Editor’s Letter: The Hundred-Year Magazine

What does it take for a publication to survive?

One of the oldest surviving publications in Canada is a 135-year-old trade magazine called Canadian Grocer. A chronicle of the food industry, it offers news of suppliers and supermarkets as well as industry trends. Although it’s never been a household name, I’ve often thought of it as a model magazine. It has survived because, for 135 years, there has remained a market for it.

At this point, I seem to have worked for more influential publications that have folded (Saturday Night, FQ, Lucky) than are still around. What’s sunk in is that titles endure not because of the brilliance of their ideas but due to the solidity of their financing. We tend to associate successful publications with creativity and innovation, whether it’s a digital outlet like BuzzFeed or a legacy brand like the Harvard Business Review. But editors—even celebrities, like Vogue’s Anna Wintour or Monocle’s Tyler Brûlé—have always had to be equal parts creative and entrepreneurial. Even The New Yorker has struggled at various points in its nearly 100-year history to find readers and revenue. In recent years, it’s been able to leverage its international reputation to good effect. Today, The New Yorker is one of the few publications in the US to declare a profit with a combined print- and digital-subscription strategy. They say content is king, but it would be impotent without a strong business model.

My colleagues and I are invested in making a version of The Walrus that will be around for at least a hundred years, not one that enjoyed a good run and then flamed out. To that end, we have responded to the proliferation of misinformation and the need for in-depth reporting during the pandemic by creating the most relevant, timely version of The Walrus we can. At the moment, many parts of Canada are under lockdown; it’s no coincidence that a number of our stories reflect a theme of borders and freedom. In “Quitting America,” M. E. Rogan takes up a question many have considered over the past four years: What does it mean to be a Canadian citizen versus an American one? In “When QAnon Came to Canada,” Matthew Remski reports on the spread of a wide-ranging political and cultural conspiracy theory—a phenomenon that suggests the public imagination has no limits, geographical or otherwise.

In “Ask an Economist,” University of Victoria professor Rob Gillezeau offers his analysis of the financial impact of lockdowns. This new column was developed by head of research Erin Sylvester and our fact-checking department. If you have questions about health care, politics, the climate crisis, the arts—or, why not, even how to run a magazine—send them to pitch@thewalrus.ca with “Ask an Expert” in the subject line.

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Jessica Johnson
Jessica Johnson (@ejessicajohnson) is a former editor-in-chief of The Walrus.
Graham Roumieu
Graham Roumieu (roumieu.com) is a National Magazine Award winner and a regular contributor to The Walrus. He draws for The Atlantic, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.