In the March 1991 edition of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, Jack McIver, then editor of The Globe and Mail’s award-winning travel magazine Destinations, boldly predicted the magazine would survive despite a suspect balance sheet and a deep recession that was biting into ad revenues. “I think the Globe’s committed enough to hang tough,” said McIver.
On November 16, 1993, the commitment ended. Globe management announced that Destinations, along with the recently launched health magazine Body & Soul, would cease publication. Six people were laid off. Now, only Broadcast Week and the Report on Business Magazine remain in the Globe’s magazine division, once a seven-title empire that at its peak included publications such as Toronto, Montreal, West, and domino.
The Globe cuts best illustrate the economic state of the Canadian media. The media managers’ preoccupation with economics leaves many journalists uncomfortable: they must now worry about their next pay cheque, let alone their next story. But what I find scarier is how two of America’s most influential men predict that fibre-optic technology will precipitate the death of the journalist. Bill Gates, the Seattle whiz kid who’s chairman and cofounder of computer giant Microsoft, wants to build the software for the muchhyped information superhighway. As he envisions it, this software will eventually replace the functions performed by editors and reporters. It’s this technology that prompted best-selling author Michael Crichton to tell members of the U.S.based National Press Club in April 1993 that media outlets like The New York Times and the networks would be “the next great American institution to find themselves obsolete and outdated.” Crichton said, “I will have artificial intelligence agents roaming the databases, down-loading stuff I am interested in, and assembling for me a front page or a nightly news show that addresses my interests.”
Collectively, these factors have created a sense of insecurity, even panic, among journalists. It’s this uncertainty that permeates the 1994 edition of the Review. There’s no more telling example than our cover story about The Toronto Star. After a lengthy investigation, Allison Vale concludes that the Star is in trouble. Poor profits have translated into mass layoffs and low staff morale. What’s more, staff and others are questioning the paper’s leadership. They contend that editor John Honderich has failed to inspire hope or provide a new vision for a mass-market newspaper in the information age.
Other stories include Julie Smyth’s tale of the battle between advertising magazines Marketing and Strategy. The folks at Strategy are trying to break Marketing’s hold on the advertising community. How Marketing will fare is unclear. And Linda Williams reports that Canada Council funding for This Magazine, The Canadian Forum, and New Maritimes is in jeopardy due to the council’s confusing guidelines.
Indeed, can anyone survive? Michael Crichton obviously doesn’t mink so. But perhaps his eulogy should be seen as a wakeup call. Three media outlets examined in this issue are up to the challenge. The Saint John Telegraph Journal has launched a weekend literary magazine, The New Brunswick Reader. Alex Beckett examines why maverick editor Neil Reynolds is bucking the trend at a time when many newspapers, like the Globe, have cut weekend supplements and magazines. And Dick Snyder reports that MuchMusic and YTV-networks known more for entertainment than journalism-are both taking a stab at delivering the news in a different, innovative format.
Take note Mssrs. Gates and Crichton.