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Diversifying your Contributors in Seven Steps by Chelene Knight

By Chelene Knight, Managing Editor/Executive Director of Room magazine, and Festival Director of the Growing Room Literary Festival

Photograph of Chelene Knight
Chelene Knight

When thinking about diversifying your contributors, you must first think about what this means to you and your team. What does diversifying really mean? It should go above and beyond race and gender, and consider all the various intersections and the ways in which they meld into one another. Wherever possible have an in-person meeting with your team and make sure that “diversifying our contributors” is the one and only topic. You should recognize that there is no end result, but instead a system of established accountability practices put in place to consistently reevaluate the magazine’s efforts while still adhering to your mandate, mission, values, and long-term goals. Ask yourself questions about what diversifying really means. These questions can include: Who are we not reaching, and why? How can we let folks know that we want their voices included? How do we include as many voices as possible, but in a respectful way?

Most often, folks submit to magazines, purchase issues and attend events by word of mouth, or because they have a longstanding history/relationship with the magazine and its values. Find a magazine that mirrors and reflects what you hope to be doing and reach out to them and ask about their procedures. Make friends and have conversations. We shouldn’t ever be operating in a silo.

Step One: Define what your inclusion goals are

Start by embracing the Three T’s: Transparency, Trust, Truth—your bridge to success.

  • Truth
    Being open and honest about your magazine’s intentions, as well as being forthcoming about mistakes you’ve made along the way, will lead into building trust with your current readers. Be honest about who is missing from your pages. Share (perhaps in a weekly newsletter) that you WANT To include these folks, but need a little help.
  • Trust
    Trust is earned when a magazine delivers on their promises and trust is solidified by creating quick and concise solutions if things do not go as planned. Did you miss mailing an issue? Did you spell a contributor’s name wrong? Do you reply to all emails? It’s all in the details. Replying to emails sent from the very folks you hope to reach out to is imperative. Listen to their rants and raves and in your reply, ask them what their ideas are. Take their ideas and present them to your team.
  • Transparency
    No one should expect everything to happen overnight. And because of this, it’s super important to make sure you communicate your journey with your writers, subscribers, supporters and followers. Are you working on creating an accessible space, but hitting a lot of road blocks along the way? Let people know! The journey is just as important as the destination.

Step Two: Identify the barriers and then remove them

Barriers are obstacles that stand in the way of not only certain people submitting to your magazine, but they can also stand in the way of even accessing it. The only real way to find out what these barriers are is to ask. Send out reader surveys, weekly newsletters (and in these newsletters ask your current subscribers to forward it to someone who may not know your magazine exists).

Step Three: Take a look in the mirror: Does your staff and governing body reflect who you are trying to reach? If not, rectify this

The majority of folks submitting to magazines will look to that masthead to check the diversity of who is on the editorial and governing boards:

  • people of colour
  • folks with varying education levels
  • women, non-binary, trans folks
  • Indigenous folks
  • Folks with various abilities and disabilities

The list goes on and on. What’s that old saying? Be the change you hope to make. Reflect it every day. Although the above is not an exhaustive list, I know that as a writer and as an editor that these are things that are very important to me.

Step Four: Community engagement

Hosting your own events is a fantastic way to attract attention and build a larger audience for your magazine, but attending other events aside from your own, meeting people, networking and supporting other local organizations is a fantastic way to build and strengthen community.

Step Five: Relationship building

It’s one thing to establish strong relationships with the community, but also consider doing the same with organizations outside of publishing. Speak with local shop owners, cafes, restaurants and the like to establish the “three T’s” and check in to see if your goals align with theirs. Do they want to increase food sales? Ask about hosting an event there, or collaborate in another way (discounts can go both ways).

Step Six: Action items you can implement now

  • Transparency via weekly newsletters.
  • Form an equity and inclusion committee and make that committee the core of every decision your organization makes.
  • Perform annual language audits on your website, and other materials to make sure your language is inclusive.

Step Seven: Accountability and constant re-evaluation

Again, diversifying isn’t a matter of checking boxes. The work you do to make your organization as inclusive as possible, inside and out, should become daily practice, a part of your mandate. Check in with yourselves frequently to make sure you are on the right track and to look for ways to continually do better. A great way to make sure that this never falls off your to-do list is to write it into your daily operations. Ask yourself if every decision you make is as inclusive as possible. If the answer is no, go back and try again. This is work. Magazines Canada


Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Feature photo: The Jopwell Collection

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif

Content:

Recommended Reading: Become a Magazine Editor by Barbara Johnston

By Barbara Johnston, Editor & Partner, West Coast Editorial Associates

The magazine business, like all forms of publishing, has undergone seismic shifts in the last decade with the flight of print advertising to online and the growth of tablet and mobile reading habits, requiring existing magazines to reinvent themselves and providing new opportunities for innovators. Something that doesn’t change is the need to focus on readers’ interests and needs, and magazine editors who serve readers well will always be in demand. Here are some books, blogs and other resources that are useful for both new and experienced magazine editors.

Mastering the craft with dictionaries

Some cherish dictionaries, but they’re not everyone’s passion; if you’re going to thrive in magazines, you should know your way around the following three:

  • Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Canadian spelling patterns). Available online via subscription. The ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary and Gage Canadian Dictionary are also used as Canadian sources.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (American spelling patterns). Free online.
  • Oxford English Dictionary (British spelling patterns). Free online.

Mastering the craft with usage, grammar and other guides

Dozens of print and online works are available—what’s best for you will depend on the publication you’re working for. Here is a partial list to get you started; all are recent or recently updated:

Mastering the craft with style guides

There are many specialized and a few general style guides, but in Canadian general interest magazines you are most likely to follow the Canadian Press Stylebook, known simply as CP. It is well organized, frequently updated, available in French (La Presse Canadienne Guide de redaction) and available in print or as an online guide for an annual subscription fee. Also available is its very handy companion Canadian Press Caps and Spelling. Seeing as you can never have too many books (or bookmarks), here are some others to consider:

  • Associated Press Stylebook 2017. [print or online subscription]
  • Chicago Manual of Style. 17th edition. [print or online subscription]
  • Editing Canadian English: A Guide for Editors, Writers, and Everyone Who Works with Words. 3rd edition, 2015. Editors’ Association of Canada [print and ebook]

Breaking into the business

If you’re just starting out and want to become a magazine editor, it can be hard to know where to start: many different career paths might lead you there, and when you talk to people in the business you’ll find that their backgrounds, degrees and job histories are remarkably diverse. While this may seem discouraging, it actually means that if you really want to do this job, no matter where you’re starting from, it’s possible to find a path there! You’re probably inspired by the greats, like The Walrus, Harper’s, Geist, Maclean’s, Canadian Geographic or Vanity Fair. However, the fight for entry-level jobs at these institutions is fierce. To gain experience, consider the smaller magazines and journals that you might not see on the newsstands: depending on your interests, small literary or art journals, science and nature journals, online-only magazines, and industry and association journals (to name a few) employ many more editors than the newsstand magazines. At these magazines you can gain critical experience while doing satisfying, challenging work in fascinating niche fields, and you’ll meet talented professionals happy to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm for the evolving world of magazine editing.

Career path to becoming a magazine editor [web resource]
wikihow.com/Become-a-Magazine-Editor
Good basic information. Divided into three sections: Gaining Early Experience, Getting the Proper Education, and Breaking into the Field. Emphasizes the path from writer to editor, which is just one among many.

How to be a copy editor for a magazine [blog]
parade.com/338088/amykierce/how-to-be-a-copy-editor-for-a-magazine
A short, clear article on what it’s like to be a copy editor for a magazine.

So you want to be an editor: Information about a career in editing (Editors’ Canada) [web resource and PDF]
editors.ca/join/so-you-want-be-editor-0
Perhaps the best brief introduction and overview of the field of editing; includes sections on where and how editors work, career paths, rewards and drawbacks, educations and training, and interesting “meet an editor” boxes throughout, which bring the field to life.

Moving on up: Thriving in magazine publishing and editing

If you’re already in the magazine business and looking to work your way up to the corner office, here are some great books and sites to help get you there:

The Art of Making Magazines, edited by Victor S. Navasky and Evan Cornog, 2012. [179-page book]
A collection of 12 articles by editors, writers, art directors and publishers from magazines such as Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Elle and Harper’s. A fascinating and instructive read for anyone interested in being part of the magazine business, with a good mix of practical advice and behind-the-scenes war stories from leaders in the industry.

Best Practices for Canadian Magazine Publishing, Editing and Writing, PWAC, Canadian Society of Magazine Editors, and Magazines Canada, 2011. [9-page PDF]
pwac.ca/resources/Documents/Writing%20Information/bestpracticesguide.pdf
Created through a consensus process involving writers, magazine editors and publishers from across Canada, this document describes the professional obligations for each group in succinct bullet-points. All three sections are worth reading so that one can understand not only one’s own role, but the perspective and expectations of the other two parties in this symbiotic relationship.

The Editor’s Companion: An Indispensable Guide to Editing Books, Magazines, Online Publications, and More by Steve Dunham, 2015. [231-page book]
A useful guide for both new and experienced editors, organized around editing for content, focus, precise language and grammar, along with advice on editorial relationships and workflow, and samples of editing with explanations of what was changed and why. Magazines Canada


Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)

Content:

Canadian Magazines Shine a Light on #MeToo

Throughout 2017, deep frustrations drove painful, but necessary, public conversations about how bias and prejudices affect people’s lives. One of the most prominent conversations was about the sexual harassment and assault of women by influential men. The growing social outcry quickly transformed into the #MeToo movement, a rapidly expanding, international movement that spans age, industry and race with the objective to grow awareness about sexual violence and sexual assault against women, and open up the conversation about the inequalities that women face.

In exploring and publishing many different voices on this subject, Canadian magazines shone a light on the issues at play and helped shape our national conversation about the #MeToo movement from a variety of different angles.

Speak with: victims, subject experts, alleged violators, #MeToo leaders.

WHAT THEY DID

From Canadian Living to Chatelaine, Fashion Magazine and Flare, to The Walrus, Canadian Lawyer and Maclean’s, many Canadian magazines covered the #MeToo movement. Magazines interviewed movement leaders, victims, perpetrators, experts in the field of sexual harassment and the law, and even polled their audiences.

Maclean’s made one aspect of the conversation—the gender pay gap—visual with two different newsstand covers for their March 2018 issue, which were priced differently based on gender; men were asked to pay more for their copy. The magazine also published an investigative report into sexual assault accusations against Ontario Conservative MP Rick Dykstra, with Dykstra resigning as a direct result of their breaking online news. From opinion pieces to a book review, Maclean’s continues to cover the movement with many mediums.

The Walrus launched “Year in Action,” a cumulative project with long-form articles added throughout 2018, including “Am I Complicit in My Own MeToo” and “What Consent Means in the Age of MeToo.”

B2B magazines also weighed in on the movement, particularly those within the legal sector. Canadian Lawyer, already a veteran in covering sexual assault from a legality point of view, produced the online article “#MeToo Pushing Accountability for Sexual Assault Outside the Courtroom” and are following it up with an upcoming workplace-themed June/July 2018 print issue featuring two articles centering on the #MeToo movement. Legal magazine Precedent responded with opinion pieces such as “Why hasn’t the #MeToo movement come to law?

Consider format: Podcasts, surveys, covers, articles, book reviews, opinion pieces, video, interviews, surveys, charts, social media, gifs.

HOW THEY DID IT

Canadian magazines covered this international story across platforms and mediums.

Chatelaine launched #TheManSurvey, asking 1,000 Canadian men between 25 and 65 about growing up, work, fatherhood, sex, mansplaining, loneliness, #MeToo and more. They transformed the results into “What’s It Like To Be A Man In 2018?” an exhaustive piece that featured charts, gifs, videos and more, to look at how our culture defines masculinity. [Ed: For more on how Chatelaine conceptualized and produced this survey, read our case study “Chatelaine: Canvassing for Content.”]

Canadian Living gave the issue a pop culture treatment with their listicle-style piece “5 Ways to Make Sure #Metoo Makes a Difference.” They also covered the movement in interview style with “What #WeMust Do to Continue to Empower Women and Girls Everywhere,” asking Caroline Riseboro, the President and CEO of Plan International Canada, to discuss the impact today’s movements are having internationally.

Ryerson Review of Journalism got in on the conversation with their Pull Quotes podcast episode “Journalism after #MeToo,” asking Canadian journalists where they should take the movement next. “Podcast formats can work well for these kinds of wide-ranging discussions, providing a space for dialogue that isn’t always possible in print,” says Laura Howells, Chief Podcast Producer, Ryerson Review of Journalism.

Balance: Velocity, sensitivity, accountability.

CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES

One underlying challenge of covering the #MeToo movement is the sensitive nature of the subject itself. To cover the movement with accuracy and true insight required journalists to ask pointed questions of both victims and alleged perpetrators, discuss difficult topics, and wrangle with their personal feelings about the subject. This required sensitivity in use of language and careful consideration in what questions should be asked—and how.

Another challenge was the sheer velocity with which the movement propelled itself forward. National magazines were forced to balance getting to print with an ever-growing, and at times shape-shifting, international story. To produce well-informed and thoughtful content that informed and captured the magnitude of the movement—backed up against deadlines—was a real challenge.

Lauren McKeon, Digital Editor at The Walrus, was able to overcome the challenge of trying to keep up with moments of change despite having a small digital team. They launched “The Year in Action” and “created a dedicated landing page where [they] could cover all different angles with a long-term focus.”

Finally, #MeToo coverage directly affected and continues to affect the lives and reputations of sources and subjects. Canadian Lawyer‘s Senior Editor Tim Wilbur stresses, “Magazines need to ensure that they are doing rigorous fact-checking and, wherever possible, seek legal advice.” Responsible journalism requires utmost respect of the full impact of published content.

Howells says: Consider the impact. Be thoughtful in your approach. Your content can affect your sources, subjects and audience.

KNOWLEDGE SHARING

When faced with covering a rapidly expanding movement, there are many things to consider.

Canadian Lawyer‘s Wilbur weighs in on the legalities of covering these kinds of subjects. “Legal requirements are different in Canada versus the U.S. Do some basic education on the legal issues and what kind of standards need to be upheld when reporting on something like this.”

For her part, The Walrus‘ McKeon takes a broader view and recommends honing in on what you do best a magazine. “From there, thinking about what kind of stories you bring that are unique and how you can cover the movement in a way that no one else can. Let your mandate inform your approach. Do what you do best. Think about how can you add that no one else can add. Don’t worry about playing catch up. You be you.”

Content:

Chatelaine: Canvassing for Content

For more than 80 years, Chatelaine has established itself as one of Canada’s most trusted brands by speaking to and with women about the best of style, home, food, health and real life. In keeping with this mandate, the magazine decided to commission major national surveys to get further insights into the minds and hearts of women across the country, aged 35 to 45. From these surveys, Chatelaine published two ambitious multimedia packages called “This is 40(ish)”—one in 2016 and the other in 2017. In 2018, as the #MeToo movement captivated the world, Chatelaine chose to focus on Canadian men and launched another survey—this time aimed at 25- to 65-year-old men. The resulting package, titled “The Man Survey,” revealed men’s thoughts on everything from masculinity to feminism, to sex, love, relationships and their role in the movement.

Survey: 45 questions; 1,000 people. Spinoff: Multimedia packaged content.

WHAT THEY DID

For each of their three surveys, Chatelaine worked with Abacus Data, an Ottawa-based polling, public opinion and market research firm.

“We asked ourselves what we would really want to know if we could ask anything,” says Lianne George, Chatelaine‘s Editor-in-Chief. The team then whittled down the list to about 45 questions and Abacus put these in front of 1,000 people across Canada. From the participants’ answers, the magazine spun off print pieces, multiple video series and social assets to support the surveys.

Having this multi-pronged approach gives Chatelaine an opportunity to “delve into conversations inspired by the results,” explained George. “This is actually the fun part, where you get to mine the findings for stand-out stats that lend themselves to deeper exploration via an article or video, for example.”

While Chatelaine‘s process started with defining what kind of content they wanted to produce, the team acknowledged they would need to remain flexible. “We had a sense of what we wanted to do when we started, but certainly the execution was informed by the most interesting results,” says George.

Finding balance: time x process

HOW THEY DID IT

Chatelaine has a staff of 24; George estimates about half worked on the survey series when factoring in all the stages of content creation. It was no small or quick feat. To wit: the team worked to conceptualize the project, commission the survey, write the questions, parse results, assign content, produce video, shoot portraits, write, edit, design, plan social strategy and finally, publish. From start to finish, each package took about six months to complete.

Given the many moving parts, managing the timeline could have been a concern. But for George, it was a matter of allocating a generous planning period and sticking to a strict workback schedule.

Challenge: Making sure context and intent of participants' words are not lost in the editing process.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

“One of our biggest challenges was ensuring we captured a representative collection of voices—both in responses to the survey and in our video series, where we teased out some of the most provocative questions,” says George. She stresses that it was crucial that the context and true intent of participants’ words were not lost in the process of editing hours of footage into minutes-long videos.

She also points to how highlighting surprising facts can garner much attention. “In our first iteration, what struck us was the stat that only 32% of women self-identified as feminists,” she states. “By publishing this, we were able to catch the attention of major influencers like Lena Dunham and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.”

According to George, 2017 was very successful from a traffic and engagement perspective. They created social media content that had major organic reach; designed a popular, cheeky and downloadable emoji set (including yogurt, a bottle of wine and some comfy, high-waisted underwear); and their hashtag, #ThisIs40ish, trended #1 in Canada on launch day. “It was one of our top stories of the year in terms of unique views and social engagement.”

When it comes to #TheManSurvey of 2018, Chatelaine was able to help nudge forward an important conversation about how certain gender expectations and attitudes shape the experiences of Canadian men and women.

Having established great success with the surveys over the past three years, Chatelaine is already planning another for 2019.

George says: Surveys are great for getting to know your audience. And they generate a lot of relevant story ideas, too!

KNOWLEDGE SHARING

According to George, the foundation for the multi-year project’s success came from working with the right polling firm.

“You’ll want to partner with someone you trust and who understands your editorial mandate,” she says. “Abacus really understood the value in what we were trying to do and helped us position our questions effectively without changing the editorial nature of the language we were using.”

She is also confident in Chatelaine‘s investment in these surveys. “They’re a great way to get to know your audience and generate a lot of relevant story ideas in one go!”

Read Chatelaine‘s survey content for 2016, 2017 and 2018.


This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)

Content:

Inuit Art Quarterly: Where Creatives Converge

For its 30th anniversary, Inuit Art Quarterly chose to create an ambitious portfolio of 30 Inuit artists. They asked 15 leading figures in Inuit art to nominate an early-career artist to watch and, in turn, those artists selected a senior talent who inspired them. The result, “30 Artists to Know,” is an expansive portfolio exploring the intergenerational, familial and community-based bonds that are made visible through art.

The multi-vocal, geographically diverse and deeply thoughtful piece features a broad range of contemporary and historical artists working across all forms of media.

15 nominators, 15 emerging artists, 15 elder artists.

WHAT THEY DID

The goal of IAQ‘s portfolio was to profile emerging and established artists in a way that felt innovative, responsive and engaging. They reached this goal by featuring artists in a wide range of practices, including film, photography, performance, graphic arts, fashion design, sculpture and textiles.

The magazine piece contains profiles of 15 early career artists and 15 elder artists; and a short excerpt on 15 leading figures in art who acted as nominators. It features narrative text and a feature image of one piece of art by each artist. The strong visuals were essential in allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about artistic influence and legacy. By only publishing one work from each artist, the editorial team hoped to pique the interest of their audience and encourage them to seek these artists out further.

“The Inuit art community—which includes artists, curators, gallerists, collectors and others—is relatively small and tight-knit and most everyone involved has been working with great enthusiasm for many years to raise the profile of these exceptional artists,” says IAQ editor Britt Gallpen. “It felt fitting to share this important moment and platform with them.”

It is not unusual for Inuit artists creating today to be working within a long, familial artistic lineage. The profiles as a whole provide crucial insight into personal connections between artists, whether professional, community-based or familial. This series of profiles is also geographically diverse, highlighting artists working in more than fifteen communities, hailing from coast to coast to coast and including urban Inuit working in the Canadian south.

By the Numbers: 27 image sources, 18 months of work, 34 pages of content, 30 writers, 65 contributors.

HOW THEY DID IT

As a starting point, the editorial team drafted a large list of potential nominators with an eye to regional diversity and areas of expertise.

“It was important to us that artists working in various media and in various locations would be selected. Understandably, we started with a larger list that was whittled down based on availability and interest,” explains Gallpen.

Nominators were then asked to shortlist two exciting early career artists for inclusion in the feature. They were encouraged to select artists with promising practices who had not yet received much critical attention for their work. Crucially, the term “early career” was not associated with any type of age restriction. The team requested that nominators select artists who would be willing to write or speak with them about an inspirational artist. After the creation of a long list of next generation artists, it was cross-referenced for duplicates before assigning each nominator with a final artist to write about. In turn, these early career artists were asked to nominate an elder artist who inspired and motivated their artistic growth.

Images were carefully chosen to show the relationship between the emerging and established artists, while also highlighting each artist’s best known style and techniques. When possible, photos were used of artworks made using the same materials (for example, textiles from Fanny Algaalaga Avatituq and Ruth Qaulluaryuk, drawings from Tony Anguhalluq and Luke Anguhadluq, and etchings from Julia Manoyok Ekpakohak and Helen Kalvak) to best show the visual similarities (and differences) between the artists’ work.

82% new website visitors.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Since the spring of 2016, IAQ had broadened the scope of the magazine. Readers accustomed to reading about textile, stone, bone and paper artists were hesitant to accept the inclusion of artists working in media such as film, installation, photography and performance. The “30 Artists to Know” piece presented the magazine with a unique opportunity to articulate and solidify a new vision for the magazine. And it gave readers a chance to acquaint themselves with contemporary artists working in a wide range of practices, and also to learn about their relationship with iconic artists who had come before.

This large-scale undertaking involved considerable logistics, which presented several challenges to the Inuit Art Quarterly editorial team of two.

Working with 30 contributors for the text required much communication and coordination. In some cases, contributors didn’t have phones or use email. The team used a variety of tools including Facebook Messenger, email, word-of-mouth and phone calls to reach artists, in most cases interviewing them prior to drafting entries for their comment and approval.

In addition, more than 27 individuals and institutions—both within Canada and abroad—were required to secure images.

“Some photos were particularly difficult to source, as was the case for Arnakallak Saimut, whose work is exceptionally scarce,” reports Gallpen. “The small carving reproduced in the article is from the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Spain, and was found very late in the editorial process. Other photos, particularly the video stills and photos of live performances, were difficult to source as existing documentation of historic Inuit musicians, actors and filmmakers is often not of exceptional quality.”

Gallpen says: Be accountable and agile with your contributors. This is especially important if you are supporting voices that often go unheard.

KNOWLEDGE SHARING

This type of feature requires that the editorial team rely heavily on non-industry contributors outside of their organization. Therefore, devoting considerable time and resources to a project of this nature is highly recommended by Gallpen.

“Giving yourself ample time, both for in-house production as well as for your contributors, is crucial. Additionally, creating backup plans should contributors fall through at the last minute is highly advisable,” advises Gallpen. “Be willing to relinquish authority and control and to embrace the unexpected.”

Gallpen also recommends that if a potential contributor is not available, ask them to suggest an alternate—this is an organic way to expand the magazine’s network.


This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)

Content:

Canadian Underwriter: Comprehensive Coverage

In early May 2016, wildfires ripped through Fort McMurray, Alberta, leaving a wake of destruction. With an estimated damage cost of almost ten billion dollars, it was the single costliest disaster in Canadian history.

As a B2B magazine serving the nation’s insurance industry, Canadian Underwriter immediately began reporting on the insurance implications of the tragedy. What began as rapidfire coverage of Canada’s largest insured catastrophe unfolded into multi-year coverage spanning the B2B magazine’s print, web and social platforms.

Cover all the angles: viewpoints, expertise, opinions, outcomes.

WHAT THEY DID

Canadian Underwriter tackled the Fort McMurray storyline with a multi-prong approach. Coverage included print articles, infographics and online news. Content—everything from articles to news items to infographics to images—was created for the print magazine and website, and featured on social channels including Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

Because every segment in the industry was discussing the tragedy, the magazine explored all the viewpoints, expertise, opinions and outcomes, says editor David Gambrill.

From the day the fire broke out on May 3, 2016 to June 5, 2016, Canadian Underwriter staff produced 41 web stories about the fire. Canadianunderwriter.ca had 222,000 web page views during that time, reflecting a high reader engagement associated with the ongoing Fort McMurray coverage.

The editorial team honed in on specific, helpful and timely topics for their audience, such as:

The last flames long extinguished, the editorial team continues to use this event to educate and inform their readers. Online and print stories about Fort McMurray within Canadian Underwriter—and references to the fire within stories—now number in the hundreds.

Web stories: breaking news. Print: analysis. Social media: highly visual.

HOW THEY DID IT

Canadian Underwriter accomplished in-depth coverage by assessing what content was most suitable for each platform. They earmarked time-sensitive coverage for their website, reserved more complex ideas for print, and shared basic or picture-oriented concepts on their social media channels.

“More than half of what appears on the site every day is staff-generated. So oftentimes we will write stories based on the information we receive and post shorter, focused pieces immediately,” says Gambrill.

The magazine has also made use of as many sources as possible to consider the catastrophe from every relevant angle.

“There is no end of statistics and information available from a variety of sources in the industry,” says Gambrill. “Information can come from individual insurance companies, adjusting firms, industry trade organizations, and industry research firms.”

Topics x Audience = Multiple Stories

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

The sheer magnitude of the Fort McMurray wildfires produced seemingly endless angles and stories. This proved to be an opportunity and a test for Canadian Underwriter. On one hand, the event sparked endless angles and stories. And instead of dying out with time, the story continues to grow. With every new statistic or case law, comes the chance to produce more content. On the other hand, the impact of the wildfires tested the magazine’s ability to satisfy the varied interests of its readership.

“The challenge for any journalist is to make sure that the information and ideas you are presenting are relevant to your audiences,” says Gambrill. “I would write a different story about Fort McMurray for claims specialists than I would for insurance companies or brokers.”

Gambrill acknowledges there remain many unexplored lessons to be learned from the incident.

Canadian Underwriter fulfills an education function for the industry—a place to get industry-specific business information about the event and its impact. This is always true of the publication; it’s just that the role became more important because of the magnitude of the disaster.”

Moving forward, Gambrill says they plan to dive into lessons learned with a video or webinar series featuring interviews with frontline adjusters who helped in Fort McMurray after the disaster.

Gambrill says: "Trust your instincts. You know when something is going to resonate with your readership."

KNOWLEDGE SHARING

When deciding how much focus a magazine should invest in a certain event or topic, Gambrill simply encourages editors to follow their best instincts.

“Some things you just know are going to resonate with your readership,” Gambrill says. “There are very few instances when, as a magazine editor, I am able to justify publishing two daily online stories about a single event for a solid month.”

Much of the decision of how much coverage to dedicate to any given topic comes down to knowing the magazine’s audience and assessing how many different voices are joining the discussion.

“When a catastrophe like this develops, it’s hard to know at the outset what the outcome will be. You often get a feel for the magnitude by the many different voices and perspectives that emerge as you are covering the story. The more people who are touched by the tragedy—consumers and industry professionals alike—the more perspectives are represented in the coverage—and the more coverage there will be.”

Read Canadian Underwriter‘s coverage of the Fort McMurray disaster and its implications at canadianunderwriter.ca.


This Showcasing Success case study was made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC)