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Sources 10th Anniversary

Ten Years Work
A Solid Basis For... Ten More Years' Work

By Werner Bartsch

Apparently one bleak Sunday in 1976 was a turning point of sorts. It was a day that Barrie Zwicker had earmarked, as usual, for Content bills and deadlines. By chance his eye fell on a peculiar list of public relations directors in a competing magazine. When closer scrutiny revealed that the listings were, in fact, paid advertising, Barrie made some hasty calculations.

The result was a shocker. The listings in only one of the competitor's issues generated as much revenue as Content brought in during the entire year. It was a revelation that changed Barrie's life. In one stroke an aversion to competition blossomed into entrepreneurial indignation.

"I looked at their product," Barrie says of that day, "and then I looked at Content, and I said to myself, ' They don't deserve all that revenue.'"

The next step was as inevitable as it was unusual. With an uncharacteristic lack of modesty, Barrie decided that when it came to listings, Content could do better. Besides, financial considerations left little time for doubt. He and his wife had already sold a house to pay off Content's debts. The future appeared to promise more of the same. A directory issue of Content was one solution.

The concept was not in itself new. At the time, many special interest magazines routinely published annual directories to generate additional revenue, remembers Ray Bendall, then associate publisher of Content and the first managing editor of SOURCES. But fortunately for SOURCES, when Barrie, Ray and trusted advisor Terry O'Connor later studied the question, they discovered that no existing directory specifically served the media.

SOURCES came to life in the summer of 1977 as a semi-annual directory issue of Content, and immediately was the most comprehensive listing of its type. A letter from the publisher noted that while SOURCES would be a little help in those cases where "hard-nosed journalistic work" was required, it would be a good help to good journalists in quickly identifying "the best spectrum of sources."

The directory edition was the first issue of Content that operated in the black, despite its novel approach to advertising rates. Instead of charging everyone the same fee, SOURCES' rates were on a sliding scale based on an organization's revenue or operating budget. The original formula is used to this day.

The sliding scale rate was and is journalistically sound, projected an image of fairness and accessibility and also made good business sense. To be useful to the journalists it was designed to serve, a directory had to have as many entries as possible. The initial bottom-of-the-line listing fee of $19 guaranteed that everyone, not just major corporations or large government departments, had access to SOURCES.

From the beginning, too, the directory was conceived as a bi-annual production. After the success of the summer launch, work began immediately for an even bigger winter issue. Meanwhile, Content carried monthly updates. There were 203 listees the second time around, including the 147 which had appeared in summer. By the winter of 1980/81, in the last combined issue of Content and SOURCES, the number of listings had grown to 503, with more than 1,000 subject-guide headings. Today, the subject index - more than 100 pages this edition - has become so extensive that a computer is required for the job.

But while the directories generated additional revenue they also generated additional work - lots of it. Barrie, Ray and Norah Zwicker (Barrie's mother) devoted tremendous energy to SOURCES, even while being overtaxed publishing substantial editions of Content. The first joint issue of Content and SOURCES gives thanks to Mary Marum, Ken Popert (associate editor of Content), Becky Schechter, Sheryl Taylor-Munro, Paul Wilson, Rev. W.G. Zwicker (Barrie's father) and Don Hawkes. "What I remember most of all," says Mrs. Zwicker, SOURCES' first business manager, " is the work and the work and the work and the work. And at first we had a tough time selling the SOURCES idea. No one had ever heard of a directory for journalists. The sliding rate scale was also a puzzler. Most people had to think about that one."

The success of the directory editions did little, however, to ease Content's financial problems. Sadly, the magazine still ran deeply in the red, and despite its relative profitability, SOURCES' profits were actually small. Indeed, SOURCES continues to operate on a small profit margin to this day.

By 1981 SOURCES had begun to evolve into its own entity with its own permanent staff. Carla Wittes, editor for a number of years, became assistant to the publisher that year. The advertising sales whizz Mary Walsh also joined SOURCES in that period, as did present listings editor Barbara Nair, who is now SOURCES longest-standing employee. Inevitably SOURCES and Content went their separate ways that fall.

"It just didn't seem right to pretend that SOURCES was Content," Barrie says. "After considering a number of offers, I sold Content to Humber College, with a non-competition clause to limit the amount of editorial material that could appear in SOURCES."

A few years later Content was sold again to the Friends of Content, a group that publishes it still.

"I remember that terrible feeling that hung over Barrie when he sold Content," Mrs. Zwicker recalls. "He didn't set out to publish a directory. When he lost Content he felt he'd failed at something he really wanted to do, something that really needed doing."

Already on rocky ground when Barrie purchased it in December 1974 Content was founded in 1970 by Dick McDonald and others as a vehicle for improving the quality of Canadian journalism. It was not, and has never been, a profitable business. Idealistically, Barrie assumed that boundless energy and his own brand of tell-it-like-it-is media criticism would pull him through. It just wasn't enough.

"I wore out more good people on Content than I care to remember," Barrie says.

Compounding Content's financial problems was an attitude to business that later also exposed SOURCES to treacherous shoals. It took Barrie a number of years to understand that Canadian advertisers won't lend their financial "support" to magazines that seem to reflect primarily one person's mind. Now and again, this fact worked against Content, and it almost became an even bigger problem for SOURCES.

Fred Fraser, vice-president corporate relations, CAE Industries Ltd., was one of Content's first supporters and remains one of the biggst advertisers in SOURCES today. He speaks of a time when " Barrie got carried away. He no longer represented the views of Canadian journalists as a whole. He was precoccupied with left-wing views. I don't mind left-wing views, but if you're going to do that, you've got to have the rednecks too. I expect a balanced prespective from a national media magazine, and for a time, it just wasn't there."

While Fraser didn't ever withdraw his advertising, he did briefly consider the idea. Others were undoubtedly discouraged by Content's approach. When SOURCES began to develop a similiar radical bent, some advertisers did withdraw and a number of listings were lost. The federal Department of External Affairs was one of these; it remains one of the few that have refused to return to the fold. What drove them away was a special 1983 editorial section on the media and the Cold War.

Boldly advertised on the front cover, the War, Peace and the Media series made a firm commitment to disarmament and took Canadian newsmakers to task for portraying the Soviet Union in the bleakest way. It immediately became a provocative issue.

As Barrie politely put it in a publisher's letter in the next issue, the "reaction ranged from high praise to angry denunciation." The Toronto Sun devoted three stories to the series. Claire Hoy was left "trembling with rage ", Peter Worthington felt "outraged" and a lead editorial accused Barrie of attempting to represent the media. For a man who has always prided himself on his reputation as a media critic, the last accusation was deliciously ironic.

It was during this turmoil that Tracy Blyth and Cheri Westra joined SOURCES. Both were recently out of university and new to the publishing field. Their rocky introduction marked, in a sense, the end of an era. When Carla Wittes left in 1984, both became associate publishers, positions they still hold today. Their arrival and continued presence coincides with a gradual change in Barrie's attitude toward SOURCES.

Since the sale of Content Barrie had only committed part of his energy to SOURCES. He taught journalism, carried on his freelance writing and broadcasting, and experimented with other business ventures. Editorial copy a la Content was his major contribution to SOURCES during these years. Following the reaction to the War, Peace and Media series but an indiscernable response to SOURCES' editorial section since, the role of editorial copy came into question.

The discussion is still going on, but a direction is beginning to emerge. Rather than publishing in his own magazine, Barrie is beginning to think that his and other's media criticism would find more responsive audiences elsewhere.

War, Peace and The Media was reprinted as a monograph. Now at 52 pages in its third edition, it has sold more than 3,500 copies, made a considerable impact and turned a profit.

Today, Barrie devotes himself full time to building SOURCES toward greater usefulness and further success. There's clear evidence of a newly found business sense. The details and challenges of publishing intrigue him, and he tackles them with apparent pleasure. There's obvious pride in his voice now when he notes that of the 203 original listees, 118 are still with SOURCES a full ten years later.

"With Content, I never gave ad sales the time and energy required," Barrie says, adding "and I was so excessively gentlemanly." This is the new perspective of a man who waxes enthusiastically about bulk listings sales (to umbrella organizations for other associations), or U.S. expansion.

Still, underneath the new business exterior, Barrie's ideals remain unchanged. The psychology and morality of advertising, for example, still arouse in him the same indignation that led to the birth of SOURCES. There is a tendency, he says, to ignore "support advertising" and its hidden effect on editorial integrity.

"We like to think that advertising is placed for solid business reasons, and undoubtedly there's much that is," Barrie says. " But there's also an advertising old boys network, in almost every field, that amounts to a de facto subsidization of certain magazines by some industries. While no one objects to advertisers spending their money where they will, there's undoubtedly an impact on editorial integrity. We need to be more open about it."

As SOURCES grows to surpass 1,000 listed organizations this year, there's still nothing to match it on this continent or anywhere, so far as Barrie has been able to learn. And, it promises to get better. Endorsements from journalists and listed organizations are becoming common.

"We often hear people talk about how they use SOURCES," Tracy says. "Only a few years ago, if a journalist came to us and told us he'd used SOURCES, we threw a party. We'll be growing lots yet, and we're going to be used even more."

In the last year, says Cheri, it's become clear that the future of SOURCES is no longer a question of survival. "SOURCES will grow and thrive. There seems to be no doubt about that now."

Werner Bartsch is a freelance writer living in Toronto.

This article originally appeared in Sources, 10th Anniversary Edition, Summer 1987.

See also:

The first edition of Sources
The Sources Select Online Story
You, Sources, and Getting the Most Out of the Internet: Including Six Internet Fictions to Consider
Sources Publisher Barrie Zwicker looks back -- and ahead
Sources: A Quick History to 1997
Publisher's Letter (Sources 42)
Sources Corporate Profile



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