Based on what they told me last week, I think I will like what John Macfarlane and Brian Morgan have done with The Walrus. While I believe both men are committed to a Walrus that is intellectual and ambitious, it also sounds like they’re aiming to create a magazine that is more immediate and accessible than the one produced by their predecessors.
Let's backtrack. I support the idea of The Walrus. I believe Canada should have a national, mass-distributed magazine of ideas, culture and long-form journalism. And I don’t even mind that such a magazine requires charitable funding to survive. But, thing is, up to now, I haven’t particularly enjoyed reading that magazine.
Despite the fact that I am not rich, well connected or even particularly well educated (my “university degree” is for “journalism”), I think I’m the kind of person The Walrus is trying to reach. I read The New Yorker religiously. I read New York and Maclean’s a lot. I sometimes read The Atlantic and Vanity Fair. I enjoy Maisonneuve and This Magazine. I prefer the features and columns in Toronto Life to the real estate and shopping tips.
I subscribed to The Walrus in the early days. I even applied for an internship there (and didn’t get it). The magazine has dominated the National Magazine Awards over the last five years, so there must be people out there who thought highly of it, but personally, I can only name two memorable pieces from my own reading experience: Bill Cameron's memoir about dying from cancer and Bill Reynolds' piece about cycling, which I only read because Reynolds is my old prof and friend.
To be fair, I haven’t read that many pieces in The Walrus. Yes, I used to subscribe, but most of the time, I never bothered digging in. The magazine, in my opinion, never worked hard enough to earn my attention—it always had the stench of something that was supposed to be “good for you.” The display copy was inconsistent at best, cryptic at worst. (The cover line for the Reynolds article mentioned above was “Love thy bike.” What the hell?) The art was often completely disconnected from to the features (which, from what I’ve heard, was partly due to the ramshackle way stories were assigned and edited). There was too much text. (Those New Yorker cartoons aren’t there just to make you laugh/groan/scratch your head.) And then, when I would finally work up the courage to read something, I’d be bored.
Perhaps I just wasn’t literate enough for the old Walrus. Kat Tancock, who writes the Magazines Online blog, is a fan. “I have half a PhD,” she told me. “I'm pretty immune to the sleepiness factor.”
The Macfarlane/Morgan Walrus will no doubt be a more conventional magazine than the Alexander/De Luca Walrus. There will be profiles. Some of the articles will be shorter than they might have been in the past (though Macfarlane assures us that the magazine is still committed to long-form journalism). When the editors are discussing stories, they’ll have to ask the question “Why now?” The display copy and the art will work together. The stories will have more “moment.”
That’s what I was told, anyway. And it got me excited. I haven’t seen the issue yet, but an advance copy is supposed to be on the way. And when I get it—and read it—I’ll let you know what I think.