Christo­pher Moore

Dig­i­tal fu­ture for ven­er­a­ble mag­a­zine

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - Christo­pher Moore com­ments in ev­ery is­sue of Canada’s His­tory.

The ven­er­a­ble Ma­clean’s mag­a­zine moves into the dig­i­tal era.

In Septem­ber, Ma­clean’s an­nounced it would cease pub­lish­ing the print edi­tion of its weekly news­magazine early in 2017. Only an on­line edi­tion and a monthly print edi­tion now sur­vive.

Could this be the end of the cen­tury-long story of “Canada’s mag­a­zine?”

John Bayne Ma­clean, a southern On­tario preacher’s kid, got into jour­nal­ism in Toronto in the 1880s. Cana­dian in­dus­tries and com­merce were boom­ing, and Ma­clean launched his pub­lish­ing em­pire with Cana­dian Gro­cer. In 1905 he be­gan the busi­ness­man’s mag­a­zine that be­came Ma­clean’s. He dropped the cap­i­tal L from the mag­a­zine’s name and also from his own.

Aside from pub­lish­ing, Ma­clean’s great love was the Cana­dian mili­tia. As Colonel Ma­clean, a life­long week­end sol­dier, he was of­ten pho­tographed in lav­ish mil­i­tary uni­forms. Yet in Fe­bru­ary 1918, in the dark­est days of the First World War, he wrote a Ma­clean’s story with a shocking head­line: “Why We are Los­ing the War.” His blunt opinion must have come like a punch in the stom­ach to tens of thou­sands of griev­ing Cana­di­ans yearn­ing for even­tual vic­tory.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment quickly is­sued an or­der-in-coun­cil for­bid­ding any “ad­verse or un­favourable state­ment, re­port, or opinion, con­cern­ing the ac­tion of Canada … in pros­e­cut­ing the war.” But Ma­clean was hardly de­terred. He had been a proud im­pe­ri­al­ist, ded­i­cated to Crown and Em­pire. Now he con­cluded that Bri­tain’s mis­man­age­ment of the war meant Canada was “more likely to drift into in­de­pen­dence af­ter the war than into closer re­la­tions with the Mother Coun­try.”

Ma­clean and his mag­a­zine were like that: feisty and opin­ion­ated but grow­ing steadily more at­tuned to the Cana­dian readers and con­sumers who sup­ported Ma­clean’s as a gen­eral-in­ter­est mag­a­zine. Ma­clean was a Con­ser­va­tive, but he turned against Prime Min­is­ter R.B. Ben­nett as the De­pres­sion took hold. With the 1935 fed­eral elec­tion loom­ing, his sales staff de­cided to sell the Lib­eral Party on a lav­ish ad in Ma­clean’s. Party HQ was doubt­ful. To con­vince them, the ad men mocked up an ad with the slo­gan “It’s King or Chaos!”

The Lib­er­als bought the ad — and adopted the slo­gan, too. Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King swept back into power, and Ma­clean do­nated the price of the ad back to the party cof­fers.

Ma­clean died in 1950. Led by ed­i­tors Arthur Ir­win and Ralph Allen, both pas­sion­ately com­mit­ted to telling Cana­dian sto­ries to Cana­dian readers, Ma­clean’s con­tin­ued to thrive. It be­came home to tal­ented artists, pho­tog­ra­phers, car­toon­ists, and such writ­ers as Pierre Ber­ton, June Call­wood, Clyde Gil­mour, Christina McCall, Peter New­man, and W.O. Mitchell.

In the 1970s, as the day of the gen­er­al­in­ter­est mag­a­zine faded, New­man, by then Ma­clean’s editor, launched the long fight to cre­ate Canada’s first weekly news­magazine, de­spite the power of for­eign ri­vals led by the “Cana­dian” edi­tion of Time. Fi­nally, in 1978, the now-fa­mil­iar weekly edi­tion of Ma­clean’s the news­magazine de­buted.

Time’s Cana­dian edi­tion ceased pub­li­ca­tion in 2008, beaten less by Ma­clean’s than by the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion that was chal­leng­ing all the old giants of print me­dia. Now Ma­clean’s it­self is em­brac­ing dig­i­tal. Will its bet on re­main­ing “Canada’s mag­a­zine” in dig­i­tal form pay off? Old mag­a­zine hands gloomily joke that dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tions are like gym mem­ber­ships. Ev­ery­body has one — but no­body goes.

But per­haps old me­dia are go­ing to solve the puz­zles of the dig­i­tal uni­verse, and Ma­clean’s, since 1994 a branch of Rogers Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, will find new suc­cess in its new form. No doubt Colonel Ma­clean would be there in the thick of the fight.

Ma­clean’s, founded in 1905, is in­creas­ingly fo­cused on dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing.

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