Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Are the wheels coming off The Walrus?

Serious doings apparently afoot at The Walrus magazine. Last week, Tom Fennell, the deputy editor, quit. This was followed by the resignation of Bernard Schiff, the publisher and also chair of the Walrus Foundation; he was followed out the door by most of the rest of the board (it's not clear how many or if the board quit en bloc) including Sandy Houston, who represents the Metcalfe Foundation (which funds the Walrus's internship program). The board resignation was confirmed to the staff yesterday.

Intense dissatisfaction centres on the behaviour of editor, co-founder and major investor Ken Alexander. A succession of people have quit or been pushed/driven out in the past couple of years.

The very existence of the magazine depends on several factors including support money coming in from the Alexander family's Chawkers Foundation to cover the difference between what the magazine earns from circulation and advertising and its actual costs; and its hard-won charitable status, which in turn depends on an arm's length foundation that -- with the resignation of the board and chair -- is effectively crippled.

This is a major shame, since so many people had such hopes for the magazine and since so many good people's salaries and freelance incomes hinge on its survival. It is hard to know what will happen next. Stay tuned.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is distressing.

Their circulators work hard to continue to grow the audience.

1:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crap :-(

2:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nooo! This can't be happening.

4:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re. "Are the wheels coming off The Walrus"... The truth is they are firmly attached. The magazine has achieved editorial and art excellence -- 17 Canadian National Magazine Awards; the best new title according to the 2005 US-based Independent Press Awards; book contracts galore for Walrus contributors; it is a very long list. In any start-up there is a grow-up phase, and that is precisely what The Walrus is experiencing. The management side of the operation needed to change to match this excellence. We are in the process of making these changes, and, wheels intact, are on the road to long-term success.


Ken Alexander
Editor, The Walrus

6:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a large portion of the board leaves, that's not "management changing to match editorial excellence". That's something else entirely. Would have been nice to hear Mr. Alexander address that matter.

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"[M]anagement changing to match editorial excellence," means, "He who can drive the most staff away wins."

10:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

National Magazine Awards are meaningless. Saturday Night also rolled them, and they also got accolades, book contracts for their writers, and more. That didn't save them. And most of the public has no idea what they even are.

Good (and bad) writers will get book contracts with or without the Walrus being in existence.

11:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Ken alexander is not the cowardly guy he may actuallybe then he ought to realize that falling on his sword for the sake of his magazine is the best move he could make. is he open to that possibility, if it turned out that this would be best thing possible? Or is being the walrus editor publisher president of the board, the board, most of the senior staff , the only jobs he can get?

12:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think The Walrus has yet to become an interesting magazine. It would be too bad if it's potential was never realized because one person refused to listen.

11:36 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When The Walrus first started, I was quite excited to see a new magazine of its caliber. Then the first editor left, and the quality slipped a little. Then the next editor, and it slipped some more.

Am I the only person who have found that the more Ken Alexander becomes involved in the editorial, the more disinterested I become in the magazine??

I've already cancelled my subscription once, then gone back hoping that the magazine might have improved. But it hasn't.

Maybe the magazine's death isn't so untimely afterall...

1:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see the magazine quality declining in any particular way, although the essay section occasionally hits a few lows. And while it's disheartening to see such a revolving door, it's not like other mags don't change staff regularly. Look at Chatelaine...

1:54 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

[NOTE TO READERS] Two anonymous comments, no doubt heartfelt and apparently written by people who are in a position to know about The Walrus from the inside, have been received. They are views of the behaviour of the editor, Ken Alexander. What they say about him is so libellous, however, that they cannot be published. We considered editing them, but couldn't find a way to do so and keep any sense. We wanted to acknowledge their receipt, however.

9:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's disappointing that Alexander's only comments are on this blog. As a contributor, I'd certainly like to hear something official on this, especially regarding pay, since the guy who handles invoices has now left the publication.

Maybe those kind souls whose posts didn't get published here could update Wikipedia's entry on The Walrus and fill us all in.

11:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too was very hopeful when the magazine started, and I too noticed that, with each passing editor, quality dropped bit by bit: articles became shorter, sometimes less well-researched, more repititious. I maintained my subscription, hoping things would at least stabilize.
Every once in a while an article appears that is novel (e.g. the piece by Charles Montgomery, or the recent very well-written article on Iran, anything by Marnie Jackson), but I no longer recommend it to my friends, and their gift subscriptions have lapsed. It seems things are not improving.

12:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really unfortunate that any genuine discussion of the goings-on at that magazine are stymied by fears of libel suits, leaving everyone dancing around the truth. A real disservice to the people who actually do work hard on the magazine. Sadly, it leaves people with nothing except the official spin coming from Ken Alexander.

It would be nice if someone would take the time to write about what's actually happening, instead of running press releases (I'm referring more to the Masthead piece than this post) that essentially trash the outgoing board members and publisher.

It's a shame that one person's behaviour is ruining something which so many have worked so hard on.

6:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Walrus, from its inception, was a weak imitation of the New Yorker and Harper's Weekly. You HAD to know that it was going to fail when a Canadian magazine commits the ultimate act of self-loathing by mimicing the sleazy American mags in the same way. Anybody with any sense wouldn't buy it either.

But boy -- I was knocking the Walrus out here in the West from the very beginning. It gets pretty bad when Torontonians are bashing something Torontonian!

10:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harper's Weekly? I'll just assume you don't know what you're talking about...

1:48 pm  

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