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Books Frank magazine to live again as a political satire website in October, publisher says

Michael Bates, editor of Frank, is bringing the political-satire magazine back (again)

Tony Fouhse

At least one person is hoping the Senate expenses scandal has enough legs to last through the year: Michael Bate, who, as editor and publisher of Frank magazine, was sued by Mike Duffy for libel and defamation, says he is reviving the muckraking scandal sheet in October.

"I've been very excited about recent developments," Bate told the CBC Radio One show The 180, in explaining his decision to relaunch an online version of Frank, which he shut down five years ago.

Three months ago, after writing a Toronto Star piece about his history of antagonizing Duffy – Frank carried a regular feature called The Puffster, which ridiculed the then-CTV host – Bate said he heard from many readers who suggested he revive Frank.

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"Satire is a form of free speech, and we need as much as possible, especially now when you consider how many newspapers, how many cutbacks in the media, the news holes are shrinking," he said. "I think there's room for a publication like Frank again."

The question is whether there is enough appetite to support the publication, which ran in print from 1989 to 2004, was revived online in 2005, and shut down for good in 2008.

"I think things have changed," he told CBC. "The zeitgeist has changed, it's more like it was in the early '90s when Mulroney was in office. People are fed up with the Tories. I think there is an appetite for satire and muckraking scandal sheets like Frank. So I'm optimistic."

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, he said the new Frank would have a metered paywall, which would enable readers to read a few stories before having to pay "about 50 cents a day, or $15 a month." In the past two years, hundreds of publications, large and small, have erected paywalls. Bate pointed to Andrew Sullivan's The Dish, which instituted a metered paywall earlier this year, as a financial model for the new Frank.

He will need enough funds to fend off the inevitable legal challenges to his reporting. Over the years, Frank received dozens of lawyer's letters, and paid out sums in the five figures, "about half a dozen times" to settle suits.

Since shutting down Frank, Bate helped create a musical play about the 1970s country rocker Gram Parsons, touring it in Canada, the United States, and Australia. "I discovered there was even less money in the music business than there is in online satirical magazines," he quipped.

And even if the Mike Duffy affair has been settled by the fall, he said, he has no fear of running out of potential Frank material in Ottawa. "There's lots of other stuff."

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