Last fall, Edwin O’Dacre, director of magazine publishing at The Globe and Mail, cast a gaze across the most recent products of his empire, arranged on a black lacquered table in front of him. Behind him, bookshelves bulged with back issues of the Globe’s trove of magazine titles. Next to Report on Business Magazine, Toronto was the most plentiful. There were stacks of the first years, thick with confidence, brash with hope. But the latest one lay in front of O’Dacre flat and thin. “Why do people keep guessing which magazines are going to die. I don’t understand it,” he said, steep ling his fingers. “If there were some visible signs of distress, maybe then there’d be some credibility” to the rumors.
If there weren’t then, there are now. In mid-February, within two days of each other, Frank Teskey, publisher of Toronto, Montreal and West, and Tom Hopkins, associate editorial director of the three urban magazines and editor of Toronto, both quit. But it’s strange that O’Dacre should not have foreseen the distress months ago when, for many, it was already appearing in such brilliant colors. The prevailing shade was red, made up of financial woes and experiences of angry associates. Media buyers are less than enthusiastic about the book and this has resulted in fewer ads and a consequently thinner magazine. On the other end are freelancers, unhappy with the way their work was treated, columnists who left the magazine with a sour taste in their mouths and ‘” former staffers who lost their jobs to make room for a generally unwelcome new national editorial system. On the afternoon of her fortieth birthday, Val Ross scooped up her two-week-old daughter and rose to answer the door. On the other side was Hopkins, editor of Toronto magazine where Ross had worked as managing editor for three years and from which she had recently taken a maternity leave. “Oh God,” Hopkins said. “I wish you didn’t have your baby in your arms.” Without words, he handed Ross a faxed memo from then-publisher Teskey. Buried in the fourth paragraph was a reference to how the restructuring of the Globe’s city magazines would necessitate some staff reductions. “I suppose that’s what we’re here to talk about,” Ross said, and Hopkins nodded. Ross never returned from her leave. Almost two weeks earlier, on October 4, 1990, Doug Bell had awakened with a nervous start. Since shortly after leaving his editorial position at Canadian Business at the end of July, Bell had suffered from pancreatitis. His condition had demanded he postpone his start date as a senior editor at Toronto until September 6. Although he’d received some treatment, doctors recommended surgery. Bell had a hospital appointment for 12:30 that day. At 10:30, Hopkins stuck his head around the partition that divided Bell’s desk from the rest in the Toronto headquarters and invited him into his office and fired him. Bell’s term of employment, which he had understood to run until at least the end of November, was abruptly cut short due to a lack of work. (“The economics of the new system kicked in sooner than we thought,” Hopkins says.) Bell insists he had told the editor about the doctor’s appointment a couple of times, but Hopkins claims he had no knowledge that Bell’s surgery was on that day.
Both incidents are revealing chapters of The Globe and Mail’s Toronto story. But the paper’s magazine tale was not always so gloomy. When Report on Business Magazine first appeared as a regular supplement in March 1985, the Globe’s audience accepted it unhesitatingly. It was a natural extension of the paper’s native tongue. Patrick Walshe, a magazine space buyer at the media management firm Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell Inc., was skeptical when publisher Roy Megarry announced his unresearched plan to launch this magazine. While he admits today that RoB Magazine paid off, Walshe calls Megarry’s hunches only 50-50. “I think he was dead wrong on the city magazines.” It’s an opinion shared by many in the magazine business, particularly on the subject of Toronto. When Megarry turned from the glory of RoB Magazine to foray further into the magazine business, he was risking killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
In 1980, the Globe started a satellite edition published simultaneously in cities across the country. This move left a gaping cavity in local coverage in Toronto, the city that makes up 56 percent of the paper’s circulation. Something was needed to fill that hole. In April 1986, out of the City Living section in the paper, Toronto magazine was born.
In the beginning, the book was promising. Fat and perfect-bound, Toronto only dipped below 100 pages six times in the 12 issues produced in its first year. It had the budget to attract the city’s most desirable writers-Ian Brown, Geoffrey York and Margaret Atwood were some of the names that graced the early contents pages. It was a curiosity, a novelty, another option for Toronto Life readers and advertisers. And although it was slower in its advance than RoB Magazine, Toronto looked as if it, too, might just be on the brink of success. But then something went wrong. Money got tighter. Stories got thinner. The book dropped to a less expensive saddle-stitch style. The honeymoon drew to a close.
Among the first signs that the marriage between Toronto and undisputed success was on the rocks, were complaints from freelance writers about the editorial department.
Tales of editorial indecision and ineptness surfaced early and multiplied quickly. Based on the treatment they received there, many writers are reluctant to contribute to Toronto. One freelancer calls it, simply, “the kiss of death.”
John Colapinto is a Canadian writer who moved to New York a couple of years ago. Today, he’s written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Esquire, among others. But before all those, there was Toronto. He was hired to write a piece on the Toronto Islands for the magazine’s inaugural issue. When he asked Hopkins, then managing editor, what he wanted to know about the Islands, he got no definite reply. So Colapinto carried on and unearthed a tale of a community amusingly mired in the sixties. He presented the idea to Hopkins, was given a green light and produced a first draft. Hopkins returned it, saying he didn’t want a story about hippies after all. He instructed Colapinto to go looking for some island yuppies. Although he wondered why Hopkins hadn’t sent him for yuppies in the first place, Cola pinto was pleased with the irony it added when he found some. He did a second draft. At this point he was shunted to another editor, Ian Pearson, without any explanation. Pearson had some problems with the direction the story was taking, so he set it moving with a different twist. Cola pinto swallowed his ire and finally completed a draft with which both he and Pearson were pleased. And then the editors cancelled it. It was too similar, it seems, to another story running in the same issue. “I thought, what the flick is going on at Toronto magazine? Did they not have story meetings? I felt like I’d been pushed through the wringer to produce a story which was unpublishable.”
“Guilty,” Hopkins says, when questioned about the incident. “It was the first issue. The magazine was groping for a voice. We collectively made the mistake of letting the story go on when it should’ve been killed earlier on.”
In September 1989, three-and-a-half years after the Colapinto debacle, Toronto freelancer Robert Hough was invited to a Toronto story meeting and, in spite of cautions from his writer colleagues, queried the magazine on a story about a potential candidate for Liberal leadership, Dennis Mills. The piece was assigned and he got to work. In January, Mills announced he would not run, so Hough phoned his handling editor, Charles Macli, to determine where the story stood. After checking with Hopkins, Macli instructed Hough to continue. He did and shortly after he submitted it, Macli called to say it had been killed. It wasn’t what they’d hoped for and, besides, the issue was packed. “That happens,” Hopkins says. “I think I learned the lesson from that of not trying to prolong agonies of stories that simply aren’t there. But it’s not indecision. It’s simply circumstance.”
Toronto’s editorial department cannot be held completely responsible for stories that don’t run. Like all magazines, the book size is mercilessly dependent upon unpredictable ad sales. For Toronto, this factor is particularly capricious. In October 1989, the magazine ran 120 pages and there were 112 in November. Two months later-the softest month -there were only 56. As for pieces that don’t make the cut, Hopkins says all magazines have story banks and that everything is assigned in good faith.
“Tom’s biggest crime is optimism,” says Ross.
But among the writers, Toronto still has a bad record. The stories they tell describe a magazine in a state of confusion. One writer was so incensed that her specifically focused story was switched midstream, that she bought it back and sold it to Toronto Life. And another proposed a feature in January 1988. They told him they liked it but would like to wait a while before starting. They’re still waiting. The piece ran this winter in Toronto Life. And the tales continue. A lot of comparisons are inevitably made between the editorial treatment of the two city books and the results indicate something close to putting night beside day.
“I don’t think we edited out of shape,” Macli, who has since left Toronto for RoB Magazine, says. “While we had to sacrifice some grace notes, we had respect for the writer’s voice.” If that’s so, then the Toronto experience of Margaret Visser, a contributing editor of Saturday Night, begs an explanation. The story she was assigned on Christmas seemed easy enough-the editors wanted an original take on the holiday. So Visser chose to write about the anthropology of gift giving. She wrote it in her usual sophisticated style, only to have it returned with a letter of complaint asking if she wouldn’t please write it from the point of view of her Aunt Edna to make it less impersonal and easier to understand. Visser, who has no Aunt Edna, flatly refused. She later sold the piece to Toronto Life. “If you ask a writer to do something and you know how she writes, you can’t turn around and ask her to change that. If people want to tell you how to write it, why don’t they write it themselves?” “You try things and sometimes they don’t work,” Hopkins says. “We had hoped that for a lifestyle magazine we could get her to loosen up.” But Visser was also upset about what the desired changes implied about Toronto’s audience.
“I think it’s absolutely disgusting to assume people aren’t bright,” she says. So, apparently, did Hopkins, when he editorialized about his audience: they’re “affluent, but not mindlessly affluent. You can’t talk down to them. You constantly have to write up.”
It’s not unusual for a magazine to experience an anticlimax, like the one Toronto quickly fell into with its freelancers, at the end of the introductory phase. Beyond that stage, it is hoped that those with stamina and presence and grace will find the strength to come out on top. For Toronto, the wait for it to resurface has been extraordinarily long. Of course it’s easier to win if you’re not fighting a mammoth, ironclad competitor, the biggest city magazine in Canada, already securely ensconced in the market for 20 years. Toronto Life barely budged when this pretty young upstart joined the city magazine roster. In fact, it experienced its best years financially between 1986 and 1989. But many are still convinced that had Toronto made a real go of it, the players would’ve shifted to make room on the bench. “There was a dreariness about Toronto magazine-a drudgery to putting it out,” remembers former senior editor Ian Pearson. “It never had any kind of spirit.”
The fault may lie in the preparation behind the venture, which was virtually nil. With no market research to support him, Megarry threw together a backbone for Toronto from the staff of his paper. Only Hopkins, the original managing editor, had any kind of magazine experience-and his could all be found in the back issues of newsmagazine Maclean’s.
“There’s a certain naivete to think a successful newspaper can turn out a successful magazine, especially when the method of distribution the paper offers is something of an albatross. A magazine distributed free in a paper is generally not given the same attention as one that is deliberately paid for. “However valuable a free magazine may be intrinsically, only half the communication process is taking place when the reader stakes nothing more than an idle hour.” So said Fraser Sutherland in his book about the Canadian magazine industry, Monthly Epic.
Ironically, Globe editor-in-chief William Thorsell also found occasion to warn about this danger in an editorial addressing Saturday Night’s distribution deal with Southam. “Attracting readers is much more difficult than adding circulation,” he wrote. “Readers must be earned.” Indeed, the Globe’s circulation figures indicate that 5.6 percent more people buy the paper on a Friday when Toronto is included than when it’s not. But no one could claim the Globe has earned the interest of all 197,400 readers.
“We’re not in the business of buying circulation-boosting gimmicks,” says Walshe, who buys millions of dollars of ad space for his clients. “We’re interested in magazines that are important to people who read them. The fact that it drives up circulation is not really useful to me insofar as analyzing how Toronto performs in relation to Toronto Life.”
Toronto has never done any extensive readership surveys. Hopkins insists he’s always wanted them, but the Globe wouldn’t back him up. In order to be counted in the Print Measurement Bureau’s studies, publications must be members of the Audit Bureau of Circulation and the Globe dropped out some years ago over a dispute with their method of measuring bulk sales. The PMB surveys select groups of the population to determine magazine readership. Doug Checkeris, group VP of Media Buying Services, says the figures the Globe supplies advertisers aren’t comparable to those of the PMB. The PMB is considered by the industry to be its most trustworthy yardstick.
But O’Dacre is not among the believers. “I think the PMB is a crock. It’s a whole bunch of people in bed with each other, publishers and advertisers in the same room, all trying to get rich. What kind of impartial readership bulls hit is that?” In January 1990, O’Dacre and some of his magazines dimmed the lights and entered the bedroom. Because of a change in technical requirements, the Globe became eligible for membership in spite of its lack of affiliation with an industry auditing body. The first interim data for Toronto will be available in the fall of 1991.
The whole fate of the magazine rests on it.
Retail advertising is the hardest hit when times get tough and, according to Walshe, at least 50 percent of city magazine advertising is retail. Advertisers will tend to concentrate their limited funds on primary media, aimed at making a quick, tactical sell-such as radio, TV, newspapers and national magazines. Regional print like Toronto, which is more imagistic in its approaches, is relegated to a secondary position. National advertisers, says Walshe, will follow retail advertisers’ leads in their pursuit of the biggest bang for the buck. “And retailers have stayed away from Toronto in droves.”
Ann Boden, president of McKim Media Group at McKim Advertising, says there is a much wider acceptance of Toronto Life among advertisers. “It’s established, has a strong editorial focus; it’s a much more valuable magazine. And when you have a limited amount of money to buy space, you have to buy the best.”
The Auditor, a Canadian ad tracking service, reports that ad pages in Toronto diminished from 474 in the year ending August 1989 to 421 in the year ending August 1990-only 89 percent of the year before. Of course the numbers were down across the board- Toronto Life only accounted for 92 percent of the ads of its previous year and it ran 18 addriven supplements with its 12 issues. But the figure for Toronto Life’s diminished total-1,395 pages-provides an excellent study of the disparity between the two city magazines. Toronto is clearly in another league. “The Auditor counts ads differently than we do,” says O’Dacre. “I don’t believe their numbers.”
David MacFarlane was attracted to Toronto because of its underdog image. When he spoke to Hopkins in the fall of 1987, he was eager to write about his city in a way he didn’t think Toronto Life was doing at the time. “We talked about a magazine that would address itself to what I perceived to be the real citizens of Toronto, not the advertisers’ perception of Toronto. ” He wanted it to be eclectic in the way the city was eclectic. Today, his opinions of both magazines have changed. He no longer sees Toronto Life as ignoring that void. And he doesn’t believe Toronto ever filled it. “It’s sad to say, but it seems to me Toronto’s been a complete failure of imagination.” His column, Dispatches, ran for over two years, until Hopkins pulled it in the spring of 1990. “I firmly believe columns have a lifetime,” Hopkins says, and expresses no regret, even though Macfarlane’s column won a National Magazine Award a few weeks later. “It was the best thing in the magazine,” says Pearson. “It had a warm human element. That’s almost totally disappeared now.”
After graduating from Ryerson Poly technical Institute in 1975, where he studied the business of magazines under the current editor of Toronto Life, Marq de Villiers, Tom Hopkins took the first of many editorial positions at Maclean’s. In 1985, he came to Toronto as the managing editor. Two years later, when editor Ray Mason left to edit domino, he moved into the top spot. “When I took over as editor, the magazine tended to be kind of pretty,” the 41-year-old editor with the crisp white shirt, burgundy wool vest and unflinching gaze says (in an interview before his resignation). “I wanted it to be tougher, newsier, a little more connected, informed, ironic. I think I’ve succeeded.” Others aren’t so sure. Perhaps because the magazine was never quite clear on what its mandate was-to promote a newspaper or to be a magazine in its own right-it has never gotten a firm fix on its personality. “Hopkins operates with a newspaper mentality in a magazine world,” says freelancer Gare Joyce, who wrote a story for Toronto in early 1988.
Not different enough from Toronto Life, Toronto doesn’t offer anything new. Walshe calls it a “me too” product. One journalist who freelanced for Toronto and is still connected with the Globe, says they would “Maclean’s” every subject, looking for the dull middle of everything. Sometimes the magazine makes choices that indicate they don’t have a handle on the city their title boasts. In the middle of the 1989 pennant drive, the editors suggested Macfarlane write a piece on Blue Jay Mookie Wilson. With lead time, that story would’ve run in the Christmas issue. Hopkins explains that Macfarlane didn’t know the whole story behind this request. He says he had hoped to run Wilson on the Christmas issue’s cover, traditionally lighthearted in tone, and Macfarlane’s story would’ve justified it. “When I was a writer I thought my editors were loons because they made decisions I didn’t understand. But when it’s taken from the view point of the larger issues, concerns and needs of the magazine, then it’s perfectly logical.”
It was a limit on the allotment of editorial pages that management dropped into the office at the end of the first year that senior editor Ian Pearson didn’t understand and it propelled him to pack his bags in frustration in 1989. “You can’t establish a magazine with two or three short features an issue. A lot of good stuff died or had to be cut to shreds.” Pearson thinks the magazine should’ve been given more time to fund itself before the business side stepped in and pulled the plug on pages. “I don’t think they showed the commitment editorially.” In its first year, the average number of pages in Toronto’s 12 issues was 100. In 1990, the 11 issues averaged 74.9 pages each. In 1991, only 10 issues will be published. O’Dacre says that the magazine was clearly given too much editorial freedom in the beginning and, besides, he doesn’t want the magazine to be judged by weight. “All our books are thicker than Saturday Night,” he adds. (In fact, Saturday Night has outdone Toronto in total pages in a number of issues since Toronto’s birth.) Hopkins is aware of the complaints and he shares them, but laments that there is little he C’an do. Without the ad pages to support them, the editorial pages just can’t exist.
In the early 1980s, Megarry predicted “by 1990, publishers of mass circulation daily newspapers will finally stop kidding themselves that they are in the newspaper business and admit they are primarily in the business of carrying advertising messages.” Shortly thereafter, he started the magazine division. A vehicle for advertising is not a strong enough reason for a good magazine to exist. On the other hand, the magazine has done some things right. There have been some talented people and important issues associated with it. Many of the writers recall Val Ross as an exceptional editor. And they cite the story on cleaning up the Don River in April 1989, an excellent, thoughtful piece, as an example of the useful, championing type of journalism they would’ve liked to see more of. Although this was not among the recipients, Toronto has won 37 National Magazine Awards in its short lifetime. The melody is sometimes beautiful, but the harmony is discordant, and it jars the ear. Eight months after Don River they played a piece that damaged their credibility, and the sour notes linger still. The Christmas cover featured Finance Minister Michael Wilson, fresh from the release of a belt-tightening budget, with his chin in CityTV veejay Ziggy Lorenc’s pink-gloved hand. Beneath her long blond wig, she puckers. Inside his sleek black tuxedo, he grins. “They don’t see that as inconsistent,” says a former staffer. “I don’t think they understood how much scorn was directed at them for that cover,” agrees Doug Bennet, editor of Masthead. “I’ve got zero apologies for it,” Hopkins says. “The thing that pleased me so much was the irony of it. Michael Wilson didn’t have enough political wit to understand that this thing might get him in trouble, and it did. Anybody who is so tight-assed to not see the humor and wit and irony in it, I suggest that maybe they want to go work for a newspaper.” But it was less the irony and more the materialistic tone of the cover that got people so irked.
There’s a lot of vitriol directed at Toronto for the way it panders to an elite audience. “It’s embarrassing looking back on some issues now,” says Pearson. “Too many people in tuxedos. Too many $5,000 chairs.” It’s a problem that might be more fairly addressed under the heading of The Glohe and Mail proper. Rick Salutin in This Magazine wrote, “The Webster Globe often seemed to believe one of its functions was to deny or smooth over the existence of class war; the Megarry Globe seems to think its purpose is to make itThere is no attempt to be inclusive beyond the gilded circle of certified winners, much less to be attentive to those beyond the circle.”
O’Dacre even goes so far as to name those outsiders, saying there are some people, such as pimply faced 18-year-olds, he simply doesn’t want reading his magazines. Whether he can afford to alienate any reader is questionable.
Late last year, the Globe an Mail took steps to bring its three city magazines, Toronto, Montreal and West, under a common umbrella. Frank Teskey, former publisher of West, was named publisher of the trio; Paul Sullivan, editor of West, became editorial director; and Susan Casey, West’s art director, was appointed joint creative director. In the spirit of mass producer Henry Ford, high-speed modems transport stories, photos and page designs from one city to the others so that all three magazines can print them. About 30 percent of Toronto’s editorial will consist of this common, “nationally conscious” copy; the rest will be devoted to stories of regional interest. But after accounting for the ad pages, columns, special departments, service pieces and 10 or 12 pages of paid listings at the back, how much space is left for unique, thoughtful Toronto-based features?
Trying to be all things to all cities is a difficult balancing act for even the best national magazines. Besides, what is a story about the Vancouver airport or the activity of Chinese immigrants in Montreal doing in a magazine called Toronto? “One of the primary devices for illumination and understanding is comparison,” says Sullivan. “Just focusing on Toronto ignores the other reality. We want to know how we as a city fit in,” says Hopkins. Their arguments are almost convincing, until you snap back to the real world and say, “Well, yeah, but if that’s what you’re thinking, then why produce city magazines, which by their very nature exist to cover the city?” But the project plows on just the same, spurred by the perceived promise of the all-powerful buck.
“Definitely,” responds Sullivan, without missing a beat, when asked if the procedure was implemented to make the books more attractive to national advertisers. But some of the ad buyers’ answers are just as swift. “I think the idea is absurd,” says Walshe. “You’ve got to wonder who’s running the store. His hands are slipping on the wheel.” Checkeris, of Media Buying Services, agrees. “They can’t masquerade as a national. Why wouldn’t we just buy space in Maclean’s or the Canadian version of Time?”
“I don’t like things that seem anonymous,” former columnist Macfarlane says. “Why read something that sounds like it came through a blender? There’s too much else out there to read.” Imposing such a structure on a magazine puts it at great risk of becoming generic, identityless-and while that might not be such a big step down for Toronto, it’s not one the folks at the Globe can afford to take.
But they’re trying. This change in structure came at a cost. In what Hopkins called “a terrifically hard week” in mid-October, three positions at Toronto and two more at Montreal were “made redundant.” Another employee at Montreal had her work week cut to part-time hours. Four of the six people affected were on maternity leave. Of course times are tough allover. Also in October last year, Toronto Life laid off three employees-one in sales, one in circulation and one in promotion. Ruth Hatch, production editor at Toronto for four years, was one of Toronto’s trio invited to view Teskey’s vague dismissal memo. She calls the introduction of the combined editorial depressing. “It’s an awful idea. You can’t do that to its identity,” she says. “It’s just as well I’m getting out because I frankly don’t want to be involved anymore.” She says the magazine had been a good place to work until the unexpected Bell dismissal, and then the atmosphere deteriorated rapidly, G taking on an air of mistrust.
The paper promised to attempt to find comparable jobs for the three displaced Toronto editors within the Globe. If this was impossible, they got a severance package. It was a generous offer as layoffs go, but Hatch was unhappy with the way the affair was handled. Apart from those directly affected, none of the magazine division staff was made aware of the situation until a small article appeared in the paper two days later. Dan Westell, a union steward who represented the Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild at the union management meeting, was equally displeased. He thinks it reflected badly on the magazine management that they never gathered their people together to go over the information. This negligence led to an impromptu meeting of panic stricken magazine employees and a hastily recruited Westell the next day in the Globe cafeteria. Westell was unable to answer a lot of their queries about the future. All he could tell them was that when he’d asked O’Dacre if they were going to be together discussing another of these unfortunate situations in the next few months, he wouldn’t .directly respond.
“A smart person never says never,” Westell told them. “And Ed never said never.”
The Globe guards its financial information like a dog with its bone, but it’s pretty common knowledge that Toronto loses money. Publisher Teskey corroborated this, but offered no details. “Black is within sight for the city books,” is all he would say.
Magazine insiders estimate that the whole magazine division loses about $2 million annually, and that figure would be greater if not for the $1 to 1.3 million profit RoB Magazine turns. O’Dacre denies those numbers but refuses to elaborate. From his office, an oasis of calm in the bustling room where the RoB section is produced, Peter Cook (currently the RoB section’s economics editor) says he’s heard a rumor the business magazine isn’t going to carry the rest of them much longer. If this is the case, and Toronto is indeed being told to sink or swim, one has to question how much of a soaking Thomson Corp., the Globe’s holding company, will be prepared to absorb. With such dubious statistics forecasting such a dubious future, why does Megarry continue? Could it be something as simple as human vanity? A fierce desire to save face? The first Christmas Macfarlane was at Toronto, he received a letter from Megarry with his bonus cheque. “I remember being struck with the incredibly combative tone with regards to the Globe’s competition. It was all written in the language of a football coach talking to his team about to head out for the big game.” Okay. But what does the rule book say about when it’s time to admit defeat? It probably depends, to a large extent, on how the owners view the coach, and for now they seem to be allowing him a lot of time on the field. In July, Megarry purchased a new desktop publishing system for the magazine. But the rumors of Toronto’s imminent death continue. Everyone has an opinion about when the plug will be pulled. Everyone, that is, but the players themselves. The energy in the locker room is excited and committed. “In five more years we’ll have forgotten that Toronto Life has a 20-year head start on us,” says Trevor Cole, the executive editor. “All I hear is gloom and doom from the others, but we’re not experiencing it,” says O’Dacre. “The fact that we keep coming out year after year should indicate either success or intense stupidity.”