Skip to main content

The impending departure of editor Anthony Wilson-Smith from Maclean's has created an atmosphere of anxiety and confusion within the office, according to magazine staffers.

Wilson-Smith announced his resignation Monday, saying "it made sense" for him to move up his projected departure date "by about a year."

A Canadian institution, the weekly publication will formally celebrate its 100th anniversary in October. Wilson-Smith plans to leave at the end of February.

But that announcement has made for "a very nervous atmosphere in the offices," said an editor who asked to remain unidentified. "We're going into the future with too much unknown. The central questions are who's the boss going to be and what kind of magazine are we going to have?"

With the departure of Wilson-Smith, the Toronto-based magazine will be functioning without an editor or a publisher. In a management shakeup, former publisher Paul Jones left the magazine last fall, taking early retirement.

Marc Blondeau, senior vice-president of Rogers Media Inc., which owns Maclean's, said Monday that he hopes to name a new publisher by the time Wilson-Smith leaves.

Speculation about a possible successor to Wilson-Smith has focused largely on Kenneth Whyte, founding editor-in-chief of the National Post in the late 1990s and, before that, editor of Saturday Night magazine, when it was owned by Conrad Black.

Since being fired from the Post a few years ago, Whyte has been a visiting scholar at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. More recently, he had accepted an unspecified, part-time consulting role at Maclean's, which some observers saw as a prelude to becoming editor. Whyte did not return phone calls yesterday.

Some observers believe that Rogers, Maclean's owner, may opt to confer the editor-publisher titles on a single candidate. Such a move would save several hundred thousand dollars a year in salaries and benefits, and would allow for more direct corporate influence on the magazine's editorial content.

Toronto Life editor John Macfarlane, who vied with Wilson-Smith for the vacant editor's job three years ago, said no one from the Rogers camp had called to ascertain whether he is still interested. "And I'd be the most surprised man in the world if anyone did call. They had their chance."

In the dark-horse arena the only other name being mentioned is Maclean's editor-at-large Anne Dowsett Johnston, who did not return calls yesterday.

Sources close to the magazine say that Brian Segal, chief executive officer of Rogers Publishing, would be willing to sell Maclean's and has bruited the possibility. Although it is said to be marginally profitable, the magazine has struggled in recent years to retain readers, and to find an identity in a media-saturated cultural environment.

However, Segal's ultimate boss, Rogers' CEO Ted Rogers, is said to have nixed the notion of putting Maclean's on the block, recognizing its value as a name brand and as a Canadian icon.

At the same time, Rogers management has cut staff and squeezed the magazine's editorial budgets ruthlessly in the past few years.

"If there's a villain in this piece," said another staffer, "it's not the journalism. On the whole, Maclean's is a pretty good place to work. It's Rogers -- for the constant pressure to turn a profit, and for not being happy that the editorial flagship is breaking even."

Several staffers said the prospect of the company choosing to vest all power in a single editor-publisher's office was worrisome, since it implied even more corporate influence on the editorial package, and more concern with marketing, not journalism.