Six questions for The Grid

On the eve of The Grid‘s launch as Toronto’s newest it publication, we asked the magazine’s deputy editor Lianne George six questions. By now you’ve probably heard the magazine is ditching predecessor Eye Weekly‘s infamous escort ads, but what else is it all about? George dishes on how hard it is to create a new publication, what readers can expect from The Grid — and why Toronto needs it now.

J-Source: First, let’s talk need: Why launch The Grid now? Why does Toronto need a publication like it now—and what can Torontonians expect from The Grid?

Lianne George: Basically, we felt there was a real opportunity for a new title that looks at the city through fresh eyes. Toronto is having a bit of a moment right now. Or at least it feels like the pace of change here is accelerating. There’s so much happening in the cultural life of the city, in food, in local politics, in neighbourhoods. Real estate has gone nuts. Many of us are finding ourselves being priced out of neighbourhoods that barely existed a decade ago. With The Grid, we wanted to chronicle all of this change—and we wanted to do it by opening the city up to people and taking readers into corners of Toronto they may not have known existed. That’s why we’ve been using the tagline Toronto at Street Level. It’s a different vantage point. In the media, in general, we’ve sort of been stuck on the notion of Toronto as New York Lite for years, and you see that very aspirational idea of the city reflected in city magazines and style sections of newspapers all the time. There’s that great line on 30 Rock where Steve Martin’s character says Toronto is like New York, without all the stuff. And it’s true, we hardly have any of New York’s stuff. But we have our own stuff—artists, musicians, streetscapes, amazing neighbourhood bars and restaurants and so on—and I think a lot of people who live here are pretty okay with that. Our goal is to present that stuff in a way that is smart, surprising and entertaining every week.
J-Source: Second, voice: Tell me a bit more about The Grid. What kind of personality/voice can readers expect? Will they still recognize a bit of Eye Weekly in The Grid‘s pages?

LG: Internally, we think of The Grid and Eye Weekly as entirely separate publications. They’re related, but different. Eye was more of a traditional alt-weekly. Most alt-weeklies were created pre-internet to provide an outlet for voices on the fringe. Eye delivered that extremely well. The Grid has a much broader mandate, which is to speak to downtown-dwelling people in their 20s and 30s about the things that affect their quality of life in the city—politics, entertainment, food, bars, real estate, and so on. The design and the photography are a major departure. We won’t be adhering to any particular political ideology. We like humour. At the same time, we decided early on that we were tired of snark. It seemed a lot more challenging and exciting to create a product that starts from a place of enthusiasm and affection for the city. Not that we won’t be critical, and certainly there’s a lot happening to be critical of, but fundamentally The Grid is about stoking people’s curiosity about the city.

J-Source: Where did you draw your inspiration from?

LG: This goes back to the idea of Street Level in Toronto. We didn’t want a super glossy product, or one that featured prohibitively expensive restaurants and homes. The look and feel reflect that. The idea for the print product was to create something that incorporates the best elements of magazines and newspapers. We wanted it to have the currency and grittiness of a newspaper. We’re still using newsprint and we favour documentary style photography. At the same time, a lot of our editors and designers have a background in magazines. We like packaging stories and playing with type treatments, photography and graphic elements. Our art director, Vanessa Wyse, is exceptionally talented. She’s been pulling publications from all around the world for inspiration. We found that a lot of the coolest stuff in newsprint was happening in Europe—publications that challenge the notion that because something is published on inexpensive paper, the design has to be second-rate. What we ended up with doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before.

J-Source: Time. How long has this been in the works? How many hours have you been pulling each day to get it done?

LG: The concept started to take shape late last summer, when Laas Turnbull, the editor and publisher, signed on. A number of us signed on shortly after. It’s been a gradual progression, but we never really deviated from the original idea. The editorial direction and art direction and the creation of the new website, it’s really been of a piece. Everyone has put in a lot of hours. Many, many hours. But it’s been fun. We lucked out with our team.

J-Source: And, lastly, shop talk: What was the most challenging part, or parts, of The Grid‘s launch? Most rewarding? Advice to other journos out there who want to start (or re-start) their own publication?

LG: When you’re starting from scratch, there are so many ways to go horribly wrong. You have to get the tone, the voice and the look right, and they have work together right down to last little bit of display. But having the opportunity to help create something like this is just about the best learning experience and the most fun you can have in this industry, as far as I’m concerned. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of it. It’s hard to offer blanket advice about it since different publications serve very different purposes. Mostly, I’d say you have to have a sharp, well-defined idea. It helps if you can articulate it in a few words. If you have the right idea, what works becomes clear and what doesn’t falls away pretty quickly.

J-Source: And, of course, any parting words for Eye?

LG: We ran a commemorative issue last week and it was amazing to revisit the history of Eye and look over the range and quality of stuff it published over the years. Eye cultivated a tremendous amount of talent in this city over the years. Hopefully The Grid will serve the same function for a new generation of writers, designers and editors.