Graham Isador is a writer and photographer based in Toronto.
Last week I received an e-mail from a PR agency touting the future of Now magazine. The Toronto alt-weekly has been acquired by Gonez Media, fronted by television personality and YouTuber Brandon Gonez. The agency wanted to know if I was interested in covering Now’s sale and the future plans for the company.
The PR agency said it asked me because it recognized my “passion and commitment to the brand.” What they were talking about was how I’d been complaining on Twitter. For months I’ve been lamenting Now’s slow demise on my social feeds.
The fall of the magazine is part of a wider crisis that’s left me questioning the viability of how I make my living as a whole. For years, the journalism industry has been affected by the decline of advertising revenue, with alternative weeklies taking a particularly hard hit. The city has lost The Grid, Torontoist, Eye Weekly and the Toronto Standard. Not all were weeklies, but they occupied the same function: a gateway to the culture and vibe of Toronto. It’s increasingly hard to make money with that idea.
Now offered some of my first big bylines as a young journalist. I’ve contributed to the alt-weekly on and off for the entirety of my career. The PR team rightly assumed that I was interested – even excited – about Now’s next chapter. But that excitement came with caveats.
I wanted to ask Gonez Media about the editorial vision for the new Now. I wanted to know about the overall tone. But most importantly, I wanted to know whether former staff – many of which had been working without salaries to keep the brand afloat under the now-bankrupt former management of Media Central Corp. Inc. – would be hired back or at least given their back pay. Workers had allegedly been told that they would be paid what they were owed by Now’s new owners after the company was bought.
The answers to my questions bummed me out. A representative from Gonez Media told me, “The acquisition of the Now brand includes Now’s digital assets only, not the corporation itself,” and that the new publication would be “building a whole new editorial team from the ground up.”
On the issue of paying former employees what they’re owed, the Gonez representative punted the ball back to the magazine’s former owner. Gonez characterized the matter as “their internal affairs.”
Gonez Media, to be sure, has nothing to do with the publication’s past troubles. Especially given the aforementioned bankruptcy under Now’s former owner. The situation isn’t even uncommon. A similar thing happened with Vancouver’s alt-weekly The Georgia Straight, and even with Now’s former owner, which had itself bought the magazine from someone else.
But just because Gonez Media is acting within its rights doesn’t mean I’ve got to agree with it. The reason Now still exists as a viable brand is because people were putting in unpaid labour to keep the brand afloat. On a basic level, I think that if you’re buying certain “digital assets” because you deem them to be the most valuable part of a company, there is a responsibility to the people who built those assets.
It’s a running joke among my friends that every time I drink two cocktails I threaten to start an alt-weekly. I believe that a magazine like Now is pivotal if Toronto wants to be the world-class city it always aspires to be. I don’t know Brandon Gonez, the CEO of Gonez Media. As a journalist and TV host, Mr. Gonez seems charming and competent. His success with his YouTube channel is an impressive achievement and I’d genuinely like him to succeed with this venture. But starting a new era of the magazine without even telling former staff what’s going on – core members of the former Now team found out about the new owners at the same time as the public – leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The deal for Now magazine reflects the difficulties of running an alt-weekly publication in the current climate. I didn’t want the magazine to end, but even with Now coming back, the publication as I knew it is gone.