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
"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
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.
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