Editor of CCPA Monitor since its inception says good-bye
April 1, 2014

This is the last page 4 column I'll write as editor of the CCPA Monitor, so I suppose it's fitting that it take the form of a farewell.

I was asked to serve as editor of the Monitor when it was launched in May of 1994. My acceptance was not without some trepidation. I had no lack of confidence in my editorial ability, but, with my 68th birthday looming, I was concerned about my aging physical and mental faculties.

My health at the time, however, was still quite vigorous, so I thought I might be able to handle the editor's duties for five years or so, maybe 10 if I was lucky. That my editorship would last for 20 years was never in my wildest imagination.

But it comes to an end with this 10th issue of volume 20 – not because the immutable laws of mortality have finally caught up with me, but simply because, nearing 88, it's time for me to go. Every journal eventually needs editorial renewal, a new editor with a fresh outlook, ideas, and enthusiasm.

With the help of other CCPA staffers and a host of superb writers and researchers, I've enjoyed keeping the growing membership of the CCPA informed and enlightened – and sometimes even entertained – for the past two decades. When we started publishing the Monitor, it was difficult to find enough good material to fill 16 pages. This was partly because, at its inception as the flagship journal of a research agency, it focused mainly on economic matters. But we soon realized that the economy could not be separated from social, political, and even environmental issues – that they were all inextricably connected and demanded coverage and analysis.

So the number of Monitor pages was gradually increased from 16 pages to 20, then to 24, 28, 32, and is now stabilized at 40. A typical issue has contained up to 15 major articles and a dozen or more shorter ones, totalling about 30,000 words in all. Since its inception, more than 6,000 articles have appeared in the Monitor, written by some of the best writers and thinkers on the planet.

The journal's launch coincided with another important change in the CCPA – its conversion to a membership-driven agency. Prior to 1994, nearly all the Centre's funding came from labour organizations. Their contributions were (and still are) significant and much appreciated, but, apart from defraying basic operating costs, they were far from sufficient to finance the broader research and publication program that was needed. So the CCPA directors and officers, believing that many Canadians, if approached, would gladly help the Centre to improve and grow, decided to launch a drive for individual fee-paying members. That belief was validated when applications for membership swelled from a trickle of less than 300 to a veritable flood. We now have close to 12,000 individual members, whose financial support has grown to twice the amount contributed by organized labour.

Most members, after joining, have faithfully renewed their membership year after year, many boosting their "dues" well above the basic $35 level, and many also converting to an ongoing monthly deduction system that lowers our cost of preparing and mailing annual renewal notices.

One of the keys to retaining members was to provide them with a monthly journal of facts, figures, analysis, and informed opinion. When CCPA membership automatically entitled them to receive the Monitor, it helped cement their loyalty and support. The CCPA's very high membership renewal rate can't be attributed entirely to the popularity of the Monitor, but undoubtedly it has played a decisive role in the Centre's growth and effectiveness.

The Monitor's own expansion and influence has paralleled that of the Centre as progressive researchers and writers came to regard the Monitor as an important medium in which to convey their news and views. The dramatic rise in revenue from our individual members has also helped offset the costs of publishing the Monitor – printing and mailing costs in particular that have soared over the past decade.

On the plus side, my editorial workload has been greatly eased by the new techno-communications breakthroughs, especially the computer, Internet, e-mail, and fax/scanner.

I gradually introduced regular features to lighten the pages filled with "serious" and sombre articles. These have included, at various times, excerpts from the BBC's "Yes, Minister" and quotes from Ambrose Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary," and still-running humourous theme quotations, the Rhyme & Reason page, the Good News Page, and Marylee Stephenson's personal vignettes.

To give readers the opportunity to comment on or disagree with articles in the Monitor, the "Memos from Our Members" section was introduced. It provides a vital interconnection between readers and writers, and has since become one of our most popular features. So has the monthly page 3 Index.

It will be up to the new editor and the editorial board, of course, to decide how many of these features will be maintained.

* * *

In my two decades as editor, the feedback from readers of the Monitor has been mostly positive. The two main complaints – which have been infrequent – were about a perceived too-text-heavy format and the lack of a table of contents.

It's important to understand that the Monitor was designed as – and has remained under my editorship – a no-frills journal, with a focus on conveying information and perspectives that our members are unlikely to find in the mainstream media. I haven't "jazzed" it up with photos, graphics, or fancy artwork because I didn't think it was necessary to induce or entice our members to read it. My assumption has been that what our members want is to be enlightened, motivated, and inspired, and that this can be done without a snazzy layout. As long as we run articles of varying lengths, break up the text with pertinent headings and call-outs, and maintain a high editorial standard, members should not find it difficult to read.

Reading is also facilitated by the popular and accessible nature of the contents. Although the CCPA is a research agency, the Monitor is not an academic journal. More than 95% of CCPA members are not academics. What they're looking for are articles and essays that explain major issues in clear, non-technical language, without footnotes, and that's what they have been given. Many of the CCPA's other publications – and we have scores of them – are written by and mainly for academics, and thus are full of technical and scholarly details. But the vast majority of Monitor readers don't need the specialized jargon. They just want to have a general idea of what such studies and reports contain, which is why I have "decoded" and summarized them for publication in the Monitor.

As for the occasional criticism about the lack of a table of contents, which is pretty much a standard provision in other journals, I decided against it for the Monitor, and for the following reasons:

  • The Monitor averages 25 or more articles per issue. Most magazines carry far fewer – usually no more than six or eight, 10 at most. Major Monitor articles also have long "banner" headlines, plus overlines. It would take a reader almost as long to scroll down such a long list of headings, authors, and page numbers as it would to simply skim through the pages.
  • Readers looking for a specific article can easily find it in our annual index that is compiled and published in the May issue of the Monitor each year. We also provide (on request) annual Monitor binders that can hold the contents of a full volume for quick and easy access.
  • We want Monitor readers to at least look at every page. A table of contents can tempt a reader to go directly to the few articles he or she is particularly interested in, or whose authors they most admire, and then never get around to the rest of the contents. That would be a shame, since – unlike other magazines or journals – you're just as likely to find a terrific article on page 20 or 30 of the Monitor as you would on the front page.
  • It could be argued that the chief reason the Monitor doesn't need a table of contents is because virtually all the articles deal in effect with the same overall subject: they all relate in some way to our joint struggle for a better world and the various problems we seek to overcome to reach that overriding objective. So, whether articles or essays are about trade, inequality, globalization, pollution, taxation, health care, poverty, hunger, education, deregulation, privatization, neoliberalism, or any of the other myriad topics dealt with in the Monitor, they are all interconnected, all elements of the same central subject. You can't intelligently understand any one of them in isolation from the others. You have to see the many ways they interact with and influence one another. (It would not be facetious to suggest that, if the Monitor did have a table of contents, the list would run like this: Page 1, The struggle for a better world; Page 2, The struggle for a better world; Page 3, The struggle for a better world . . . repeated over and over.)
  • To sum up, I always wanted to encourage our members to read the Monitor from cover to cover. Surely it wouldn't be so difficult to read a page or two a day for a month? Even just looking carefully at every page, reading the headings and call-outs, would give you some idea of how informative and germane an article is – and might tempt you to read the whole piece once you get a "taste" of its substance.

* * *

Of course, any editor can become "set in his ways" and oblivious to a need for changes in format, which I suppose is another good reason for handing the editorial reins over to someone whose approach is more open and flexible.

In saying good-bye to the Monitor's readers and writers, I extend my warmest thanks for their interaction and guidance over the past two decades, and my very best wishes for their future well-being and ongoing support of the CCPA, and for the Monitor itself under its new editor.

As a farewell "gift," I've compiled an anthology of 20 previously published Monitor articles, one from each year's volume during which I've served as editor. They comprise a 20-page insert in this issue, and the fact that they all remain timely and pertinent despite the passing years is as troubling as it is surprising. It underlines how deeply entrenched are the social, economic, environmental, and political challenges that progressives have grappled with for so long and still confront today.

This is not an ideal anthology, since it has been confined by space limitations to just one short article from each of the 20 volumes. Many of the outstanding and memorable articles by our most gifted authors ran to two, three, even four pages or more, and so had to be excluded. Perhaps in the near future someone may be able to compile a book-length Monitor anthology that will do justice to its 20-year record as one of Canada's leading progressive periodicals.

I know that the CCPA Monitor – with the unflagging support of its readers and writers – will continue to fill that vitally important role under its new editor.