Thursday, September 21, 2006

We're OK, it's OK, say Walrus principals

Mastheadonline has published a longish item on The Walrus, which may, or may not, allay people's angst about what's going on. Ken Alexander expands on his view that the departure of the Publisher and several directors and the deputy editor is a good and necessary thing. Publisher Bernard Schiff says he left because of too many disagreements on fundraising and other fundamentals. Departed Deputy Editor Tom Fennell said he had "enjoyed every minute" of his time at the magazine and "Generally, I didn't have a bad relationship with Ken."

It must be pointed out that these views are at variance with what is being said elsewhere, anonymously and privately. It looks like elementary damage control. But we will take them at their word until there is proof to the contrary.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

DB, your post on the touble at The Walrus reports that most of the board, " he was followed out the door by most of the rest of the board" while the Masthead article reports that only three of the nine members (plus Schiff) quit.

It is pretty shameful for Alexander to release a statment saying that board members walking out on the magazine is "very good news." It is shameful and nasty.

3:17 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

I didn't know how many had left, and said so, hedging my bet by saying "it's not clear how many"; however I
was correct about those who specifically left. What I had been told was "most of the board"and I'm glad to have the corrected details. Which board members left is important. Sandy Houston's departure is a major blow, because he runs the Metcalf Foundation that finances the vaunted internship program at The Walrus. And Bernard Schiff has been the most loyal, dedicated, generous supporter that the magazine has had.

3:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schiff is a major loss, as is Fennell, though it's a wonder Fennell didn't leave earlier given Alexander's "hands-on" approach to editing.

4:23 pm  
Blogger ken alexander said...

Dear D. B. Scott and anonymous:

Thank you for your views and input. As you know, DB, having been part of The Walrus' pre-launch planning, the magazine's budget was based on a growth model. Well, it still is. And to build on a paid circulation which we believe will reach 60,000 by December 31, 2006, over the next two years we must continue to invest in order to realize our goal of 80,000.

There was a simple difference of opinion vis-a-vis what was necessary to continue on this upward trajectory. On the one side was the publisher -- and I agree with you entirely, a marvellous man who gave generously of his time and energy, who decided not to settle quietly into retirment after a sterling career as a university professor, and who remains a true friend and supporter of the magazine -- and certain board members who believed that certain cost cutting measures were essential, and, on the other side, the staff (including myself) and the majority of the board held that while efficiencies are always important extra revenue generation initiatives would solve cash flow problems endemic to all start-ups. The path ahead has been decided upon, and it is to aggressively pursue our growth model.

After years of good service, two volunteer board members have left. Another, who joined the board short months ago, has also left. They all remain friends and supporters of the magazine, and their positions are being filled by highly qualified new applicants. You are right, in my view, to describe the intern program as "vaunted." The interns are extremely bright and capable, and they receive -- I am consistently told -- an experience at The Walrus that is without parallel in Canada. The intern program will remain a fundamental aspect of our operations. Indeed, we are looking to expand it.

As the magazine enters this more mature phase of its development, we are being approached by terrific individuals who would like to lead The Walrus through this period of continued growth as publisher. Expect an announcement, not tomorrow but in good time.

For myself, after 4 years I am anything but Pollyannaish. Nothing comes easily. That said, many things have contributed to our positive growth -- a superb, hard-working, and dedicated staff; a line-up of writers and artists who do exceptional work for the magazine (and many of whom are being rewarded with book contracts and art exhibitions based on their work for The Walrus); national and international recognition; subscription renewal rates far beyond our expectations; consistently solid newsstan sales; new advertisers coming on stream; and, most importantly, an extremely loyal readership that is both proud of The Walrus and that is growing. As such, there is every reason to be fully confident. The editorial line-up going forward is, in the staff, extremely strong. As our circulation director, Greg Keilty, told me yesterday, "the fundamentals are terrific."

All the best, and thank you for your continued interest.

Sincerely,

Ken Alexander
Editor, The Walrus

8:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only insight I have into the current crisis at the Walrus is based on hearsay. But my experience as one of the original editors of the magazine makes it easy for me to imagine what’s probably going on. Certainly the actions of those who have resigned speak louder than their mild words, and more eloquently than the spin Ken Alexander has offered up to explain their departure.
Bernie Schiff and the board did little or nothing to back either myself or founding editor David Berlin in our attempts to restrain Ken Alexander’s erratic and destructive behavior in the magazine’s early days. If Schiff and some board members have finally walked, then how bad must things be? Or, to put it another way, how much has really changed? What does it mean when a seasoned and respected magazine editor like Tom Fennell suddenly stops showing up to work, and then abruptly quits? These are not the actions of a man who has “enjoyed every minute” of his tenure. And Schiff is certainly not telling the whole truth when he says he left because of disagreements over “fundraising and other fundamentals.” Both these men are hiding wounds that go far deeper. The mystery is, why are they doing it? And why are so many other comments on this blog unattributed? Understandably, there is a deep desire to keep the magazine alive. But at what cost? In our profession, truthfulness is a virtue and anonymous comments only help to spread the poisonous atmosphere at the Walrus beyond Adelaide and Duncan. What are people afraid of?
So let me say, pour encourager les autres, that based on my own experiences, and from what just about everyone can now observe for themselves, the personnel problems at the Walrus all lead back to Ken Alexander, to his self-aggrandizing approach to management, and to his need, sooner or later, to drive away everyone who is willing to stand up to him. He has lasted this long because he controls the money. Any discussion about the magazine’s current crisis and its future has to start there.
Paul Wilson

11:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of money, how long does it take for a Walrus contributer to see a cheque? Didn't this blog mention some incredibly long wait (not too mention some crazy kill fee language) in an entry several months ago?

1:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Paul Wilson:

This is fun. I agree with you entirely about the many anonymous. I have never "blogged" before, but reading their short and your longer missive clearly illustrates the need for editors and fact checkers.

In the interests of disclosure, I thought it only right to point out that DB Scott was one of the principal authorsof our growth model, and to suggest that he was exactly right as we are on target.

For your part, you of course quit without warning citing publisher interference. Certainly, I "interfered". The first issue of the magazine that you were responsible for -- the fifth issue -- completely tanked (even the crossword solutions were wrong) and you were about to put out the next issue without a single comment on the 2004 election. Your proposal for the Sightings column was a piece on Silken Laumen...perhaps more appropriate in "Chatelaine". Magazines, in the wrong hands, can become observational to the point of irrelevance.

Anyway, you just quit. Tom Fennell, on the other hand, worked as hard as he could, and often late at night and on weekends. He's a game. See Tom's own comments. Furthermore, the staff is in excellent fiddle and buoyed by the extraordinary editorial and art success of the magazine.

Vis-a-vis the money, I don't control a cent of it. It is true that I gave $2.5 million (all I had) in unsecured loans -- and I consider this a good investment in Canadian arts and letters, as it helped sustain a large number of superb Canadian writers and artists -- but I sit on no boards and on November 15, 2005 became an employee with no proprietary interests. If that is not good enough for you Mr. Wilson, tant pis.

Your are sounding a bit like Mr. Fulford. Perhaps you should broaden your hearsay pool. Nothing but the facts...

Cheers,

Ken Alexander
Editor, The Walrus

4:38 pm  
Blogger walruseditor said...

Dear Anonymous:

If we are late in a payment, please let us know, but please in the interest of credible journalism self-identify.

Typo: My comment re. Tom Fennell should read "He's a gamer."

Cheers,

Ken Alexander
Editor, The Walrus

4:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Payment problems were a problem at the Walrus back in the day, but since the 'charitable status' change that seems to have been fixed.

And enough with the anonymous posts. If you're going to bitch and moan, at least show your face.

Martin Patriquin

4:54 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

I realize that, for some people, the whole idea of "anonymous" comments is anathema. However, this wasn't done without some thought and, even at the risk of allowing someone to snipe from the bushes without taking responsibility, we will continue to accept -- and invite -- anonymous posts to this blog.

11:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Ken Alexander’s posting, I can only say: I rest my case. The groundless personal slurs displayed in his reply are as integral to his disruptive management “style” as his equally groundless claim to be on the best of terms with those he has driven out.
Paul Wilson

10:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Wilson,

I rest my case with the magazine itself -- take a look -- and with sterling contributors who keep coming back for more. Don't miss the next issue either.

Cheers,

Ken Alexander
Editor, The Walrus

6:58 am  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home