A three-sheet salute to The Walrus’s Ken Alexander
The word went out last night: Ken Alexander—perpetually described (yet again this morning in the Globe) as “colourful, chain-smoking and tempestuous,” or some such code for irascible and sodden—is calling it quits after four years of editing The Walrus. In short order, the periodical essentially replaced Saturday Night as Canada’s national magazine of high-end, long-form magazine journalism. It was this shift—exacerbated by Alexander’s studied old-money indifference to forelock tugging and civility—that brought down the wrath of the established journalistic orders (see Robert Fulford in the pages of Toronto Life). Over the course of Alexander’s tenure, The Walrus simultaneously attracted and repelled talent. The result was an earnest, ambitious, if somewhat worthy publication.
Still, you can’t begrudge the guy’s successes. The Walrus won scads of National Magazine Awards, as it did again last Friday night (though one always felt the editor’s hand in seeking them—the monthly is the embodiment of what former Toronto Life grand dame Lynn Cunningham referred to amusedly as triple-S journalism: searing social significance), and it grew a subs list that allowed it the chance to survive. That’s a feat in this market, one accomplished by being both daring and calculating. As a “business,” The Walrus evolved into a Rube Goldberg hybrid: part fundraising foundation, part subsidy slut. In order to survive, it needs to raise low seven figures every year to make up the shortfall between commercial revenue and operating cost. Thanks to Alexander, the magazine is at least in a position to do so.
As much as he enervated just about everybody, and as much as there was more turnover at the The Walrus than at a betting window at Belmont, Ken Alexander can leave his job saying he wasn’t ignored. By Canadian standards, this puts his efforts firmly in the win column.