Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Staying Afloat While Stirring the Pot: Briarpatch Magazine and the Challenge of Nonprofit Journalism

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Staying Afloat While Stirring the Pot: Briarpatch Magazine and the Challenge of Nonprofit Journalism

Article excerpt

On September 7, 2013, readers of Briarpatch magazine gathered at the Artesian, a Regina concert hall, to celebrate 40 continuous years of publishing. Forty years is a major milestone, even for large-scale commercial magazines. The fact that a donor-supported, nonprofit, Saskatchewan-based publication had not only survived, but had developed a national audience, was a source of wonder even to those who helped make it happen. Speaking to the assembled celebrants that evening, Gary Robbins, a board member during the 1970s, offered an explanation, pointing to years of volunteer-run bottle drives and garage sales. He added:

There is a good, strong base, and I think that's really critical and really important, and why so many of the other publications that we knew of back then weren't able to continue, why those organizations morphed and changed and came and went. That's part of the lives we live in these perilous times. So it's good to see the stability of a magazine like Briarpatch ...

It was not only bottle drives that kept the presses rolling, however. In addition to advertising and newsstand sales, the magazine walked a tightrope of provincial and federal media development grants. Briarpatch's history presents an enlightening case study of the supportive value of public funding, as well as the pressures magazines face in this environment-from conflict over editorial content to unexpected funding cuts.

The lessons gleaned from Briarpatch are broadly relevant to social economy researchers and advocates, as they speak to wider questions of funder-nonprofit relationships and the role social networks play in organizational sustainability. First, however, it is important to recognize the space such media occupies within the social economy. Due to the perceived cultural dominance of commercial mass media, there is a tendency to view media outside this framework. However, there exists a rich ecology of co-operative and nonprofit media around the globe that easily falls within social economy viewpoints, as defined by John Restakis's (2006) description of a wide range of collective actions for social benefit; Marie J. Bouchard, Frank Moulaert, and Oana Ailenei's (2005) categorization of voluntary, democratic, nonprofit goods and service provision; and Charles Gide's broad conception of "all efforts made to improve the conditions of the people" (quoted in Moulaert & Ailenei, 2005, p. 2040). As an example, community radio is an established global phenomenon, embraced in particular by rural and Indigenous communities as accessible communications platforms (Karikari, 2000; Murillo, 2008). There are some ten thousand community radio stations operating in Latin America, while African nations saw a combined 1,386 per cent increase in stations between 2000 and 2006 (Meyers, 2011). In Europe, the Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE) has mapped 521 community television stations and 2,237 community radios (CMFE, 2012). The United States is home to long-standing media co-operatives, such as the Associated Press and the St. Petersburg Times, nonprofits, such as Mother Jones, as well as numerous examples of foundation-supported journalism, ranging from ProPublica to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Throughout Canada, Indigenous and northern broadcasters operate primarily within the social economy, for example the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), a Saskatchewan co-operative radio network, Taqramiut Nipingat Inc. (TNI), a northern charitable nonprofit radio-television network, and Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN), a national nonprofit cable channel. Canada's publishing sector is replete with social economy enterprises, including cooperative book publishers, such as Couteau Books, foundation-supported magazines, such as the Walrus, and a diverse array of nonprofit academic journals and monthly magazines, such as Briarpatch, Canadian Dimension, and This Magazine. Together, these social economy organizations work to improve media diversity and democratize Canada's communications networks, providing an alternative to heavily monopolized commercial media and underfunded public broadcasting. …

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