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Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Progressive journalism outlets come together to form Unrigged

The new collective platform was founded in response to Meta’s ban on Canadian news

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In response to the Online News Act, 20 local, regional and national media outlets, including Canadian Dimension, banded together to launch their own news aggregator, Unrigged. Image courtesy NB Media Co-op.

One of these things is not quite like the other ones in the new progressive media coalition Unrigged, specifically this 60-year-old magazine, which is ancient compared to most of its young “values-based” publishers and podcasters, some of whom are young enough to be our grandchildren. When the group of about 20 like-minded online journalists approached us recently about joining their new online aggregator, which is designed to showcase their work, we said why not because it seems like their hearts are in the right place. The Internet was just a pipe dream back when Canadian Dimension was born in 1963 as a magazine, but we made a break with the past when we went online-only in 2019 “to embrace CD’s digital platform as a springboard to a lively role in the 21st century resurgence of radical socialist thinking and organizing.” Our old bones might be starting to creak a little bit now, but we think we have a lot to offer this new generation of progressive muckrakers, and they seem to agree. Eric Wickham, co-host and producer of the Big Shiny Takes podcast, admitted recently that young journalists “could learn from those who have been around for awhile,” since all the layoffs in the news media lately have seen a tremendous amount of intuitional knowledge lost. “There are some very, very deep structural problems with the journalism industry,” he told the Pullback podcast, “and one of those things is the fact that there is no one to teach the people who are coming into it now.”

The group is called Unrigged because “it’s time to unrig how we access information about our communities,” Kevin Taghabon of The Hoser told NB Media Co-op. Described as a “coalition of 20 local, regional and national media outlets from across Canada,” Unrigged was conceived in the wake of the Online News Act fiasco which has seen Meta block news here, leading to huge online audience losses. Andre Goulet of the Harbinger Media network of more than 100 podcasters called Unrigged “a Hail Mary pass against the rapid unravelling of society” prompted by the Bill C-18 disaster. “That was a real wakeup call to us to reduce our dependence on these platforms. Canadian media was in a dire position anyway, even before Bill C-18.”

CD likes to think that we have a lot to offer Unrigged by way of experience in progressive journalism. At seven, we were featured in the 1970 Senate report The Uncertain Mirror, so-titled for the distorted view of reality Canadians were even then getting from corporate media. Our description in its list of alternative publications read: “left-of-Waffle nationalist, but serves up more ideology than information. Probably the most authoritative and thoughtful of the [alternative] periodicals, but sadly deficient in a sense of humour.” For those not around back in the 1970s, the Waffle was a radical wing of the NDP that broke away in 1972 over creeping American control of our economy and formed its own party called the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada. CD was of course all over that. The fun fizzled out in 1974 when the Waffle fell flat at the polls in that year’s federal election. Ah, those were the days. While CD was almost entirely consumed with party politics in its first decade, it began branching out in the ‘70s into all the other isms—feminism, environmentalism, racism—and then the movements for human rights, gay and lesbian rights, etc. Most of all, however, we railed against what we called in a 1993 editorial to mark our 30th anniversary, “those capitalist pigs [who] hold sway almost everywhere, brutalizing the Earth and all of her creatures.” Based in Winnipeg and to this day run by a collective, the charitable status of our publisher, the Manitoba Foundation for Canadian Studies, was revoked by Revenue Canada in 1980 for prohibited political activities, which we saw instead as a “official censorship.”

That didn’t stop us from pissing people off, quite literally. The cover photograph by Andres Serrano on our July-August 1990 issue, titled Piss Christ and depicting a crucifix in a glass container of urine, led 25 Calgarians to unsuccessfully petition that city’s public library to pull the issue from its shelves and cancel its subscription. We drew the ire of Robert Fulford in 2008, who called us “one of the dumber leftist magazines” over our support for the Israeli Apartheid campaign. “Canadian Dimension also says that the Zionist movement has launched a campaign of ‘intimidation and repression’ against students,” he fulminated in the National Post. “They have put full-page ads in newspapers! Worse, the Israeli ambassador organized a public forum! Zionist groups held public meetings! Repression is everywhere.” It seems that some things never change. We even got into the book business in 2016, publishing Canada Since 1960: A People’s History.

Conspicuously absent from Unrigged’s list of members are many publications on either coast, as the majority are concentrated in Ontario and Québec. Even its inception came as a surprise to some in the farthest-flung provinces. “I was not aware that Unrigged was being created,” said Jeannete Ageson, publisher of The Tyee in Vancouver. “We were not proactively asked to join but I don’t know why that is.” The Tyee recently marked its 20th anniversary and has won a boatload of awards, including the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism North America-wide and the Excellence in Journalism Award of the Canadian Journalism Foundation, each twice. Then there’s The Narwhal in Victoria, which has won eight Digital Publishing Awards, three CJF awards, a National Magazine Award, a Canadian Association of Journalists award and four citations of merit from the National Newspaper Awards this year alone. Nova Scotia also includes numerous admirable independent online-only media, perhaps most notably the Halifax Examiner.

Unrigged organizers seemed unperturbed when queried about the omission. “We are huge fans of both The Tyee and The Narwhal and would be really excited to have them both join the Unrigged community,” Goulet said digitally. “We had planned to reach out early in the new year after launching the website and being sure that everything landed correctly.” The Breach Publisher Dru Oja Jay added: “Unrigged is in touch with folks from a few different publications from BC, including The Narwhal and The Tyee. Our doors are open to discuss with anyone who wants to join, but we also have requirements for membership which each publication will have to consider in their own context.”

We at CD are happy to support Unrigged in its laudable efforts to improve Canada’s news ecosystem. We feel that we have a lot to offer it by way of expertise and experience, so hopefully it can learn a few things from us.

Marc Edge is a journalism researcher and author who lives in Ladysmith, BC. His books and articles can be found online at www.marcedge.com.

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