By Diana Hall
As the Ryerson Review of Journalism (RRJ) celebrates its 30th year in circulation, the journalism school’s magazine will toast to change. After years of under-funding it will make the cost-cutting move to an annual publication from its former bi-annual critique on Canadian journalism.
On March 1, 2013, RRJ publisher and journalism school chair Ivor Shapiro posted a message on the magazine’s website announcing that the Winter edition of the magazine would be cancelled “effective immediately” in order to focus on “enlarged and enhanced” long form content. It is expected to save the journalism school $20,000 to $30,000 a year in production costs and pull the RRJ from a floundering business model.
“At the Ryerson Review of Journalism, we can penny pinch it, we can cut its budget, we can say ‘chop this,’ ‘do that differently,’ reduce the number of pages per issue, [and] stop printing it in colour… but then we’re going to diminish the quality of the product we produce,” Shapiro said. “Rather than that, I’d rather find a way to make it more sustainable.”
Retracting the publication to a single issue per year comes at a turbulent time in the journalism industry.
The statement follows recent news of a slew of editorial layoffs purging Toronto Star staff as posted on the Star’s website March 4. A cacophony of resentment toward recent pay wall installations continues to swarm respected news outlets across Canada.
All the while, dwindling graduate student interest in participating in the RRJ’s Winter edition over the last three years has led to a lack of manpower necessary to justify production costs.
But Lynn Cunningham, an instructor with the RRJ, said the biggest problem that the magazine faces has plagued production for over a decade: the publication has languished in the wake of a $35,000 grant from Maclean Hunter Ltd., which the company (owned by Rogers) extended to Ryerson in 1984 and let expire in 1997.
It’s time for change, even if Cunningham isn’t happy with it. Cuts to the RRJ could hurt students’ access to magazine production in their final year of study as the journalism school searches for a sustainable business model.
“Traditionally there have been about 30 students all together who have worked on the magazine in a given year and that number might be halved,” Cunningham said.
But Tim Falconer, former instructor of the RRJ editorial team, suggested a competitive process could help strengthen the magazine’s long form management. If the journalism school is trying to improve the form by sacrificing student opportunity, it is doing so for the good of the journalistic craft. It’s a process of transformation Shapiro called “messy” and “painful.” Even as rumours of a switch to an online-only platform swirled through the school, the news to create an annual RRJ publication surprised Rhiannon Russell, editor of the RRJ’s Summer edition.
“I guess you kind of think a journalism school would be more stable, perhaps, than a news organization, because a school [is not as] dependant on advertisers,” Russell said, “But clearly that’s not the case.”
Shapiro said the next step for the RRJ might include an online partnership with j-source.ca, an industry site, to complement the annual print issue. The RRJ would use j-source’s network as a way to sustain relationships with a shared readership year-round. It would be an experimental model involving contributions from journalism schools across Canada.
A university’s job is to experiment and innovate, he asserted.
“We should be leading with new business models, new workflows, new ways of doing [things],” Shapiro said. “These are being experimented with and students are being encouraged to take risks and learn new lessons, and that knowledge can then be extended and shared with both fellow students and also with the industry.”
The next issue of the RRJ will be shipped to subscribers in April.