Approaching the job market: some considerations

Note: I was asked to co-present at a job-seekers colloquium tomorrow within my PhD program at Syracuse, so I gathered some thoughts on the market which you can find below. Looking forward to hearing my colleagues’ thoughts on this as well since everyone experiences this process differently.

I turned 40 right before I accepted my job at Rowan last January — my only offer after a long, difficult search. I’ve worked in high schools, administered a writing center, designed community literacy programming, and despite my scholarly focus on amateurs and DIY publishing, I’ve taught professional writing more than any other college course. Moreover, my wife and I have owned a house in Syracuse since 2007, had 3 kids here, and enjoy a vast network of family and friends all over Upstate. I mention all of this because these things — for better and worse — factored into the emotional and logistical way I experienced the market.

I think factors like these — work/experience, friends and family, geographic preferences, career ambitions and allegiances — lead to significant differences in how we approach the process. There is no one way to summarize how anyone could process it. However, one central, practical manifestation — and one that you might begin thinking about right now if you are about to enter the market — comes through the question of how widely you apply. I opted to go wide (about 65 applications) and although it was a lot of work, I’m mostly glad that I did. I applied for English ed jobs, digital writing jobs, civic/professional writing jobs, writing center jobs, and jobs that were mostly tenure track, but not always.

Although I split childcare duties with my wife this year, I was unemployed and so you should take that into account as you read on. But one of the ways I looked at this decision (thanks in part to a mentor’s advice), is that there’s a strange emotional rhythm to the successes and failures of the market. For me, the game went a little like this: as long as I had other lines cast into the sea, a rejection was never as heavy as it would have felt had I limited my search to, say, 20 jobs. And even if I did, I was just too damn busy to linger on those failures. Aside from these psycho elements, ~65 applications gained me a lot of experience interviewing for different jobs, in different formats, and with committees/institutions that had very different dynamics. And it was a little fun.

On the other hand, had I been a bit more selective, I might have been able to write more institutionally-specific letters and prepared stronger materials. I often felt like my teaching letter was really a thinly-veiled research letter, for example, and it didn’t get me many interviews with teaching-oriented positions. The apply-widely approach also led to a very chaotic November/December where I was preparing for multiple campus visits, interviewing with schools on phone/Skype, and still applying for jobs all at the same time. This was very hard on my family. And in the end, I got a job I would have applied for no matter what criteria I used (in fact, a majority of my campus visit invitations were for positions I would have applied to had I been more selective). And Rowan was my first campus visit. 

But I guess what I’m really saying is this: Do you want to run a writing program? Can you handle living in an area where home ownership is virtually impossible for the professoriate? Do you have actual passion for teaching technical writing day in, day out? What are your loved ones willing to sacrifice for your career? Have you talked about it? How do you feel about it? And how conscious are you about your answers to these questions heading into the market? When I sought advice last year, time and time again folks encouraged me to consider both my professional and personal goals, even in the midst of a process where you seem to have very little control.

If you opt for an apply-widely approach (or maybe even if you don’t), the rumors are true: your first academic job search is a full-time job. It’s not that I did not believe this maxim when my mentors shared it with me over and over again, but it’s a different thing when you actually table your dissertation for 3-4 months and live with that decision. As a result, I thought it might help to spell out how this actually worked for me month-to-month and embed some advice within that arc.

Summer before: Based on the wonderful CCR job-seeker meetings organized by Eileen, I used some of my summer to redesign my professional website and draft app documents: 3 different cover letters (teaching/research/WPA), CV drafts, various philosophies, portfolios, etc. But really, I tried to make the most of my summer by getting as far ahead on my dissertation as possible. Ideally you want to have 80% of your diss (~4 chapters) drafted before Sept 1. I only managed 3 of 5 chapters and now it’s April and I’m scrambling to finish before I leave town in August. It’s not fun. Plus, the more you write, the better you understand your project and that’ll be essential when you give your job talk or discuss your work in interviews. (Although I got the job at Rowan, my job talks got better with practice, too.)

September & October: Jobs come in batches starting as early as August, but because of how I approached them, they seemed to constantly flow from postings on the Rhet/Comp Jobs Wiki, Rhetmap, and the WPA list (I rarely looked at the MLA JIL, to be honest). I used a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the ones I wanted to apply for (noting deadlines, links to job descriptions, teaching loads, specializations, and any other details) and color coded them as the market progressed. As these positions were posted I also found myself writing additional required statements on diversity and ESL, and formatting specific teaching portfolios based on the parameters of the application. Speaking of which, the application interfaces are far from uniform and here you find yourself in the belly of the managed university. Interfolio applications were relatively painless but not common enough, and in the more chaotic moments of the search this actually factored into whether or not I applied. Also: from my experience, hardly any schools held initial interviews at MLA this January. As a result, the market schedule shifted and had earlier deadlines. My phone/Skype interviews started in mid-October, for example — well ahead of the MLA-centered schedule.

Late November & Early December: Because I applied widely, this was the time of the process when my life got pretty crazy. At one point, I had multiple campus visits in a 10-day period and a few interviews with schools in between, so all at once I was trying to research schools, write job talks, plan teaching demos, shop for cheap-but-fancy clothes, and continue to apply for jobs that had later deadlines. Nothing I did felt quite adequate and I had a least one emotional breakdown. Still, I’m not sure this was avoidable— just a symptom of an apply-widely approach.

Winter Break: I had a few more interviews in the middle of December and then things suddenly went quiet. This was the hardest part. I wanted to know how those visits went and I wanted to have more scheduled in case they did not go as well as I hoped. I did not have a holiday filled with cheer and I couldn’t help but think that the more time passed, the worse the news would be. At many of the visits I went on in Nov/Dec search chairs told me that they wanted to make a decision before the break. And yet it was important to remember that the timeline for each institution was different. Some were waiting on deans to authorize an offer, and some places brought 2, 3, or even 4 candidates to campus — all people who might have gotten an offer before me. I thought committees would keep me posted throughout this process but it turned out that I only heard from them once someone else accepted and the search was over. That said, in multiple cases I was encouraged by committees to get in touch if I got another offer. That’s something to keep in mind if you find yourself in the fortunate (rare?) position of getting multiple offers at once.

In hindsight, I can say that it would have been emotionally helpful to talk with people other than my wife and my dissertation advisor about what this whole process felt like. Perhaps it would have been good, like in support groups, to have a “sponsor” to talk with — someone who went through this before and would be willing to listen to my anxieties about real estate costs, the material realities of the job, and my innermost insecurities, such as why in the hell did I choose to do a PhD in the first place?

There’s much more to talk about, of course, but I wanted to end this post with just a few practical resources I returned to time and time again:

Rhet/comp academic jobs wiki. Most of the jobs I found were initially posted on this site. I used an RSS-reader Chrome app and subscribed to the RECENT ACTIVITY link on that site, which helped me manage it all. You can also use this site to get backchannel updates on jobs that have posted, but this info can be unreliable, quickly render you obsessive, and ultimately be counterproductive to your progress.

Rhetmap. This site, run by Jim Ridolfo at Kentucky, is useful not only because it geo-plots MLA JIL data, but includes a number of extras. When things were not looking good, for example, I reminded myself that this was the worst market statistically speaking in at least the last 5 years. I knew that because of tools like this market comparison visualization created by Chris Lindgren:

The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky. Not everyone is a fan of this book or Kelsky’s approach, but if you can get past the first few chapters where she reminds you of the terribly depressing club you are trying to enter, then there are some helpful pieces of advice. Plus the book is organized chronologically in terms of how most candidates experience the market, making it a manageable read on top of all your other responsibilities. She’s also often funny, direct, and includes memorable stories.

Google Analytics. If you have a professional webpage and want to see when and where users are reading it from, install Google Analytics. Although I’m sure it didn’t help my mental health (see academic jobs wiki above), this feature predicted some of the interviews I got ahead of the call.

New essay in Broken Pencil

I have a short piece in the newest issue of Broken Pencil (#74) about my experience making and distributing anti-Trump zines at a pro-Trump rally. You can read about it here, though I’m really looking forward to getting the print version in a few weeks. This was a weird piece for me to write, as I felt both shame for not having the courage to stand up to the hate I saw, but also some pride for how quickly and seamlessly the zine came together for what was a very memorable day in the City of Syracuse.

#cwcon 2016

Here’s the slide deck and script for my #cwcon 2016 talk, “The University Library as Junk Shop: Visualizing DIY Composition.”

http://taxomania.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/luther_slides-cwcon16.pdf

Trump zine

I made a zine for tomorrow’s trump rally in Syracuse (see pdf below). It should be printed/copied as a double-sided document and folded as a minizine. For instructions, peep this Rookie page (start with Step 5), or check out this video.

http://taxomania.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/trump-zine.pdf

Hotdogz issue #2

I took a break from dissertating last week to make a zine for Syracuse in Print‘s first-ever event: Zine Swap! It’s issue #2 of my dad-zine Hotdogz (which is much lighter than the content from #1). Here’s the pdf, which aside from being hastily screen-shot-stitched in a garbage resolution, is boring as hell. If you want a proper print copy, which is a lot more fun, hit me up.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.43.49 AM

Broken Pencil and Canadian sponsorship

According to the mastheads, Broken Pencil started without any government sponsorship, but gradually accepted more as time went on. The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) started subsidizing the magazine with #7 in the summer of 1998 (though curiously this language is missing from #s 10 and 11— and maybe #9, though I can’t locate that issue). In #15, they begin to acknowledge both the OAC and Canada Council for the Arts. In #16 (2001) they add “BP acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada, through the publications assistance program (PAP), toward our mailing costs.” In #19 (2002) they add “…and the Canada Magazine Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage toward our mailing and project costs. Canada agreement number 1377914.” Then in #47 (spring 2010) they replace PAP (presumably because it dissolved) with the Canada Periodical Fund (CPF). The language seems to have stayed constant since.

Language from the masthead of #67
Language from the masthead of BP #67

In chapter 10 of Canadian Content Edwardson continues to explicate the affect of globalization on Canada’s culture industry, arguing that the government — through its various sponsoring agencies like those mentioned above — cultivated a cultural economy that defined success through employment and sales. As he notes, this is embodied through programs like Tomorrow Starts Today. Introduced in 2001 by the Department of Canadian Heritage, the now-defunct TST provided $560 million to help, as the government put it, “brand Canada around the world” (261). Describing culture in quantitative terms, Edwardson argues throughout this chapter, is typical of Canadianization in the time of globalization, where the export of culture is put at a premium. This, in turn, affected the content of magazines, music, film, and television, as cultural producers were pandering to multinational investors or international distributors who would be leery of circulating content saturated with Canadian identifiers.

Although Broken Pencil hardly pandered to the Canadian government, two symptoms of globalization — emerging network technologies and free-trade policies — did begin to affect them, sometimes simultaneously. For example, in the mid-90s American magazines like Sports Illustrated began to use satellite transmission to bypass the technical stipulations in the 1964 Paperback and Periodical Distributors Act, a law that “limit[ed] tax deductions for advertisements in magazines to those that fulfilled domestic criteria” (273). Essentially because this legislation kept American and other foreign magazines from entering the Canadian market (the exceptions being Time and Readers Digest), Canadian content was protected from foreign influence. Once the Canadian government caught these magazines circumventing via satellite, they passed Bill C-103, which Broken Pencil addressed in the inaugural “Pencil Sharpener” editorial section of #3 (1996):

“Canada has a new law that levies an 80-percent excise tax on the advertising revenue of Canadian editions of foreign magazines. These odious examples of corporate waste previously published so-called Canadian editions of American magazines with all Canadian advertising and little in the way of Canadian content.  Bill C-103 protects Canada from such evils, and clears the way for Canadian corporations to keep control over their own mediocre stable of all Canadian sports, fashion and lifestyle magazines.” (10)

The US subsequently argued that Bill C-103 violated the terms of NAFTA, leading to a showdown at the WTO. Perhaps anticipating the outcome, the editors at Broken Pencil rendered the legal basis for the showdown with dependable sarcasm: “Naturally, the US is appealing this decision through that upstanding free trade agreement NAFTA.”

The WTO, as predicted, ruled in favor of the US and this, as Edwardson puts it, led to “a startling wake-up call as to how the pursuit of foreign markets had led to a surrendering of control over cultural policy and the ability to ensure domestic discourse on Canadian terms” (274).

The editors at Broken Pencil were explicitly critical of this outcome in issue #5 (1997). While they interpreted the ruling as an example of how “economic bureaucracies view the independent culture of small countries” as expendable, they also criticized the Canadian government for deciding to “fight a trade battle over Canadian magazines as if they were hot-dog companies” (10-11). Yet the consequences of this ruling didn’t concern the editors per se; they simply saw it as another example of corporate media control. A secondary effect from the WTO was more damaging: subsidized mailing rates for Canadian material was deemed equally hostile to foreign market interests and thus, the government had to restructure its Publications Assistance Program (PAP) so that magazines would get the subsidy up front, which cost taxpayers more (Edwardson 274). As Broken Pencil argued, when it came to print at least, the cultural pulse of Canada wasn’t found in “twenty mainstream magazines … that everybody reads but seem to have little to say,” but within the hundreds of independent nonprofit little magazines “with fewer readers but a lot to say about what is going on in various local and cultural spheres” (11). Whether or not they made this exact case to the government is unclear, but they started acknowledging funding from the PAP a few years later.

Still, rather than focus on supporting smaller spheres, Canada more generally was following the US’s example and actively creating foreign markets for its culture industry. These programs, like Tomorrow Starts Today in 2001 and PromArt or Trade Routes in 2010, turned artists and writers into “ambassadors, sharing Canadian voices and values with the world,” as one Department of Canadian Heritage fact sheet put it (276). The problem with this dubious subject position, Edwardson explains, is that it conflates “industry with identity in the face of cultural insecurity, instability, and blatant contradictions that arise in a system which relies upon domestic profiteers and multinational corporations to develop Canadian content” (278-79).

Edwardson ends his history in the early aughts, arguing that if there’s any hope for the future of Canadianization, “federal bureaucrats need to come to terms with the fact that economic strength and industry growth do not equate with opportunities for national discourse and expression” (283). And yet in the midst of a severe recession in 2006, the Liberal Party’s 70-year reign ended with the election of Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper. Tretheway’s piece in Broken Pencil #46 (2010), mentioned in my last post, explains how the Tories seized the opportunity of the recession to defund programs typically dedicated to smaller, independent “fringe” artists and publishers. Using a process called “strategic review,” bureaucrats defunded sectors of programs under the guise of a routine budgeting process, removing the threat of any real political accountability. Through this process, programs like the Canadian Musical Diversity (CMD) fund — which supported the production of recordings of artists who made unconventional and underrepresented music — was axed in favor of supporting “digital marketing and international touring,” echoing Edwardson’s concerns that globalized Canadianization conflates the visibility of the culture industry with an essential cultural or national identity. As the executive director of the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers, Rhona MacInnes, notes in the article, “They don’t have to come out and say it, but there is an emphasis placed by the Canadian Periodical Fund on what sells” (16; emphasis mine). Hence, starting in 2009 — less than a year before this article was published — the CPF revealed that magazines under a circulation of 5,000 would not longer be eligible for subsidies. It just so happens that Broken Pencil’s circulation is now 5,000; though I’m not sure when it started publishing this many copies, it’s clear based on the masthead that they had been printing that many since at least 2010.

Logos of current BP sponsors
Logos of current BP sponsors

The important takeaway here is that although Broken Pencil has accepted government sponsorship for its cultural work since as early as 1998, it has served as a voice for a sector of the public arts that gets grossly underrepresented in Canadian culture. And yet, MacInnes’s statement, published in Broken Pencil, begs the question: how did BP manage to convince the Canadian government to help fund it?  It will also be interesting to see to what extent these issues flare up over time and how the introduction of other media affects BP’s arguments about funding and access.

Broken Pencil and Canadianization

After spending the last few weeks closely reading the first three issues from the first year of Broken Pencil, 1995-1996, this past week has been about accounting for the various cultural, socio-economic, and technological contexts through which these issues and this magazine emerged. Essentially that has meant working backward from these issues to identify potential threads that would explain things like the nationalism in the letters section, or why Broken Pencil have been poised for hybidity. This has led me to books on the history of the Internet and how and why the Web came to be; to texts about Canadian culture and history; and, finally, texts about neoliberalism and globalization, especially when they affect the culture industries. Three books in particular have occupied my time, mostly since they discuss the above threads in overlapping ways. In the next few posts, I’m going to try to connect these texts to threads throughout Broken Pencil’s issues, regardless of time period. Today: Canadianization.

Edwardson, Ryan. Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.

Ryan Edwardson’s Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood explores the ways in which culture has been used to shape postcolonial Canadian nationalism since the country’s first confederation in 1867. Edwardian traces Canadianization, his term for this process, through three distinct periods: Masseyism (1920s-1950s), The New Nationalism (1960s), and ending with Cultural Industrialism (1968-present). Importantly, the roots of Canadian nationalism differ from those of America’s because it developed throughout 20th century rather than the 19th; that is, as Canadian nationalism has been cultivated, the available technologies used for reaching and making publics have changed significantly. As a result Canada has regulated mass media — especially TV and radio — through quota systems that require a certain percentage of broadcasted content be Canadian in origin. First introduced in 1968, but still used today (with increasing vulnerability, which I’ll discuss in a moment), the quota systems are used alongside more common cultural bodies — such as The Department of Canadian Heritage — to insure that Canadian Content (CanCon, for short) sustains nationalist or domestic discourse throughout the public sphere.

According to Edwardson, quota systems were an easy sell in the 1960s, as public intellectuals helped fashion the nation’s self-image of a “Peaceable Kingdom,” asserting its independence from the United States, whose imperialism was becoming more of a threat. Importantly during this period, culture became “freed from elite domination and ostracizing paternalism,” typical of Masseyism, “in order to encourage a national project with a wider social base” (17). This move allowed domestic discourse to circulate more widely using more accessible cultural identifiers, like certain comics or pop music. In essence, this was the New Nationalism.

These quota systems, however, increasingly mapped nationalism onto the growth of the Canadian culture industries by increasingly commodifying culture. As Edwardian notes:

“Economic incentives and industrial point systems all placed Canadian content within the dynamics of profitability and cultural commodification, which encouraged industries to strip it of national identifiers — or more commonly, replace Canadian ones with American equivalents — in order to attract the interest of distributors at home an abroad” (20). 

This period, which Edwardson dubs “cultural industrialism,” sees government officials increasingly making use of economic rather than social benchmarks (employment, sales, returns of return, investment, etc.) in garnering continued support of these public programs. The sum of this shift, at least for Edwardson, is that a globalized and subsidized 21st century Canadian culture industry has facilitated an “entrenchment” of culture where the motivation for profit negates “social cohesiveness” that should come with Canadianization (25).

He has more to say about this period in Chapter 10 and in the Conclusion, but for now the question is: how might these policies affect our understanding of Broken Pencil?

For one, at some point (I’m not certain when) several public programs began subsidizing Broken Pencil. According to their About page, the magazine is currently supported by four agencies: The Department of Canadian Heritage, Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and The Access Copyright Foundation. And although a letter in the most recent issue of BP, #67, criticized the magazine for accepting government money, these public programs are organized in such a way that they filter funding through a bureaucratic process that makes it difficult for the public to hold government officials directly responsible.

An example: according to The Department of Canadian Heritage’s website, BP was awarded between $13-$14,000 under their “Aid to Publishers” program during the last three years— plus what appears to be additional money under their “Business Innovation—Print” program ($25,000 in 2011-12 and $18,500 in 2013-14). I don’t understand the particulars of these programs, or their application process, so that is something to look into. These complications are discussed in certain issues of the magazine. In #46 (2010), for example, BP ran an article on the affects of the recession on public money for the arts, pitting certain parts of public funding against free market ideology, much like Edwardson suggests:

“The recession and rising deficits have once again put arts funding and culture-friendly policies on the chopping block… And the independent arts—the bands, publishers, artists and creators on the front lines of grassroots creativity—are once again the easy prey of a sustained, yet unproclaimed, hunting season” (15).

The article goes on to provide an example of the Toronto electro-experimental group Holy Fuck and the cutting of a program called PromArt — a program meant to fund overseas tours of Canadian music — through a strategic review, introduced by the Tories.

Author Laura Trethewey puts it this way: “The new, ongoing auditing program singles out ‘lower priority, lower performing’ government programs and redirects the money towards other programs vaguely defined as ‘higher performing’” (15). Hence, DIY or indie culture — arguably the least organized and most impoverished arts sector — are ostracized under an economic rubric of culture.

In a follow-up post I’ll take a closer look at Chapter 10 and the Conclusion of Edwardson and apply some of what he says to this article.

The first 3 issues of Broken Pencil

The first issue of Broken Pencil was published in Toronto in June 1995 — incidentally, the same month I graduated from high school 100 miles south, in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. I say incidentally because I was also publishing a zine at the time, Mud, which was between issues 3 and 4 (of a total 8 between 1992 and 1997). Although I had heard about and occasionally read Factsheet Five, the American review digest of zines, Broken Pencil wasn’t on my radar for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

Flash forward 18 years later and I’m a c/r doctoral student at Syracuse, voluntarily writing reviews for BP in exchange for free copies of current issues.This makes looking at the print copy of #1 this week feel somewhat strangely nostalgic. Current issues of BP are slicker, the result of both cheaper printing costs and a wider circulation. For example:

1
Issue #1 of Broken Pencil, published in June 1995
BP #66, published in the winter of 2015
BP #66, published in the winter of 2015

While the covers have always been glossy, the early issues are marked by a 90s-like design, with several corny fonts and graphics overlaid on opaque images, and cheaper newsprint inside the cover. While I don’t know the circumstances of the BP’s early days — especially how it was bankrolled — I do know that it was founded by Hal Niedzviecki, a writer who was born in Canada, but schooled in the Washington DC suburbs and Bard in upstate NY (as near as I can tell, he received an MFA in creative writing from there not long before he started Broken Pencil). Although he’s written several books over the years and has freelanced for popular North American newspapers and magazines (including the New York Times Magazine, Playboy, Utne Reader, and more), at the time of BP’s launch, he was only 24 years old, and did not — again, as far as I can tell from a Proquest search — have any significant publications under his name. Niedzviecki edited BP until 2003, with #20 being is last issue before Emily Schultz takes the reigns. At some point he became the fiction editor. [Note: I am hopeful Niedzviecki will help fill in these gaps via interviews throughout my project.]

Editorially, the first year of Broken Pencil is marked by some hesitance, but it also sets forth an agenda for underground Canadian culture that sticks with the magazine throughout the next 19 years. The first issue, for example, included no feature stories — only an editorial, letters, interviews, excerpts, and reviews. But by #2, published  6 months later, two features were added. The first, written by Niedzviecki, focused on Canada’s law of legal deposit, a common copyright law that requires publishers to submit two copies of every publication to a cultural repository (the National Library in Canada’s case). The other feature, written by contributor Derek Winker, examines the free market impulses of “millennial colonists” of the early World Wide Web and sounds a jeremiad for zinesters to start taking control of it or suffer by watching its potential disappear. In #3, published in the summer of 1996, we see two more topical features. The first is article by Niedzviecki that draws a correlation between advancing technology and a shrinking of public money, suggesting that the independent artist is now code word for entrepreneur. As if they were paradoxically assisting in these advances, #3 also includes a short piece by Winkler on how to make a website for as little as $7.

The concerns articulated in these features make it clear that DIY, at least as far as Broken Pencil conceived it in the mid-90s, is about more than teaching each other how to make stuff (although there is a little of that with Winker’s website guide). For them, it is also about reflecting on the politics and agency of the underground within a larger consumer culture, thereby requiring a measurement of Canadian culture writ large. This is captured in the first words of the magazine, in #1’s editorial, written by Niedzviecki and his co-editor, Hillary Clark:

“…each new entry into the world of language is a potential wrong turn for some reader the danger of a blind corner is the pitfall of new ideas, undiluted view-points, radical and libertarian rants all produced by individuals who take it upon themselves to manufacture documents that have nothing to do with so-called market forces. So why do they do it? And why is it dangerous? We at Broken Pencil believe that the force of alternative publishing, from fringe ‘zines to little read literary journals to obscure chapbooks, is equal to any great manifesto that human ingenuity has sought to declare. Individually, these obscure publications may seem to not matter. But when considered as a collective unit, they are amazingly pervasive documents that insist on the sanctity of a life where independent creation is still possible in a society, a country, a world that might have it otherwise.” (1)

Of course only so much can be deduced from four articles written by two writers — Niedzviecki and Winkler — but many of the comments from early readers also suggest a preoccupation with Canadian culture, especially in reference to the United States. For example, in many of the letters published in these issues, there are allusions to BP being a newfound spokesperson and hub for Canada’s underground culture. Several letters thank BP for providing an alternative to Factsheet Five. Upon hearing about the initial creation of BP, early commenters in #1 wrote to say things like “it’s about time Canada had some type of zine guide” (5) and “Factsheet 5 tends to neglect zines in Canada, and see them in ‘Canadian Perspective’” (5). By #2, letters were already debating the shape and texture of the magazine, critiquing it for being too centered on Ontario or looking too much like Factsheet Five. One of the writers whose zine was excerpted in #1, Dave Cussword, wrote to remind the magazine that “as warden of Canadian pulp subculture,” they should “represent the non-conformity of its subject in design as well as content” (7).  Likewise, “It’s Hip to Buy: The Evolution of Radical Culture in Canada,” Niedzviecki argues that “New Canadian culture is mean, marketable and looks a lot like the hipster ‘counter-culture’ of our Southern neighbors.” I’m not sure if this stays constant throughout the magazine’s history, but given the obvious US bias within zine culture, much of this makes sense. Defining the changing essence of Canadian culture, however, will require another layer of research for this diss.

The first year of BP also sees it move swiftly into a hybrid media; that is, it not only crafts a print and online presence but attempts to integrate the two. This occurs much earlier than I thought. Although the only real digital presence in first issue is an email address (orien@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu), by #2 there is an “E-Zines” section in the reviews section in addition to Winkler’s article about the Web, and in #3, a year after #1, they not only have a website counterpart ( www.io.org/-halpen/bpencil.html) to the print magazine, but a regular section called Zine of the Month, that features regular content on the website. Moreover in #3, Niedzviecki provides an email in the letters section, and one that is significantly cleaner than in #1 (halpen@io.org).

Questions/ideas moving forward:

  • In terms of content, I’m most interested in the editorial, features, and letters sections since they make it easier to gauge the concerns of readers and editors than the reviews section. That said, I’m also wondering if I should trace metrics on other details — page count, # of reviews, etc.
  • Much of the early life of the magazine is concerned with descriptors, especially “alternative” culture. It is an operating term in the editorial in #2 (“ Those enquiring into the nature of alternative publishing — already a cumbersome, self -perpetuating and almost meaningless term — insist on generalizations”). The tagline for the magazine begins with “The Guide to Alternative Publications in Canada,” which runs through #9.  Moreover, in a 2000 interview about his book Hello I’m Special, Niedzviecki shied away from the description his publisher’s publicity team described as “alternative culture guru,” preferring the term “underground culture guru.” I wonder if tension is visible in the next 4-5 issues.
  • Early issues shuttle between playing the role of sponsor and critic — excerpting certain zines, but also slamming others in the reviews section. Feature stories about topics of concern, continue, but so do interview with people or makers. I wonder if (1) this is always the case, and (2) if this role is unique to a textroom or a magazine like BP.
  • How else does the BP continue to function as a hybrid media?