The Blubbery and Gluttonous Walrus Magazine

The Unintentional Relevancy of The Walrus Today

At the end of February, the federal Liberal government announced in its new budget that it would be allocating $50 million — spread out over five years — to local journalism in underserved communities. It was a drop in the bucket for an industry hemorrhaging cash by the millions each quarter. However, a small sliver of real hope for Canadian journalism could still be found inside the 2018 budget, where the government stated it would be “exploring new models” for news outlets, looking at amending legislation to allow them to become either charities or nonprofits. If the government allows news outlets to become nonprofits, the outlets could collect tax-free donations. Even better yet for some news outlets, the government could decide to allow them to become charities. Canadians would then be able to give tax-deductible donations to designated charitable news outlets, a much needed new incentive for news consumers to justify giving money to journalism since much of the industry (foolishly?) gives away their content for free. What has oddly been largely left out of this discussion, however, is how there is already an example of this in Canada, albeit a far from shining one.

The Walrus Foundation, founded fifteen years ago, is the singular example of a news source in Canada registered as a charity. (Readers that haven’t heard of The Walrus shouldn’t feel embarrassed, it’s never really broken any major stories or stirred up any national debates to capture the average Canadian’s attention.) Initially, the primary objective for the charity — given status at the tail-end of Paul Martin’s Liberal government, a couple years after the magazine’s inception — was to produce ten annual issues of The Walrus magazine, producing Canadian fiction and left-leaning investigative journalism. The foundation would also have other educational parts to its mandate under the charitable status agreement, but those would mostly fall by the wayside over the years. What has remained, and grown substantially, are the swanky events: annual galas, public-policy conferences, literary evenings and the Walrus Talks. These events are teeming with the Canadian — more specifically, Toronto and Ottawa — elites, enjoying a good time funded by charitable donations and taxpayer money. Essentially the magazine is a poor man’s The New Yorker, and the Walrus Talks are a third-rate copycat of the TED Talks.

A Cushy Background

Before I further excoriate the blubbery excesses and the soft, inconsequential journalism of The Walrus, first a backgrounder.

A year ago I wrote an exposé for CANADALAND — The Cushy Connections Between The Walrus And The Liberal Party Of Canada — that shone light on how the foundation is littered with patronage appointments for the Liberal-connected (a few Conservative and NDP supporters are also in the mix, and thanks to the painstaking work of National Post investigative journalist Zane Schwartz in making a database of political donations made in Canada in the past 20 years, which I used to further scrutinize the political connections to the Walrus Foundation). The connections noted at the time were then Liberal candidate, good family friend to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and now Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan being put in charge of the magazine’s editorial review committee (ostensibly with the role of reviewing the journalism before it’s published — he now sits on The Walrus‘s national advisory committee), the former editor in chief Jonathan Kay (ghostwriter of Trudeau’s “autobiography”, written a year before taking the helm at the magazine), Trudeau’s best friend and principal secretary’s wife Jodi Butts being put on the board of directors, “long-time Liberal insider” Helen Burstyn sitting as the chair of the board (a position she still holds), and the chief of staff to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Chima Nkemdirim, “unabashed” supporter of Trudeau and also on the board. (Nenshi introduced Ambrose at a Walrus Talk in Calgary last year and the magazine published a strong defence of him — “How Naheed Nenshi’s Tense Re-election Forces Us to Confront Canadian Racism: The world’s best mayor won a third term this week—but we should pay more attention to how he almost lost“.)

My exposé also pointed out how under Kay’s stewardship and O’Regan’s monitoring the coincided with a ramp up of favourable coverage for the Liberals and Trudeau in the lead-up to and after the last federal election.

(Articles like “Number Cruncher: Coffee and quantum physics with the Liberals’ digital savant“, “The Justin Trudeau I Can’t Forget“, “Stephen Harper’s Hair Problem“, “Doubting Thomas: Does Mulcair’s NDP stand for anything?“, “Between Two Stitches: A brief history of Canadian sexuality through Trudeau sweaters“, “The Nicest Guy in the Room: Justin Trudeau is nothing like the caricature his opponents created—and that’s why he won“, “No One Needs the Federal NDP: Canada is a two-party country. The NDP faithful just haven’t realized it yet“, “Climate’s Prom: At this year’s Globe sustainability conference, Trudeau brings a new energy” and now-Prime Minister’s Office staffer Michael Den Tandt’s “Sunny Ways v. the Dark Side: Is Justin Trudeau Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader—or, Lord help us, the insufferable parvenu Kylo Ren?” were some of the political fare on offer at The Walrus website and in its magazine during that time period.)

My CANADALAND piece also looked at how the foundation was given two Canada 150 grants, valued at over $700,000, despite there being billions in asks from other applicants seeking money from the slush fund of $200 million (over half a billion was spent on CANADA 150, but the other funding was for building and restoration projects). The second supplemental grant of $52,000 was approved by Canadian Heritage the same month The Walrus came out with a fawning cover story — “Welcome to Canlandia: As the United States descends into a vicious culture war, Trudeau’s Canada has become a beacon of tolerance and, dare we say, coolness on Canada finally being cool under our “King of Canlandia” Justin Trudeau’s leadership” — on Canada finally being cool under “King of Canlandia” Justin Trudeau. This Walrus puffery was written by the then senior editor Jessica Johnson, who took over as “executive director and creative director” (read: new editor in chief) once Kay (who responded to my queries about the magazine, his responses in full are provided at the end of the piece) resigned over what appears to have been editorial disagreements with colleagues over his attempts to make the magazine more centrist and hard-hitting, allowing opposing viewpoints in the pages of the magazine.

Over the years, the paid subscribers of the magazine have dropped off, yet The Walrus appears to have inflated subscription numbers in previous grant application forms for the annual aid to publishers grant it receives from the Canadian Periodical Fund. Earlier this year, The Walrus mailed out flyers in Toronto offering a two-year subscription for $39.75 or a $1.99 a copy, far less than the true cost of a copy. The first advertisement wasn’t enough, though, as a copy of the meager 75-page double issue, with a significant portion littered with more ads than the charitable status agreement sets out as allowable for the ad-to-content ratio, arrived in the mail (sent at the discounted postage rate of “Publications Mail“, another government subsidy for the registered charity to benefit from). The free magazine also came along with a flyer touting the fire-sale price of a two-year subscription.

Even though the circulation continued to decline by thousands of subscribers (the main factor Canadian Heritage supposedly uses in determining how much government money a publication gets) the magazine somehow received increased funding from the Liberal government, instead of being penalized for misrepresenting numbers in its previous grant applications. The Walrus‘s funding went up from $291,850 in 2016 to $312,502 in 2017. In typical Canadian fashion, the government rewarded failure, waste and mediocrity like it does so often with the likes of CBC and Bombardier.

Another recipient of the Canadian Periodical Fund, publisher of a smaller publication, wrote to CANADALAND after reading my piece on the vagaries of the grant process, thanking me for trying to get answers from Canadian Heritage on the mysterious formula used in divvying up the fund, as well as questioning the ostensible favouritism publications like The Walrus and Maclean’s receive, taking significant portions from the $75 million pie Canadian Heritage allocates to the CPF each year.

“We could use more funding to do things like update the website, hire more writers, expand our distribution, but it’s hard because everything costs money, and while the fund is nice to have, because essentially we get some funding for just existing and doing our job, it hurts to see so much go to the big corporations who have so many other opportunities,” says the confidential source, not wanting to be identified for this story in the fear of potentially losing their annual CPF grant.

Even though The Walrus is a registered charity, whereby it can collect large sums of money from corporate sponsors and deep-pocketed donors tax-free, it still, somehow, on top of all that, managed to greedily increase the annual grant money it gets from Canadian Heritage despite its decline in subscriptions. Meanwhile, smaller publications get served leftover crumbs from the pie.

The Uninspiring, Lavish Walrus Foundation of Today

In 2017, I attended a couple of The Walrus Foundation’s “Walrus Talks” held in Toronto (one was free, the other a friend had an extra ticket). The first one was an event for the aforementioned Canada 150 celebration, which the foundation received $702,000 in federal grants in order to host a talk in each province and territory. Both events consisted of an hour and a half of short speeches on a range of topics and then a catered cocktail party afterwards.

Long-time Walrus publisher and executive director Shelley Ambrose introduces the talks and in the fall round of Walrus Talks she introduced the Walrus Foundation as apolitical.

“The Walrus is not right-wing or left-wing. As you know, a Walrus has no wings. We are an independent entity with no singular point of view. And in fact you will often read or hear perspectives that you may not agree with at all or that you have never considered before.”

Her statement couldn’t be any further from the truth. Endless Walrus Articles come from left-wing writers attacking conservatives and their principles. The now infamous far-left writer Nora Loreto co-wrote a piece for The Walrus — Does Canadian Media Have a Right-wing Bias? While the far right appears on daily news, the far left has yet to break through the mainstream — in which she bizarrely posits Canadian media leans right, when anyone with a clear set of eyes can see that the Canadian media landscape is practically barren of it. In another Walrus piece, the writer treats conservative Canadians as alien oddities to be studied. Then there was the magazine’s recent anti-gun piece that calls for the Liberal government to bring back an ineffectual gun registry, even though much of the gun violence in Canada is from illegal firearms from the black market. The left-wing author cited the few mass shootings in Canada for his reasoning, but if you look at countries with even tighter gun laws than Canada, one realizes mentally deranged killers find another object to commit their massacre when a gun isn’t readily accessible. But for reactionary leftists like those at The Walrus, making more cumbersome gun legislation for responsible gun owners is always the answer after one of these tragedies occurs, despite these leftists’ utter bigotry on the subject of guns.

University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, after his stratospheric rise in popularity across the globe, has become enemy number one for The Walrus. The editorial team of the magazine commissioned four hit pieces on Peterson and four other articles bashing conservatives also took side-swipes at him. Even though Peterson is a classical liberal, his solid and articulate defense of Western religion, law, philosophy, literature, and civilization generally, has led to a retinue of left-wing Walrus writers attempting to smear Peterson as an alt-right, dishonest, non-serious academic pontificating “piffle”. These writers usually resort to ad hominem attacks against Peterson because they can’t match his intellect and are ignorant of his teachings. One such opponent chickened out of debating Peterson. They’re desperate to dismiss him because he challenges and unravels much of their half-baked belief system. (The almost universal disdain for Peterson from Canadian media is because he is effective in exposing the nonsense of post-structuralist, post-modern and cultural Marxist theory, which many on the Godless left have grasped onto in idolatrous fervour — not that I’m particularly religious myself, but I realize that worshiping ideology like identity politics always ends badly.)

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The Walrus magazine is so Liberal-friendly that Liberal politicians even grace the ad pages.
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Liberal-connected billion-dollar weed company Canopy Growth Corp. president Mark Zekulin tells Walrus Talk attendees a lovely story about starting his pot company and Trudeau’s plan to legalize it.

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It’s interesting to note that even though the Liberals are in government both provincially (here in Ontario) and federally, The Walrus seems preoccupied going after the opposition than it does holding the governments of today to account. When The Walrus team does publish something about those in power federally, it’s usually to lionize them, play defence — like for Bill Morneau’s scandal or downplaying the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower’s connection to the Liberals –, or slight admonishments for not being left-wing enough. There’s never anything hard-hitting on Trudeau’s slip-ups, like hanging around Jaspal Atwal and Joshua Boyle, or his ethical lapses like sneaking to private fundraisers with Chinese billionaires or his vacationing on the Aga Khan’s private island, despite Khan’s foundation being a government lobbyist. No, instead The Walrus needs to jump on the bandwagon of the rest of the Canadian media in covering the Patrick Brown implosion (nothing about Wynne’s Liberals racking up record debt, screwing up hydro rates, etc. have ever been covered by The Walrus) or going after Scheer because one of his top aides was a founder of The Rebel (meanwhile the controversial best friend and top aide of Trudeau, Gerald Butts, has only received a nice puff piece, despite many believing he’s the de facto PM calling many of the shots.)

This is not to say there are not some talented writers contributing to The Walrus, but instead that the selection of stories by the editorial team at The Walrus is very telling.

Ambrose, I’m sure, knows exactly what audience the foundation is catering — figuratively and literally — to. Using Zane Schwartz and Postmedia’s “Follow the Money” database of Canadian political donations in the past 20 years, I was able to determine that the great majority of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations made by Walrus Foundation donors and board members were to Liberal parties, predominantly the Liberal Party of Canada, with odd donor and board member giving to Conservative parties, and the odd contribution given to the NDP. (It’s important to note that I didn’t verify each and every single name to ensure they matched with the same name in the database, but many of these individuals it’s well-known are wealthy and politically active. However, for this reason I didn’t name names.)

Not only does it appear The Walrus Foundation is somewhat politically compromised in its journalism, it also seems to be cozy with big business in Canada too. The foundation had 30 corporate and institutional sponsors and partners for the Canada 150 Walrus Talks and many of the foundation’s other events also have partners and sponsors.

At the start of this year, the Walrus Foundation hosted its annual gala where it gave out the inaugural Allan Slaight Prize, $10,000 to the best piece of journalism in The Walrus from the past year. Freelance journalist and professor Brett Popplewell won this year for his long feature on concussions in the CFL and an upcoming class action lawsuit against the league that could be its ruin. It was a good piece of journalism to be sure, but it’s nothing new. Concussions in sports has been a hot button issue in the media for several years now. Knowing everything else I know about The Walrus I don’t expect anything groundbreaking or Pulitzer Prize-worthy coming from it any time soon.

Last year when I was working on a CBC column arguing against the Liberal government loosening the reigns on charities, I spoke with an expert on Canadian charities (only on background) who laughed and asked why I would bother with The Walrus when I brought up the foundation to them. It was inferred that the organization wasn’t worth my time and the journalism being done there leaves much to be desired. Yet, I can’t help but look at the foundation and what a disappointment and waste of potential and resources its journalism has been, especially now that the Liberals may allow other news outlets to follow suit.

Ambrose was right in one respect when she said that a Walrus has no wings. The Walrus, most certainly left-wing, waddles around slowly, scratching its own bloated back’s itches with its tusks. It certainly does not have any wings to soar skyward. Unfortunately the plentiful blubber within The Walrus will not be spilled to set a fire in a country desperately in need of more heat and light put towards combating corruption, but instead used to continue to keep its powerful friends warm and comfortable.

 

The Walrus also parallels Alice in Wonderland’s The Walrus, an intelligent but lazy and gluttonous conman. Below are couple of quotes from Canadian conservative thinker William D. Gairdner’s book, The Trouble With Canada …Still!, which neatly express my disgust with The Walrus and all those other government-subsidized organizations that host cultural outings for the well-to-do.

“My argument is that citizens who want culture should pay for it themselves. There is something deeply odious about seeing so many well-heeled patrons at places such as Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto or equivalent venues elsewhere in this country enjoying high culture made possible in large measure by taxes plundered from the ordinary people from Victoria, B.C., to St. John’s, Newfoundland. What this really means is that even the noblest souls can be purcahsed–and it turns out that there are thousands of them. Just for fun, go to www.writersunion.ca and watch the logos for various government funding agencies pop up.”

“Here’s a sobering revelation from author John Metcalf, who was well-known when all this got started, and once sat on a Canada Council jury. Commenting on the culture in Canada in the 1980s, he complained that ‘the big commercial publishing houses are subsidized. The smaller literary presses are subsidized. The still smaller regional presses are subsidized. The writers are subsidized. The literary critics are subsidized. Translation is subsidized. Publicity is subsidized. Distribution is subsidized. More bizarre than perhaps anything else, the Writers’ Union of Canada is subsidized.’ In Metcalf’s view–and my own–‘the acceptance of subsidy means that consciously or unconsciously the writer is joining the state’s enterprise. However arm’s length the relationship, the writer [play, movie, art show, whatever] is entering into a partnership with the State‘ [italics mine]. And, of course, when it comes to the State’s motive in offering money and gifts to artists, Canada’s motive is the same as that of any other social welfare state. The money is not given to promote literature. It is given ‘to promote Canadian literature, books which the government vainly hopes will foster greater sense of national unity and will forge a national identity.’ The artist becomes a tool of policy.”

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Walrus Foundation’s financial numbers (source: 2014 donor report).

Former Walrus Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kay Discussing his time at the Magazine and his thoughts on Charitable Journalism  

I decided to separate former Walrus EIC Jonathan Kay’s answers to my questions from my op-ed as to not give any false impressions of his own opinions on the subject matter. Kay is a prolific freelance journalist — contributing to outlets like Foreign Affairs, National Post, Washington Post, and The Atlantic, editor at Quillette (where edgy opinion journalism is the norm), and co-host of a new podcast, Wrongspeak.

To understand my answers to your questions, your readers would first have to know how decisions get made at The Walrus. And that requires a little bit of history.

The Walrus is a charitable entity. A few years before I came on board, the management figured out that the magazine couldn’t survive long simply on the basis of people giving donations. So they created the Walrus Talks, which is comprised of low-cost non-editorial corporate-sponsored spoken-word content that brings in tons of cash. This cash, in turn, is used to pay the high costs associated with hiring skilled journalists and putting out a legacy print product.

Financially, the arrangement is solid. And I benefited from it handsomely. I was at The Walrus for two and a half years (which is about the average tenure for a Walrus EIC, if you include all the stints). During this period, I received a very generous salary. I also was given a budget that allowed me to hire elite editors and commission great stories.

The problem is that, as in any organization, the people who run the business unit that brings in the most money always eventually start to call the shots. At the Walrus, the core business once had been editorial. But over time, the editorial product gradually became a sort of in-flight magazine for Walrus Talks. No one did this on purpose. But where power within an organization is concerned, money creates gravity. In charitable entities, especially, this is a common phenomenon—since (a) the biggest fundraiser tends to accumulate power by dint of his indispensability; and (b) directors are picked not on the basis of their ability to provide oversight in regard to the ostensible product, but in regard to their ability to donate or raise money. Over time, the purpose of the entity is adapted to support the fundraising, instead of the other way around. This gradual mission flip in the charitable sector is not unique to the Walrus.

And sometimes, I should note, the in-flight-magazine concept worked well. Two years ago, I wrote a cover story on privacy, which was originally requested because Walrus Talks was doing an event in Ottawa on the same subject. The talk went well, and I was proud of the article. For all my whining about the Walrus in the days after I left, I was given some extraordinary opportunities when I was there.

But over time, the arrangement led to conflicts. The editorial content that I liked to run usually had some kind of edge to it. But edgy editorial content doesn’t play well with corporate-sponsored content. When you’re in the fundraising business, you don’t want controversies, or arguments, or anything that’s unpredictable. Which is why the Walrus Talks generally are somewhat sleepy affairs, in which an approved set of Annex-friendly figures speak on an approved set of Annex-friendly themes. The events include no debate or discussion, and last only about an hour, after which there’s usually a big cocktail party.

In short, Walrus editorial and Walrus Talks were effectively two different brands—even if everyone nominally insisted that there was “one Walrus.” This had been the case before I got to The Walrus. But my editorial influence exacerbated the rift. The cultural-appropriation issue is a perfect example of the larger problem: I wanted to get an op-ed-style debate going about the issue, while the Walrus Talks side was *all in* on Reconciliation. (Although my quitting wasn’t directly related to the appropriation issue—at the time, my boss and I were arguing about a completely different subject, related to the content of an upcoming print edition—it definitely didn’t help.)

In late 2016 and early 2017, it became obvious that things couldn’t continue like this. Walrus Talks speakers aren’t paid for their speeches (or, at least, they weren’t when I was there). And once their appearance at a Walrus event was announced, they had huge leverage over the organization if they threatened to back out if we published something, or I tweeted something, that ran afoul of their politics. So the best way to ensure we were on the safe side was to run content that made Walrus Talks speakers nod their heads in approval.

One way or another, the editorial product had to become more like the talks, or the talks had to become more like the editorial product. I left when it became clear that I would never win that battle. It was obvious that my boss was far more engaged with the events than with the editorial product. And to the extent she and I interacted at all, it was usually in the form of hurried exercises in crisis management meant to address some problem I’d created with my editorial zaniness.

I would prefer not to get into individual editorial decisions, since I don’t want to draw in other members of the editorial team, whom I still very much respect. But in general, during the time I was at the Walrus, the pressure imposed on the editorial side of operations originated in large part with the phenomena described above. I’m not even sure I could call it “ideological” pressure—because the Walrus Talks content isn’t really governed by the ideology of the organizers. Rather, the content is guided by the perceived stakeholder-management needs of the sponsoring corporation. Banks and pipeline companies correctly regard The Walrus brand as being associated with progressive, politely expressed, Twitter-approved takes on current events and social issues. That is what they pay for. And that is what the Talks generally serve up. It was made very clear to me that I was getting in the way of that—even if my superiors were polite enough not to intervene directly in my editorial decisions.

All of this said, during my whole time at the Walrus, I never was pressured to publish or not publish anything because of *partisan* factors. The Walrus board of directors, during my time there, was well connected on both the Liberal and Conservative side of the roster. In advance of the 2015 election, I did a series called “Know your riding,” in which Walrus writers followed candidates from different parties around during their campaign work. I contributed personally to this series with a piece on Chrystia Freeland. We really did cover a diverse array of candidates. To my memory, my boss never said a word to me about this, and gave us complete autonomy to cover the subject. If The Walrus hasn’t covered the Atwal scandal, I’d wager that it has nothing to do with partisan politics; and much more to do with a fear of any race-tinged subject that might put them on the wrong side of Twitter call-out culture.

There is another explanation, too: Maybe no one at the Walrus has had any time to cover this story, or to assign it to a freelancer, because they are so busy. There is a very small editorial staff, and many articles go into five or six edits. So there is little time to cover subjects that come up in the news cycle, especially if the story pops up during a period when the editors are on deadline for a print edition. Moreover, since my departure, the editorial staff there is largely (though not exclusively) dominated by editors whose principal expertise lies in the traditionally Walrussy fields of literature, fine arts, and the politics of personal and artistic representation. So it could be that they simply have no interest in the Atwal affair.

Why did leftists object so strenuously to my presence at the Walrus? The most obvious answer is that I published a few articles that they genuinely hated. These include some pieces—such as “Show us the suicide note,” which all my colleagues correctly warned me would make people go nuts—that really were provocative. But on balance, the actual content I published can’t really serve to explain the level of Twitter hate I engendered. If you look at the cover stories I ran, the writers I personally recruited (including Hadiya Roderique, who ended up at your publication, Canadaland), and the Walrus stories that I authored under my own byline, it was mostly pretty centre-left stuff.

If I had to explain it, I’d put it this way: For the most active members of the Canadian left-wing Twitter community, the Walrus always existed as something they never actually read, but which they vaguely imagined to be a stolidly leftist outlet whose leadership was given over to staunchly dependable leftists (i.e., exactly the way most young, left-wing American Twitteratti regard Harper’s Magazine). When I came on board, these people sensed a rift in the moral universe—even if they couldn’t identify the source of trauma using their five senses. In the fishbowl galaxy of Canadian arts and letters, it was like when Alderaan was destroyed, and Obi-Wan Kenobi said, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

After I left, a great cheer went up among this crowd, and for a few days, their Twitter feeds were the digital equivalent of the Ewok celebration scene at the end of Return of the Jedi. Defeated in my evil plan, I got back onto my Star Destroyer, and returned to my home system. The rift was repaired, and the Walrus returned to pretty much exactly what it was before I got there in December, 2014. I’ll let others decide whether this is a good or bad thing.


One thing I tell journalists who complain about their current jobs is that no matter where they go, they will be answering to some political or ideological constituency. Sometimes, the constituency may be defined as simply as “the advertisers.” Or it may be “the owner”—though usually it is more accurate to say “the owner’s friends.” During my time at the National Post, I was 95% free to do what I wanted. But when I did get a request imposed on me from on high, it often was because someone influential within the peer group of the owner (be it Conrad Black, the Aspers, Paul Godfrey et al, or whoever) had some pet cause they wanted addressed.

If the media is run on a charitable or Patreon model, the constraints are actually worse because you’re answering to a constituency that is diffuse and noisier. Look at Jesse Brown and Canadaland. The reason the site has become such a parody of itself is that Jesse knows that he’ll be pilloried by his core supporters on Twitter if he deviates an
iota from the approved line on, say, #MeToo, LGBT rights, Indigenous issues, or pipelines. So his site, which presents itself as punchy and independent, is actually far more whipped than the legacy media.

The Walrus situation is in some ways better, since, unlike Canadaland, their donation base isn’t dependent on a single tribe of ideological Twitter addicts. A lot of their support comes from retired Leaside lawyers and college professors. But for reasons described earlier, the structure of the Walrus Talks has created a huge institutional vulnerability. The product they’re selling sponsoring beer and oil companies is basically entrée to the world of woke urban hipster leftism. And if they deviate from that demo, they risk their business model.

I love investigative journalism. But as you might guess, assigning investigative stories becomes difficult in this environment—because you need to be sure that the investigation turns up results that won’t offend your core audience. In the old days, the Walrus could do environmental investigations—like the kind National Observer does. And you still see some of those. But since they can’t anger the pipeline and oil companies sponsoring their events, nor the hipsters who are the audience at those events, they’re operating within a ridiculously thin bandwidth of permissible outcomes. And needless to say, you can’t do any investigations of, say, Indigenous communities, which do not lend support to approved narratives of settler colonialism etc.


Here’s the problem with the charitable model: It tends to attract people with an *agenda*—and that agenda is rarely “just report the news.” There are exceptions: NPR, PBS and ProPublica in the U.S., for example. But in Canada, the attitude is that our tax dollars already go to the CBC. So when people do give money, it is usually with some partisan or ideological slant in mind. Commentary Magazine, in the US, for instance, gets oodles of money—but it is mostly from people who are strong Zionists or who support the Republicans. Now, I have no problem with Israel or (in general) the GOP. But if John Podhoretz published an edition with a cover story titled “Hey, Obama was actually a pretty good president,” his donors would go nuts. Or look at Atlantic for the opposite example—impeccably mainstream, centrist, serious outlet—but they have had problems getting donors/sponsors through their Masthead project, and have largely had to play on their brand through Atlantic Live, or do a traditional web-ad/hit-quantity business model (which has been fairly successful, by the way—but it is expensive to operate, because it requires a lot of content to feed it).

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