I haven’t been writing here much lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’m always writing. About something, for someone. And for the past three years, the place I wrote for most often was thegridto.com. The Grid is a weekly Toronto paper and daily online publication that rose from the ashes of Eye Weekly, one of the many free urban alt.weeklies that didn’t survive the digital revolution. Well, it was one. Today, it’s done. Cease publication immediately. I found out yesterday like most people, on Twitter.
I was sad to see Eye go when it folded in 2011, having written for them since 1996 (including two regular music news columns) and worked in their offices as a fill in editor on a regular basis. (Which means I got to enjoy the free donuts brought in by the sex workers who took out adult classifieds, amongst other perks.) But The Grid was the right move, the right paper for a city full of renewned civic activism and a new generation of hipsters, who were no longer too interested in counter-culture and no longer needed printed listings to plan a night out. Maybe it wasn’t really a paper for me and my demographic anymore. I sometimes joked it was Toronto Lite, a place for aspirational young Torontonians who cared more about chic restaurants, real estate and parenting than what art was going on in the galleries being torn down for their new lofty condos. But I read it anyway, because The Grid retained a very important part of Eye Weekly in some of its staff, who really turned the new paper into something. Edward Keenan in particular, a deputy editor and columnist, raised the bar for discussion of city politics. They worked with the best illustrators and graphic artists as well. The Grid was a fine looking paper, one that won multiple awards for its content and design. And still, its parent company couldn’t see a “path to profitability” that justified keeping it it around any longer. Maybe they shouldn’t have considered themselves too classy for sex classifieds. (Imagine the Dating Diaries and Hook-Up columns they could have had sponsored.) Maybe there was no way ever to overcome the headstart competing weekly NOW had for a grip on local ad dollars. (I’ve always found it frustratingly hilarious how the public perceives NOW as the grassroots paper because its independently owned, even while Eye/Grid employed and nurtured more local writers, columnists and artists compared to NOW’s syndicated American ones.) Maybe it was inevitable. But it’s still shitty that an award-winning publication with a big corporate backer can’t make enough money. This does not bode well for anyone in this town who cares about media diversity.
I will really miss writing for The Grid, even if I was rarely in the printed version. I will miss working with my online editor Stuart Berman, a longtime colleague and fellow music obsessive who always found a place for me to write about great bands and do long music industry stories. He always let me say what was on my mind, and that counts for alot. Some of my favourite assignments were oral histories of local landmarks, like Toronto Goth and the 20th anniversary of Molson Amphitheatre (which turned out to be my final piece.) And especially my series The Plus One, where I took a musician with me to review a live concert – like NIN with Brian of Holy Fuck, Christian Death with Wade from Gallows, Beyonce with Odario from Grand Analog and Jay Z with Brendan Canning, because I think readers appreciated a different perspective on arts reviewing. And because it was really fun. (The Grid also published my only sports article, Five Reasons to Love Tennis, Especially if You Hate Sports.) I was always proud to be a contributor.
Mostly I will miss reading The Grid. It didn’t have the spit and sass of Eye Weekly but it was really smart and covered the heart and mind of this city (at least its downtown) better than any other local media. I will miss Denise Benson’s “Then and Now” series of extensive profiles of the defunct Toronto nightclubs that built this city on rock ‘n’ roll…and punk and house and techno and on and on… (Thankfully it’s going to be a book soon.) Those stories weren’t just good memory lane for forty somethings but an important archiving of Toronto history and culture. And on subject of nostalgia, I will miss the days when you could make a living reporting about your “scene” – whether that was music or food or city hall or whatever. When people wanted to read more about what was going on in their neighbourhood than you could find out on Twitter. When everyone, reader and writers alike, were dreaming together, about a great city and a space for conversation about how to make it even better. Because less media voices diminishes where we live, and how we live. I really don’t know how any newspapers are going to survive these next few years. But I do know the great writers will keep on writing, somewhere, for someone.
Thanks everyone for reading me in Eye/Grid, 1996-2014.