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Truckus Maximus: The Big Boys With The Big Toys Do Some Hardcore Pogo At Monster Truck Show

“I got laid off too many times. Now, I work harder for less money. But I get to do what I want to do. Not many people get that.”

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), February 6 to 19, 1997

The little tiger-striped four-by-four is definitely going too fast. In an instant, the diminutive Suzuki stands balanced, its front wheels squashed at 90 degrees. A millisecond later, it’s on its back like a ladybug flipped over by the wind. The cacophony of the crowd reaches a crescendo. But the noise had been building; the Skydome crowd saw the writing on the wall for the little jeep. 

Frantic helpers pry open the door of the jeep, wrestling free the driver, Dwayne Robichaud. He emerges in an orange jump suit and prances around, looking vaguely like the Oklahoma bomber. The audience lets out an even louder cheer as he walks away, smug and happy. 

Half an hour earlier, two monster trucks, Young Gun and Samson, line up behind a pile of crushed cars, with a dirt ramp at each end. The methanol engines let out a roar like the mother of all hairdryers. The revving turns into a drag race. The pulsating white noise rattles the cavernous Dome. The effect on the audience is almost sexual: the stomach rattles, the heart skips a few beats. It is a short buzz, but it is good. And the noise? I begin to notice that everyone around me has ear plugs and I realize I’m going to regret this in 20 years. 

The exhaust fumes are starting to reach toxic levels 40 minutes into the rally. I shake my head and feel the motion a few seconds later. I’m getting a CO2 buzz, too. It’s the USA Motor Spectacular monster truck derby at Toronto’s Skydome. But monster trucks are just a small part of the show, there for the crowd to ogle while they get off on the noise. There is the amateur truck rally involving the tippy Suzuki and other monster-truck wannabees, and a ridiculous car-eating, fire-breathing robot called Robosaurus for the kids. The metal bashing of the demolition derby serves to satiate the audience’s thirst for damage – and is truly the highlight of the night. 

I can’t get out of my mind comparisons to spectacles in Roman times. Titans of spectacle, the Romans set the benchmark by which all other public entertainment must be judged. On the spectacular scale, Roman bloodsports involving gladiators, wild animals and the sacrificing of Christians definitely rate a 10 – anything else falls below. I figure monster trucks rate about 4. Watching pick-up trucks with over-sized $10,000 tractor tires crush cars can’t match the gore and death of ancient Rome but it will do for now. 

If monster trucks join professional wrestling and American Gladators as today’s answer to blood sports, why does this spectacle seem to lack that je ne sais quoi? Maybe it’s the sanitization of risk. The cabin of a monster truck coddles the driver. There are cushioned seats, a kidney brace, a five-point racing harness, neck braces, helmet restraints and a roll bar. Several drivers tell me that the job only looks dangerous. At half time, Young Gun’s Saskatoon-based driver, Kevin Weenks, tells me he doesn’t seek out danger. “I think some of those (amateur) guys are nuts and want to do the crowd a big favour [die]. You don’t want to run it hard. A win isn’t worth flipping over.” 

Derby destruction

Thirty demolition derby wrecks crawl into the centre of the Skydome. The flag is dropped and an orgy of car crushing begins. It goes on for half an hour. Now I’m not bored. Cars are still driving despite engine fires and rear-ends that stand at 45 degrees. It is down to two cars: one more or less intact, the other driving on its hubs, engine on fire, half its back a mangled piece of crumpled paper. The driver doesn’t give up. His engine stops, then starts again. This is repeated three times until, exhausted, he concedes defeat. 

After the derby it’s time for Robosaurus. The press release claims the hunk of grey metal stands five stories tall and costs $2.1 million. The driver flicks on the switch on a very expensive stereo system and Robosaurus starts to growl like Godzilla. Two guys with radio headsets help direct the beast onto the floor. It burps and farts for a while before picking up a pre-cut car. It crushes it, drops it to the floor and incinerates it with a flame thrower. The crowd roars.

It seems things haven’t changed with spectacles. The Romans drew on slaves, freed men, foreigners and the lower social orders to provide fodder for their spectacles. Monster trucks are driven by farmers hired for six months at a time. The amateur drivers are a hodgepodge of laid-off workers, farm labourers and guys who make a meagre living fixing four-by-fours. 

Wearing a waist-length monogrammed racing jacket is Don Frankish. The shy and patient Alberta grain farmer owns two of the four monster trucks in Canada. He has been racing for seven years and divides his year 50/50 between farming and tours on the monster truck circuit, which mostly takes him through the U.S. 

He is definitely attracted to the excitement of the stadium, but not necessarily a love of death-defying acts. “It’s the rush of the crowd as they get behind you, talking to the kids who look at you as a superhero,” he says. “I like the speed, the unpredictability. We know the risks. There is a danger to it. But the Monster Truck Racing Association makes sure we have a killer radio to shut off the engines if the truck is out of control. The worst I’ve ever seen is a truck going end over end three times – it just destroyed the truck.” I ask him about insurance and he laughs. “We can’t get insurance!”

Pit boys

Down in the pit, the air is thick with exhaust fumes. The pit boys are milling about, patting each other on the back. A sprinkling of pit girls hang around, with hairstyles straight out of Xena: Warrior Princess. The dress for today is black: black t-shirts and black jeans. Don McGuire, 32-year-old partner in the Three Stooges four-by-four shop in Brampton, sports a mischievous grin as he tells me with pride about his chosen vocation: mud bog racing. It’s the messier outdoor version of tonight’s amateur truck rally. McGuire has been a mud bog racer for 10 years and isn’t doing it for the money. “First prize is just $200 – I spring for more money than I would ever win,” he says. “We do this for the pure adrenaline. It’s just heart and soul. It takes bucks per cubic inch to win in this business,” he says resentfully, looking across the Skydome to where the monster trucks are parked. Big Foot’s sponsorship by Ford seems to be a sore point with racers who spend thousands of their own dollars to come here. 

McGuire gave up a $700 a week job to earn $300 a week and race. “I got laid off too many times. Now, I work harder for less money. But I get to do what I want to do. Not many people get that.”

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CASE STUDY 3: Id Magazine | 1996 – 1997

Expertise: Editing, investigative journalism, art direction, managing teams, strategy, content development.

Location: Guelph, Ontario, Canada 1996 to 1997

Features Editor: David South  

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 3: Id Magazine | 1996 – 1997 Images

Abstract

In 1996 I was hired as Features Editor for Id Magazine, a bi-weekly alternative magazine in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. 

About 

In 1996 Id Magazine, an Ontario, Canada alternative biweekly, was expanding and needed to improve the quality of its journalism, while also making the difficult shift to being a more consistently professional offering. I was hired as Features Editor and set about swiftly assembling a team of investigative journalists. My strategy involved targeting stories overlooked by Canadian newspapers and TV news. In the 1990s, it was often the case the best journalism and the best investigative journalism in Canada could be found in the country’s alternative media. This led to a number of firsts, including an extensive investigation into Canada’s flourishing sex industry, the government’s addiction to casinos to boost revenues, unearthing a plot by neo-nazis to infiltrate Ontario high schools with hate rock, university students’ catastrophic debt culture, reporting from the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Canada’s UN mission, and probing the government’s public services privatisation plans (including being invited to debate this topic on CBC TV’s programme, Face Off). With a keen eye for new media trends, the magazine covered the fast-rising Internet economy, early experiments with digital currencies and smart cards (Mondex) being carried out in Guelph, Ontario, and concerns about data privacy.

There clearly was a gap in the news marketplace Id could better fill with solid investigative journalism and features writing aimed at a younger demographic. 

How large a market gap can be confirmed by various analyses on the state of the Canadian media at the time and since. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was in a mess in the 1990s resulting from declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reducing the breadth and depth of news coverage.  

My challenge: Could I bring together a talented, young team and improve the quality and consistency of journalism for a start-up magazine seeking to grow? The proof came in the form of improved audited pick-up of the magazine by readers, the magazine’s confident push to expand on the Internet, and the fact many from that original team have gone on to not only have successful careers in the media and film, but also to be influential in their own right – proof the original belief in their talent was correct.  

Pressure on journalists to toe the line and not upset advertisers was also increasing in the context of ongoing high unemployment, a stagnant economy in a recession, and government austerity. Canadian media as whole also has a “great dependence on advertising, which accounts for more than 70% of daily newspaper revenues, about 64% of magazine revenues,” which means there is enormous pressure to only publish stories that do not upset advertisers. And monopolies exert great control over news content in Canada: “In the United States, ten companies control 43.7% of total daily newspaper circulation. By contrast, in Canada since 1996, one single company controls a comparable share of the media pie.” 

Quoting Jeffrey Simpson in the book, newspapers are “shrinking in size, personnel, ambition and, as a consequence, in their curiosity,” …. “I believe the result has been a diminution in quality.” (p64) 

Fast forward to “Today, we have a crisis in the journalism industry unprecedented in scope. A media implosion. Newspapers being reduced to digital editions, large numbers losing their jobs, circulation falling, ad revenues plunging, near monopoly ownership of big-city dailies, the old business model in a state of collapse.” (Canada’s media: A crisis that cries out for a public inquiry by Lawrence Martin, The Globe and Mail, Feb. 02, 2016). 

Brief descriptions of sample issues are below: 

Can Harris be Stopped? Cover 

My first Id Magazine cover. It was thrown together in a few days after being hired. While a work of resourcefulness under pressure, it did capture the spirit of the times as multiple demonstrations and strikes tried to bring down the much-hated Conservative government in Ontario. 

“Can the UN Help Remake a Country?” Cover 

This cover photo by Phillip Smith was taken in the market area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I had never seen such squalor and desperation in my life. It got worse as we visited the city’s morgue, packed to the rafters with the dead and mutilated bodies of children and adults. It was a tough assignment and one that was captured with professionalism by Phillip’s camera.  

Christmas Issue Cover 

Back in 1996, the Thatcher thirst for privatisation came to Ontario with a vengeance. In this issue, we asked if it showed a lack of imagination to just sell publicly paid for assets to wealthy investors. We offered other ownership models and I debated this topic on CBC TV’s Face Off.  

“Pulling the Plug on Hate Rock” Cover 

This excellent cover by Gareth Lind was, as far as I know, the first use of pop art on a biweekly magazine cover in Ontario at that time (I certainly hadn’t seen anyone else do it). It sold the excellent investigation into skinhead rock bands infiltrating Ontario high schools very well. It was timed for release during the North-by-Northeast music festival in Toronto, and had zero returns (as in all issues were picked up). 

Sarah Polley Cover 

A regular contributor to Id, Canadian actor and director Sarah Polley challenged the stale Canadian left with her spiky views. In this issue we tackled the decline in the quality of TV programmes and asked if it was a moral vacuum being hoovered up by consumerism.  

Student Issue Cover 

This cover is by great Canadian political cartoonist and illustrator Jack Lefcourt. Always funny, Jack captures well the corporate take-over of the country’s universities and the introduction of the catastrophic debt culture that leaves so many students in a financial pickle. It was also Id’s first student issue.  

“The Great Education Swindle: Are Reforms Destroying Your Future?”

“Today’s Sex Toys are Credit Cards and Cash” Cover 

As Ontario’s economy experienced year-after-year of high unemployment and stagnant salaries, its sex economy flourished. In another first, the Id team tackled all aspects of the growth of the sex economy and changing attitudes to sexual behaviour. Beating the big papers to this story, they wrote with honesty and verve and made a refreshing break from the limp journalism of most Canadian newspapers. 

Timeline

1996: Hired as Features Editor and assembled editorial and creative team.

1997: Id Magazine begins to simultaneously publish its content online, a pioneering move at the time. 

Impact 

Micro 

  • reducing returns and boosting audited pick-ups of the free magazine – a key metric for a publication reliant on local advertising
  • assembled talented investigative team and graphic design and photo team
  • introduced pop art front covers
  • increased news coverage, especially impact of austerity in Canada
  • increased foreign coverage, including on Canada’s United Nations mission in Haiti
  • introduced high-profile contributors, including actor and director Sarah Polley
  • debated stories on other media, including CBC TV’s Face Off 

Macro

  • most of the team have gone on to very successful careers in the media
  • magazine still receives good comments on Facebook many years after its closure
  • one of the first Canadian magazines to embrace the Internet and publish simultaneously online

A sample of published stories is below:  

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far 

Will Niagara Falls Become the Northern Vegas? 

Land of the Free, Home of the Bored 

Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On the Ideas of this Guelph Grad, But Does the Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know the Way Forward? 

Porn Again: More Ways to Get Off, But Should We Regulate the Sex Industry? 

Redneck Renaissance: A Coterie of Journalists Turn Cracker Culture into a Leisure Lifestyle

Swing Shift: Sexual Liberation is Back in Style 

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-market Economics and the UN to Save Itself 

TV’s Moral Guide in Question – Again 

Citations 

Schizophrenia: A Patient’s Perspective by Abu Sayed Zahiduzzaman, Publisher: Author House, 2013 

Other Resources 

Freedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia 

Ger Magazine Issue 1 

Ger Magazine Issue 2 

In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) 

The back issues of id magazine reside at the Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada [has v.5(1995)-v.8(1999)] collection.

OCLC Number/Unique Identifier: 1082496695

ISSN: 1208-4476

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017

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CASE STUDY 1: Investigative Journalism | 1991 – 1997

Expertise: Investigative journalism, editing, start-ups, content and magazine design, digital content, digital strategy.

Locations: Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, Canada and London, UK 1991 to 1997

Investigative Journalist, Editor, Reporter, Writer: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 1: Journalism | 1991 – 1997 Images

Abstract

I worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers from 1991 to 1997 in Canada and the United Kingdom and as a radio host for a weekly spoken word interview programme, Word of Mouth (CKLN-FM). 

CKLN-FM’s “Word of Mouth 6 pm-6:55 pm Hosts: David South, Jill Lawless This show goes well behind the headlines for the real story behind the events.”

This included working as an investigative journalist for Now Magazine, “Toronto’s alternative news and entertainment source”, as a Medical and Health Correspondent for Today’s Seniors, and as an investigative journalist and reporter for two Financial Times newsletters, New Media Markets and Screen Finance.  

Samples of published stories can be found here (below) and on the Muck Rack platform here: https://muckrack.com/david-south

About

Could it be possible to do high-quality investigative journalism in the context of a shrinking economy undergoing austerity, and where the media sector is contracting and consolidating around a small number of media companies? Is it possible to launch new media products in the face of a contracting economy and reach new audiences and create new markets?

In Canada, the early to mid 1990s were the years of government austerity and economic crisis. After the crash of 1989/1990*, institutions came under great stress. Health care, for example, was pitched into a period of turmoil and change. Drawing on my experience working in the health sector (Princess Margaret Hospital/Ontario Cancer Institute), I covered this crisis in many stories for various publications, in particular Today’s Seniors.

The Canadian economy severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada says, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”. 

The media in general could not avoid the wider economic crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage. Canadian media as a whole also has a “great dependence on advertising, which accounts for more than 70% of daily newspaper revenues, about 64% of magazine revenues,” which means there is enormous pressure to only publish stories that do not upset advertisers. And monopolies exert great control over news content in Canada: “In the United States, ten companies control 43.7% of total daily newspaper circulation. By contrast, in Canada since 1996, one single company controls a comparable share of the media pie.”

The impact of this crisis was summed up by Jeffrey Simpson in the book The Missing News, where he said newspapers are “shrinking in size, personnel, ambition and, as a consequence, in their curiosity,” …. “I believe the result has been a diminution in quality.” (p64)

This is the context in which, ironically, it was possible to flourish as a much-sought-after investigative journalist who could get the story and get the quotes and as an editor. And it was also a time for opportunity, in particular as new media rose in importance, from cable and satellite television, to the rise of the Internet.

I broke original stories for Now Magazine as a member of their investigative reporting team, for Today’s Seniors as its Medical and Health Correspondent, and as a reporter for two Financial Times newsletters in London, UK. I also broke original stories as a freelancer for many other magazines and newspapers, including Hospital News, The Toronto Star, This Magazine, The Annex Gleaner, Flare, The Financial Post Magazine, Canadian Living, and others. I drew on strong contacts in health care, media, politics, international relations and the military. 

I was an editor for magazines, newspapers and newsletters as well, gaining invaluable experience and contacts. This included as Editor-in-Chief for start-up youth publication, Watch Magazine (see Case Study 2), and as Features Editor for Id Magazine (see Case Study 3). 

Themes covered included the uses – and abuses – of data, the impact of military engagements to uphold international law, how to re-structure health care when budgets are tight, with populations ageing, and technology and scientific advances quickly expanding options, the emerging new media world of cable and satellite television and the Internet, the sexual revolution 2.0, urbanization and how it re-shapes politics and community, international development, and youth culture. 

Story highlights include covering data concerns over Canada’s border screening measures, questions about the air quality of aircraft cabins, the debate over airstrikes in Bosnia, scandals involving peacekeepers in Somalia and reporting on the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, reforms to medical education in Canada, innovators in health care, the tug of war over health care spending during austerity measures, London, UK designers, the growing role of Nordic countries in cable and satellite television, the film financing scene in Europe and the UK, the new sexual revolution and its impact on cable and satellite television and the rising Internet, changes to Canada’s media industry, and Toronto’s embracing of the megacity concept and the political battles it sparked. 

I edited newsletters and newspapers aimed at specific communities, from Canada’s medical history community to part-time students. And had the privilege of helming a start-up youth magazine as its Editor-in-Chief to its commercial success (see Case Study 2). 

It was an exciting time of great change, best reflected by the fact in 1997 Id Magazine (Features Editor: see Case Study 3) was one of the first Canadian publications to regularly publish an online version (https://web-beta.archive.org/web/19970207103121/www.idmagazine.com).  

* “The last two recessions in Canada occurred in 1982 and 1990. … The most recent Canadian recession began in the second quarter of 1990 and over the next 12 months GDP fell by 3.2%. … The recovery from this recession was unusually slow; there was almost no growth between mid-1991 and mid-1992. This slow recovery was export driven.” (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems.

 “… the recession here was more severe than in the United States.

“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession and, in many instances, wages and salaries were frozen or reduced (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)

A small sample of published stories with links is below:  

Investigative Journalism 

An Abuse of Privilege?

Aid Organization Gives Overseas Hungry Diet Food

Artists Fear Indifference From Megacity

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far

Counter Accusations Split Bathurst Quay Complex: Issues of Sexual Assault, Racism at Centre of Local Dispute

False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

New Student Group Seeks 30 Percent Tuition Hike

Peaceniks Questioning Air-raid Strategy in Bosnia

Safety at Stake

Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side of Elite Regiment

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes on Airline Industry with Findings on Survey

Top Reporters Offer Military Media Handling Tips

Will the Megacity Mean Mega-privatization?

Will Niagara Falls Become the Northern Vegas?

Health and Medical

Changing Health Care Careers a Sign of the Times

Critics Blast Government Long-Term Care Reforms

Cut Services to Elderly, Says Doctors’ Survey … But Leave Our Salaries Alone!

Feds Call for AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Government Urged to Limit Free Drugs for Seniors

Health Care on the Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes for Efficiency with Search and Destroy Tactics

Health Care in Danger

Lamas Against AIDS

New Legislation Will Allow Control of Medical Treatment

New Seniors’ Group Boosts ‘Grey Power’: Grey Panthers Chapter Opens with a Canadian Touch

Philippine Conference Tackles Asia’s AIDS Crisis

Private Firms Thrive as NDP ‘Reinvents’ Medicare

Psychiatric Care Lacking for Institutionalised Seniors

Seniors Falling Through the Health Care Cost Cracks

Specialists Want Cancer Treatments Universally Available

Take Two Big Doses of Humanity and Call Me in the Morning

Taking Medicine to the People: Four Innovators In Community Health

US Health Care Businesses Chasing Profits into Canada

Magazines

The Ethics of Soup: Grading Supermarket Shelves – For Profit

Freaky – The 70s Meant Something

Land of the Free, Home of the Bored

Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On the Ideas of this Guelph Grad, But Does the Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know the Way Forward?

Oasis Has Arrogance, A Pile of Attitude and the Best Album of 1994

From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report On The Sex-For-Money Revolution

Redneck Renaissance: A Coterie of Journalists Turn Cracker Culture into a Leisure Lifestyle

Safety at Stake

Swing Shift: Sexual Liberation is Back in Style

Time Machines

Too Black

Media 

The Big Dump: CP’s New Operational Plan Leaves Critics with Questions Aplenty

Channel Regulation: Swedes will Fight Children’s Advertising all the Way

Do TV Porn Channels Degrade and Humiliate?

Is the UK Rushing to Watch TV Porn? 

Playboy ‘is not for sad and lonely single men’

TV’s Moral Guide in Question – Again

UK Laws on Satellite Porn Among Toughest in Europe

Undercurrents: A Cancellation at CBC TV Raises a Host of Issues for the Future

Special Reports

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight on the Emergence of Satellite Porn Channels in the UK

From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report on the Sex-for-Money Revolution

United Nations

Freedom of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia

Starting from Scratch: The Challenge of Transition

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-market Economics and the UN to Save Itself

Traffic Signs Bring Safety to the Streets

Magazines

Watch Magazine

Id Magazine

Newsletters

Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine

New Media Markets

Screen Finance

Blue Sky Bulletin

Other Resources

Ger Magazine: Issue 1

Ger Magazine: Issue 2

In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) 

Mongolian Rock and Pop Book (ISBN 99929-5-018-8) 

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia (ISBN 1-55022-434-4)

Timeline 

1991: Begin career as investigative journalist and editor.

1992: Work as a Medical and Health Reporter for Today’s Seniors and as an Investigative Journalist for Now Magazine. Work as Editor and Writer for the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine’s newsletter. 

1993: Published in many publications, including The Toronto Star, Canadian Living and This Magazine.

1994: Work on re-launch of Watch Magazine 2.0 and its expansion (see Case Study 2). 

1995: Work as reporter for two Financial Times newsletters in London, UK.

1996: Work on re-launch of Watch Magazine 3.0 and its expansion. Begin work at Id Magazine as its Features Editor (see Case Study 3).

1997: Begin two-year assignment with the United Nations mission in Mongolia (see Case Study 4). 

Testimonials 

David South … proved himself to be a penetrating, thorough and hard-working journalist. He produced a lot of very good stories …” Neil McCartney, Editor, Screen Finance, Telecom Markets and Mobile Communications, London, UK

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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CASE STUDY 2: Watch Magazine | 1994 And 1996

Expertise: Editing, start-ups, youth media, content development, art direction, design and layout, investigative journalism.

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1994 and 1996

Editor-in-Chief: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 2: Watch Magazine | 1994 Images

Abstract

In 1994 I was hired by start-up Youth Culture to be Editor-in-Chief of Toronto’s Watch Magazine, a bi-weekly distributed to the city’s high schools and to all youth hang-outs. In 1996 I was hired again to help with preparing the magazine for its national launch. 

About

In 1994, the Internet had not arrived in any great form (though Watch Magazine was on top of its emergence as Internet cafes popped up in the city) and the digital economy was still minimal. There was no such thing as ‘start-up culture’ for youth. There was an urgent need to create opportunity for youth, to create new markets, and to change the business culture of the city of Toronto, which had been hit hard by an economic crash and austerity. 

Watch Magazine had had a brief false start prior to my arrival in 1994. The previous format had not worked and the magazine needed a vision and somebody with the experience and dedication to see it through. It was also entering a competitive marketplace for readers, with already existing free magazines capturing most of the advertising spend for youth-oriented marketing in Toronto (though failing to offer a genuine youth content experience as could be found in Europe – the UK especially – at that time). As an example, Toronto lacked sharp and credible coverage of youth popular culture in the early 1990s. Drawing on my extensive experience as a journalist (including at Toronto’s established alternative weekly, Now Magazine) and editor, I assembled a team of youth editors and writers to work on making the content and magazine’s design appealing to the youth demographic in Toronto. The magazine needed to turn a profit in short order and become credible to advertisers, its main source of income (in Canada, 64 per cent of magazine revenues come from advertisers)*. The design and content needed to appeal to a youth audience but work with a tight (but increasing) budget. It was doing this in a tough economy with high unemployment, austerity, business failures, and a generally negative business environment.

By having an actual youth editorial team, Watch Magazine quickly developed an authentically young 1990s voice. The magazine also benefited from its youth team’s ability to spot trends bubbling under the surface ready to explode into mainstream society. As an example, they had this to say on the Internet in a piece on Toronto’s coffee shops, “Some mean places for bean”: “The powers-that-be think we should cocoon in our houses and rent videos, play with the Internet and order in food …” 

Youth unemployment was high in the early to mid 1990s in Canada. It reached 19.3 per cent for those 15 to 19 years old in 1993. “It should be noted, however, that youth unemployment relative to that of adults has worsened since the 1990-91 recession (Youth Unemployment in Canada by Kevin B. Kerr, 2000).”

The Canadian economy overall severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada said, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”.

As the Bank of Canada also said: “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems. … the recession here was more severe than in the United States.

“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession …” *

And the media in general could not avoid the crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage.

In less than a year, Watch Magazine had gone from being an unknown quantity, to being a fast-growing and profitable youth publication, significantly increasing its advertising revenue: a key metric for a magazine reliant on this as its main source of income. It had expanded in size and audited distribution and was able to make a move to new digs (the Watch Magazine “crib” – a studio and work space) at innovative “arts-and-culture hub” start-up space 401 Richmond Street in Toronto – at the centre of Toronto’s emerging media and design neighborhood in its former fashion district.  All the contributors were high-school-age youth drawn from talent across the city; many had already shown their ability by starting their own publications and media. They gained first-hand experience in investigative journalism skills, business skills in a start-up, and magazine and media production skills. 

“… thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White

In 1996, I was hired again to help with preparing the content format for Watch’s expansion to a national magazine – further proof of its success as a publication and a business. 

* (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)

* The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000)

Brief descriptions of sample issues are below: 

Youth Gangs Cover

In 1994, with Canada’s economy still in the doldrums, Watch Magazine exploded into Toronto’s high schools. Staffed by talented youth, it shook up the staid publishing scene and proved young people did have something to say. This first issue still remains relevant, with its exploration of youth gangs and violence in the school system.  

Therapy Cover

After its successful launch, Watch Magazine was grabbing readers and getting the attention of advertisers and television. It was time to improve the design and introduce the latest in graphic design software. The results paid off: the magazine looked sharper and quickly ran from its cheeky launch, when we had basically avoided all traditional approaches to a launch (like actually having a designer).

For anoraks out there, this photo shoot with Irish band Therapy took place outside the former Wellesley Hospital emergency department in Toronto. And, yes, that is a genuine restraining ‘straitjacket’ used by psychiatric hospitals to restrain mental health patients. 

Digable Planets Cover

By this issue, Watch had hit its stride: we were the first to seriously review the ballooning zine culture, get immersed in the rave and late-night party scene, and dig deep into “chopsocky world”: Hong Kong and Asian film fans. But “Hip-Hop Comb-munism”? What were we thinking?

It was also the biggest issue to date. 

Beck Cover

Highly talented Beck gave Watch his eloquent thoughts on the media’s infatuation with Generation X and how it always desperately needs to sell young people more stuff. Watch took on Ontario’s film censors over the GG Allin documentary, Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, and let students across the city blow off steam on life in the 1990s. 

Bass is Base Cover

By October 1994 the magazine’s investigative powers were in full flow. Two investigations – a sex scandal at an alternative school, and whether the Battle of the Bands contests, a fixture at most high schools, are really worth it – joined a profile of the band Bass is Base and more coverage on the growing rave scene in Toronto. 

Oasis Cover

In 1994, Oasis were still an indie band with a lot of bottle and big mouths. Riding a tsunami of hype from the UK, they washed up in North America to face their biggest challenge: could they become as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Lead singer Liam Gallagher does not disappoint, as he gives me an expletive-laden exposition on everything under the sun.

This was the first published print interview with the band in Canada.

Sloan Cover

Canada’s answer to the ‘Madchester’ scene of the early 1990s, Sloan, played the pop game with gusto. In the photo shoot for the feature, it was pants down and prayer hands to an unseen religious icon.

Timeline 

1994: Hired to re-launch and expand Watch Magazine in Toronto.

1996: Hired to re-develop editorial content for Watch Magazine’s national launch.  

Testimonials 

“As one of those high school kids and the guy who wrote (most of) this article, I’d like to say thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White

Impact

Micro 

  •  Toronto’s first youth culture media start-up. Introduced ‘youth culture’ concept to Canada
  •  oversaw two format re-launches of the magazine as it expanded and grew
  •  assembled talented youth editorial team
  •  grew magazine and its profile as the main media source for reaching Toronto’s youth
  •  writers trained and appeared on TV as youth commentators
  •  first profile in Canada of British band Oasis, among many other story firsts
  •  became first stop for anyone wishing to target the youth market, or seeking intelligence on the youth market 

Macro

  • created youth culture market in Toronto
  • first magazine to be based at new start-up hub in Toronto – pioneering concept at the time 

A sample of published stories is below:  

Freaky – The 70s Meant Something

Oasis Has Arrogance, A Pile of Attitude and the Best Album of 1994

Citations 

Other Resources 

GOSH Child Health Portal 2001 to 2003 Resources

Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artefact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thought: mailto: davidsouthconsulting@gmail.com.  

Media

Youth culture magazine Watch goes national, Wendy Cuthbert, September 1, 1997, Strategy, Canada

“Free teen publication Watch Magazine is going national this month – promising to more than double its high school penetration. 

The self-described youth culture magazine, which last year at this time went province-wide – delivering copies to 350 high schools across Ontario – plans to send out 125,000 copies to 800 participating high schools across Canada. 

Going national only four years after its inception (the magazine started as a Toronto-only vehicle in 1993) could make national advertisers interested in reaching the elusive teen market very happy.”

Ryerson Review of Journalism, Page 34, 2003, Toronto, Canada

“Owned by marketing company Youth Culture Group, these gender – specific magazines attempt to construct a teen image that is built on spending.”

Watch Magazine Editor-in-Chief David South
Watch Magazine Editor-in-Chief David South photographed at Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood in 1994. Watch Magazine was Toronto’s first youth culture media start-up and led the way on Toronto’s revival after the economic crisis of the early 1990s. Photo: Margaret South.

Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artifact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thoughtmailto: davidsouthconsulting@gmail.com. You can also fund this goal through our PayPal account here:

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