how to move the digits around. And I just don’t buy it.” A few moments later he added: “If it turns out this has all been oversold and that there has been this immense waste of money chasing the digital dream, there’s going to be a piper to be paid.”

Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life, on the state of media in 2016

“I worry about talent retention. I worry about salary freezes. I worry about salary cuts. I worry about great people not wanting to be journalists. I worry about . . . I mean, this could go on all night.” When asked by Turnbull whether journalism is still a good career, and whether she would let her kids be journalists, Fulford replied: “I’m like the fourth in a line of journalists, so it’s sort of destined that at least one of my kids will end up a journalist. So I suspect I won’t have much say in any event. I don’t know. It’s very hard to say. . . I mean, what is a good career?”

Jonathan Kay, editor-in-chief of The Walrus, on diversity in Canadian newsrooms

“Often, we talk about these things as though they’re siloed, the question of diversity and of salaries and economic security. But they’re very much intermingled. And the economic model is becoming almost like the nineteenth century hobbyist, literary expert who will write for journals, because he’s a gentleman who lives off the land and he can afford to do that. But the people who really have to earn a buck can’t afford to do that. So, in a way, although we talk a lot about diversity, the economic model in our industry is driving diversity away, because it’s only the privileged who can afford to become writers and editors.”

Steve Maich, senior vice-president of digital content and publishing for Rogers Media, on the company’s print cutbacks

“There are a lot of people out there that want to read print. I read hand-written letters from them every morning, about a hundred of them. And they’re heartbreaking to read, because they care about these brands and they feel like I’m taking it away from them. But these are people in their 70s and 80s who are writing hand-written letters to me. And the reaction in the ad community and the sources of our revenue is just the opposite. They want to see us get there as quickly as possible.”