People who lived in the city before 1981, remember this: Toronto was a city in need of its NOW.
We needed a local paper that would go beyond the status quo both in art and in politics, that would talk to people beyond the usual suspects and ask them very different questions. But it was more than that. We needed media to engage a larger community in the city’s rich local scenes. We needed a way to stimulate connection between like-minded people trying to foster human values like respect for diversity and sharing. And we needed something bigger than a telephone pole to access comprehensive information that would make all the fun and inspiration of living in T.O.’s creative vortex accessible to everyone.
No corporate, market-research-driven boardroom was going to be able to do this kind of project. It wasn’t a proven money-maker or a well-beaten path. But luckily for Michael Hollett and me, a few people actually did bet some money (not very much, but that’s a different story) that two overconfident former student activists just a few years out of university would be the lucky ones who could do it.
Frankly, we were a bit embarrassed to tell some of our friends that we were starting a business. Marrying a loud, opinionated social consciousness with entrepreneurialism was like going to the dark side in those days. It was funny, but it was uncomfortable back then, too. Right from the start, we got a dose of how it felt to be ahead of our time. And it really hasn’t changed that much.
While we’ve always tried to make our success look simple and assured, it never really feels that way to us. There aren’t many well-established, independent, writer-led media organizations in this country. The small fry usually get eaten up before they get too far. But Michael and I never planned to be feeders for some big media corp. In our minds, that would run counter to our challenging mandate of giving Toronto the weekly that it deserves. We are both thankful that some lucky star brought together two very different partners completely aligned on this major issue.
That’s why Torstar, publishers of the Toronto Star, launched their own faux “alternative” Eye Weekly 15 years ago, and why they’ve kept coughing up the dollars to keep it afloat all this time. In all these years, we at NOW have never had the luxury to stop earning our business and our readers. Nor would we want it.
For 25 years, doing the job and staying ahead of ourselves has meant pretty much just staying uncomfortable and laughing about it.
And we hope you’ll find reason to join us – at least in a few laughs – as you check out this special anniversary edition.
But true to form, an anniversary like this one calls for looking ahead as well as looking back. What we see is a time when each and every one of us is challenged to change the ways we disrespect nature’s gifts.
So this anniversary, we’re excited to take our place not only as a newspaper but also as a business committed to being a good planetary citizen. We are the first newspaper in the country with an Ancient Forest Friendly paper policy and we may well be the first one to have a green roof, too. Check out our Nature Says NOW (page 67) for all the details on the ways we’ve thought of to pay our respects to Mother Nature.
On this one, I’m hoping that when we look back at this issue 25 years from NOW, we’ll be able to say that instead of being really ahead of our time, we were really of our time. And thank you, Toronto, for all the fun.
Queen West was darker then. I don't mean in attitude, just fewer colours. When I started patrolling the oversized and undervalued boulevard for NOW Magazine in 1981, there was no illumination from franchise stores to guide the gullible. It was a gritty street that smelled like the future – and yesterday’s breakfast.
Culture and ideas bled from the claustrophobic storefronts after sundown like a yellow bruise spreading across snow-white skin. People felt so far off the radar that they had no reason to compromise, because they had no chance of slipping inside the mainstream. Daily newspapers didn’t know they existed, and free of any expectations for success, true invention reigned.
Today, buildings are again shuttered along Queen West, but now it’s because landlords are playing a waiting game, attempting to cash in on the bohemia that arrived almost 25 years ago. Struggling artists have moved farther west – and east, too – even farther afield, free of latitudinal logarithms. But the invention hasn’t dissipated.
I've watched Toronto recoil at visions of itself only to emerge stronger each time. When Mike Harris’s Tory tax-cutting terrorists invented the malignant megacity, I saw a community come together to declare itself – even if the vote wasn’t counted.
A new citizens’ movement was born – yet again – and is constantly re-energized by the very attacks meant to defeat it. People power propelled David Miller, a mayor that Bay Street didn’t breed, into City Hall’s top seat, a spot usually reserved for backroom buddies.
In politics and art, Toronto is still being fed by new ideas often birthed in the darkest moments, and the invention and independence of Canada’s most important city refuses to be contained or corralled. NOW Magazine remains part of this independent spirit, handmade mass media with more readers than even our most optimistic dreams would have promised when Alice Klein and I started this paper 25 years ago.
Whether it’s musicians who manage to get their songs out through the Internet when conservative major labels tell them their music doesn’t matter, performers who literally build their own stages when mainstream venues are closed to them or community activists who turn into politicians because the guys who already have the job don’t speak for them, we are there with you.
We’re not operating from directives from above. No memos from mahogany-panelled boardrooms will tell us what to cover. No order to report on a trend long after it has already become tired.
The people who own and create NOW walk and live these streets with you. Your creativity has given us so much to report, and your committed readership has created an independent magazine not beholden to any one group of advertisers or interest groups. And we’re not vulnerable to the regular onslaughts launched by the country’s mega-media corps. Nationwide, this country’s alternative weeklies, from Vancouver to Halifax, are almost all indie-operated, a handful of fresh voices in the face of homogenized discourse.
We’re proud to be part of the solution and honoured to be part of your lives. We’ll see you on the streets, in the clubs and on the move. And we’ll see you again next Thursday – and every Thursday for years to come, in print and online.