Safeguarders of the Country

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As many of you may have heard, it’s become official: the Harper Government has confirmed they will be cutting Canadian Heritage funding to small magazines (those publications with a total annual paid circulation of less than 5,000). For months now we’ve been hearing the concerns of many involved in the small magazine industry, both about the impetus for the change in policy and the overall effects it will likely have on publishers. John Barton, editor at The Malahat Review, has been quite vocal on the issue and is just one of the people fighting for the survival of small magazines.

According to the Globe, Heritage Minister James Moore says this decision seeks “to create a more streamlined, flexible and balanced system.” Some debate whether the government is justified in playing the bottom-line game. Still others question whether this vision is realistic when it comes to arts publications. One has to wonder exactly what is happening to culture in the country if larger magazines like Maclean’s and Chatelaine, that already have large subscription bases, can receive funding while others directed towards preserving and developing literature, visual arts, and other cultural media are left out in the cold.

Malahat Review editor John Barton is miffed that “circulation is the only criterion” in the new regime. “It’s not about cultural policy any more, it seems. Canadian Heritage is not functioning like a cultural body. The policy is bums in seats. How do you grow a culture that way?”

From another perspective, Barton added, Canadian Heritage can be seen as “issuing a challenge to small magazines: Prove you have readers. But how did they come to the number 5,000? And was it done purposely to screen out all these small journals that they find administratively irritating to fund?”

It will take time to see exactly how this change of cultural policy will affect these magazines. It does beg the question: will small literary and arts mags crumble under financial pressures, or will they, through necessity, find new ways of promoting the arts in Canada? Will this take the form of a stronger web-based approach? Many of these publications have official websites or blogs, sometimes presenting sample or preview material from their latest issue or those from the past to serve as a teaser, to interest the public. Perhaps they will be required to result to online subscriptions to make up for expensive printing costs. What are the challenges to this approach? Is it really as simple or possible as it seems from the outside? Again, time and the practicalities of working in the small magazine business will decide the outcome.

People like John Barton are not fighting for a government handout, but for assistance in promoting natural culture and identity from a government who, as supposed safeguarders of the country, have a responsibility to the people of Canada and to the nation’s advancement, not just economically, but from a sociocultural perspective as well.

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