Editors in distress

RRJLow pay, high anxiety, long hours and short-staffed. The life of today’s magazine editor. This week we feature Whitney Wager’s story from the summer issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

The building that once housed James Lawrence’s Harrowsmith and Equinox  magazines was a classic three-storey Victorian farmhouse constructed out of traditional red brick; there were wood-panelled walls and floors that creak. In the late 1980s, when Doug Bennet, then editor of Masthead magazine, a trade title covering the magazine business, visited Camden House Publishing, located north of County Road 1 in the hamlet of Camden East, Ontario, he found it empty. Curious, he walked through to the back to find staff clustered around a barbeque grill, drinking beer, and playing volleyball on the lawn.

“What’s the occasion?” Bennet asked, suspecting a birthday or engagement. Someone replied, “This is our normal Friday.”

While most magazines didn’t enjoy backyard barbeques every week, industry veterans remember a time—a golden age—when money flowed, staff was plentiful and budgets were big—or at least biggish. In the decades before the internet and mega-media companies, producing magazines was the main goal. “There was something about the love of creating a beautiful product,” says Dianne Rinehart, whose career has included stints at Flare, Homemakers and Maclean’s. “Magazines are very beautiful.”

If labour-intensive back then. Everyone worked on typewriters, and corrections were made using Wite-Out. To get an accurate word count, stories would be retyped on special copy paper. Art directors would wax the back of galleys and stick them down on paste-up boards, and corrections would be made by piecing words together letter by letter. Writers might call in to dictate their stories while a staffer transcribed them.

More than two decades later, the magazine industry has been radically transformed. Canada’s major magazines are now owned by corporations, whose primary focus is not magazines, often public companies beholden to the bottom line and shareholders. It’s not just about producing “beautiful” magazines anymore, either. The rise of the internet has led to pressure to build robust websites, often maintained by magazine staffers now burdened with extra responsibilities, but without compensation for their heavier workload. Editorial positions are dwindling as roles are consolidated. Management blames the decline in ad revenue, but when the economy recovers, few believe that jobs will return or pay will increase.

Editors, meanwhile, won’t voice their discontent publicly. Out of the 20 staffers contacted for this article, only one agreed to be interviewed. It’s not surprising; they’re probably worried about losing their jobs. Read the rest of the story.