Tuesday, July 01, 2003

How the Canadian right could benefit from one and a half conservative magazines

Now that The Report is "done like dinner", Canadian conservatives should be thinking about a new magazine. 1 1/2 magazines perhaps.

The Report almost stumbled onto what I think is the right formula to avoid the temptation of silencing half of the conservative movement in order to get advertising and subscribers. (As you may have been reading in the links below there is lots of animosity directed against social conservatives by pundits who think that too much "Bible-thumping was at fault.)

Twice during the history of The Report, we published regional editions of the magazine. In the 1980s, we had a "Western Report" that was sold in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alberta still had its "Alberta Report". How Western Report worked was that the Byfields hired stringers in the other Western provinces to provide copy and quotes for regional stories. About 70-80 per cent of Western Report was made up of material that was shared with Alberta Report--the rest came from the stringers. Alberta Report provided the logistical support for both magazines.

I spent many years at the Report's other experiment, British Columbia Report. From 1989 to 1999, B.C. Report shared some stories and a handful of administrative workers with Alberta Report (Western Report had been folded by then.) Although we did help each other--some of our stories appeared in AR and we often took our national political coverage from AR's stringer in Ottawa--B.C. Report became strong enough that although we shared a ideological viewpoint with AR, we could have a slightly different focus on our province. As long as the money lasted, this was an idea that seemed to work well, in some ways, for both magazines.

Recent history has shown that it is difficult for Canada's parties of the right to work together even when they have the incentive of forming a government and exercising power to spur them in that direction. I fear that it will be even harder for the two ideological sides--fiscal conservatives and social conservatives--to work together to form one national magazine of the right. One "side" may feel hard done by or be unfairly treated.

If The Report had decided to split its magazines on ideological and not geographical grounds, I think they may have been onto something.

Here is a brief run-down of my idea.

Imagine that there are two magazines, which I will call Fiscon Report and Socon Report. Both magazines will share a board of directors and whatever sort of head office is necessary. Administrative staff, telemarketers and advertising staff can be shared.

Where Fiscon Report and Socon Report agree on certain ideals or policies, they can share reporters and the stories. Each magazine should have their own editors and editorial staff, so that individual stories on a Speech From the Throne, for example, can be tweaked to cover federal government policy on abortion (Socon Report) or why the federal government should legalize drugs (Fiscon Report).

The beauty of this idea that that anything that would infuriate one side could be put in the other magazine. If the Fiscon Report editors want to do a cover story called "Hooray for pornography!", it can appear just in that magazine, along with all the ads, photos and other things that offend social conservatives. Socon Report editors can write columns and lengthy cover stories on religion so that Fiscon Report readers aren't assailed with all that "Bible-thumping stuff."

I would anticipate that the magazine would have 1/3 of the writers writing mostly for Fiscon Report, 1/3 for Socon Report and 1/3 for both at first. About 60-70 per cent of the editorial copy should be shared by both magazines at first.

One possible advantage of two semi-independent magazines working in partnership is that it could neatly solve several possible long term problems.

Readers who were angry with "filth" or "Holy Roller stuff" in what they read could easily be switched over to the other edition of the magazine by customer service personnel and then reassured that their new magazine will make them much happier readers.

Advertising boycotts would be easily defused. If clients have an aversion to certain issues or stances, ad reps could steer them to the magazine that is more in keeping with the image that they want to present to their public. If one magazine is under a boycott attack, then survival funds can be channeled from the other magazine, which will still be getting ads

Having two editions of the same conservative magazine would help a lot in pusuing long term planning for both magazines. If one magazine starts getting more ads and subscribers, then the directors of both magazines can make that edition bigger, hire it more writers and direct more resources to it. Publishers, editors, telemarketers and ad reps will be able to look at both balance sheets and have concrete evidence that they can base future decisions on.

However, even though the two editions or magazines would be working together, they would be released from the ideological pressure of agreeing to one policy on drugs, one policy on abortion and such. Both editions would be free to espouse the positions that they think best, and even critique what the other magazine had to say.

How practical is this? Well, I would point to the U.S., where there are several right-leaning magazines instead of just one big national conservative one. One national Canadian magazine of the right may be devoutly to be wished, but I think that my idea is well suited to the scenario where it can't quite be formed.

Can it be done? Well, the logistics of this idea are very plausible as The Report did something like it for over 15 years.

One and a half national conservative magazines in Canada might just do the trick. I hope that the boffins trying to think about what the Canadian right should do now consider the idea.