Ever since we began working on this project over a year ago, questions have come at us from all directions. Excitable friends wanted assurances that we had everything under control; not-altogether-sure-why-we-were-never-at-home partners wanted to know when they would next see us; anxious contributors wanted bank statements; trade magazines wanted to know more about us than we wished to tell; and potential readers wondered, “Just who are these guys?”
The time has come to speak of these many things.
What is The Walrus’s mandate?
There is a distinction to be made between genuine public discourse and the routine discussions that occur regularly in the press, on radio and television talk shows and in cafés, offices, and homes across the land. Such “debates” about pressing issues are, by their very nature, piecemeal. All too often, they are driven by the needs and agendas of politicians or public figures. Incidents and accidents covered by the daily-news providers may resonate with larger issues—but the coverage itself still tends to be fragmentary and unsatisfying.
The Walrus has an opportunity to do something different. Our intention is to give writers the resources they need to dig beneath the surface of news-driven “stories” and to assemble and contribute real narratives to the public discourse. We will go after the bottom line of a story, the stuff that helps make sense of the words and deeds that might otherwise seem like random acts. We hope, in this way, to play a modest part in helping to create a better-informed public and a larger cadre of writers and public intellectuals.
Our mandate is to tell stories that will allow our readers to hold our times in thought. We are in search of readers who are, like ourselves, driven by a curiosity about the way the world really works. The Walrus is a Canadian magazine, but only by the accident of place and time. Our interests are international and we hope to engage our readers as global citizens. In this issue, for example, Marci McDonald’s analysis of Paul Martin’s empire, while thoroughly Canadian, raises issues that are universal: Are the qualities of leadership in business transferable to the political realm? Conversely, Lorraine Spiess’s story on the sars crisis in China, while thoroughly international in focus, raises questions of immediate relevance for readers in Canada: Had China enjoyed full freedom of the press, would there have been a sars crisis in Toronto?
What are The Walrus’s politics?
If we think of politics as something that exists along a spectrum of Right to Left, then we do not have politics at all. What we aspire to do is run stories that challenge the assumptions of both the Left and the Right. As for the hoary old question of “the Canadian identity,” we promise never to raise it*.
Why the name?
In a certain climate, the mists of time can shroud even the most immediate past. No one seems able to recall where the name came from—it was, in the beginning, a working title. But working titles have a way of working themselves in under the skin. The Walrus did that, and very soon could not be worked out.
There have been several occasions when we lamented the name. In one instance, a favourite contributor called us with a strong recommendation that we change the name to something with more gravitas. Her attempts to secure an interview with a politician for The Walrus only got her a laugh, not an appointment. “Why couldn’t you have named your magazine The New Statesman or something like that?” she complained.
Too late. The name has grown on us—it has become us and there is nothing to be done about it. Sometimes—albeit mostly only after one drink too many—we even profess to love it.
And now that it is us, we will make the best of it. In fact, we have already launched a national advertising campaign, which many of you will already have seen, based on the rather presumptuous idea that we are out to change the national mammal from the ubiquitous beaver—a creature that has turned untold acres of perfectly good woodland into swampy wilderness—to the walrus, a more benign creature who is decidedly further up the food chain, and whose virtues—like those of our magazine and the country in which it is headquartered—remain to be discovered and appreciated.
We believe the walrus, and The Walrus, will prevail. Several weeks ago, one of our editors was at a book fair where an employee of Penguin Books asked him “Why The Walrus?” To which he replied, “Why Penguin?”
With luck, and with your support, The Walrus will become a household pet. And if we are really lucky, then years from now, when a child turns to a parent and asks, “What is a walrus?”, the immediate answer will be: It is a magazine.
This appeared in the October 2003 issue.
*more than a few thousand times. [post-hoc addition, 2008]