Off the Page, with Maisonneuve Publisher Jennifer Varkonyi

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with Jennifer Varkonyi, publisher of Maisonneuve, which was named Canada’s Magazine of the Year in 2016, among 5 NMAs it took home last year. A quarterly magazine of arts, literature, ideas and culture, published in English in Montreal, Maisonneuve publishes new and established writers, artists and photojournalists packaged around award-winning design.

NMAF: Congratulations again on winning Magazine of the Year in 2016, the third such honour for Maisonneuve since 2004. In presenting the award, the NMA jury said:

Maisonneuve fulfills its bold mandate of ‘banishing boring,’ clearly striving to engage, inform and inspire. From its refreshing and imaginative art direction to its passionate editorial voice, the magazine feels like it’s constantly evolving, yet at the same time seems to connect with a sense of familiarity with its readers.”

As a publisher, how do you achieve this winning formula of evolution and continuity? And what was the significance to you and your team of winning the big award?

Jennifer: The answer is simple: the people. Maisonneuve has been blessed with great editors, art directors, writers, artists and interns who give their all to the magazine. We take the editorial process seriously, which means we do everything we can to help writers shape their stories to be the best they can be.

This striving for excellence has been a part of the magazine’s ethos from the very beginning, with founder Derek Webster’s drive to create a magazine that reflected intelligence, humour, and genuine curiosity, and the tradition has been carried forward by Carmine Starnino, Drew Nelles, Haley Cullingham, Daniel Viola and now Andrea Bennett.

Winning Magazine of the Year is significant for Maisonneuve. It reminds us that the hours upon hours of toil the editors dedicate to a fifth draft, or to tweaking display copy or scouring for typos, are noticed by readers and recognized within the magazine community. Being in Montreal can feel a little isolating at times, so coming to Toronto and winning the top honour is gratifying. The win also helps raise the magazine’s profile, especially among contributors, and it draws more people to the magazine.

NMAF: What three words or phrases describe the typical Maisonneuve reader? To what extent do you think about your current (and future) readers when you’re putting together and promoting a magazine issue?

Jennifer: I think here I have to go with the three qualities I used earlier: our readers are intelligent, have a sense of humour, and are curious about Canada and the world around them.

As publisher I consult with the editor-in-chief about upcoming issues, stories and themes, but the work of putting the content together really rests on the shoulders of the editors. Our editors ask themselves how they can best draw the reader into the story – how to begin a feature about, say, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the North? How do you grab someone’s attention when discussing the politics of creating a national park? What messages do our graphics send, and are words and images working in unison? These are the kind of questions considered around the editorial table.

NMAF: What are the biggest challenges for a (small) magazine publisher in 2017? How do you address them?

Jennifer: The biggest challenges are resources (money) and maintaining circulation. Many people have a lot of love for the magazine, but connecting with that love and growing circulation even to 5,000 is a huge challenge. That’s partly a reflection of a competitive environment: there is so much amazing content out there competing for eyeballs and subscribers.

The Internet has put small Canadian magazines into direct competition with every other magazine in the world. Without our grants from all levels of government, we would not survive. I wish we were not so dependent on these funds, but it is a reality for most small Canadian magazines. Former editor Daniel Viola recently remarked to me that Maisonneuve runs on enthusiasm, and that is exactly right. I wish we could provide more remuneration to everyone who contributes to the magazine. I think every small magazine editor and publisher in Canada feels that way!

NMAF: Maisonneuve has a national perspective, but also very clearly reflects its Quebec and Montreal heritage. In many ways, Maisonneuve could be said to be the voice of Quebec for the rest of English Canada, in literature, art and current events. How has the magazine embraced this role, and why is it important to project Quebec (and Montreal) onto the national stage?

Jennifer: Maisonneuve has always wanted to blur borders – be they real or ideological. The magazine’s identity is rooted in Montreal, but it’s a cosmopolitan identity (which is very Montreal) so the result on the page is wide-ranging and eclectic. There are regular moments, such as in the Writing from Quebec section, where we shine a light on some new writing from the francophone community, but I think the voice of Quebec is more consistently found in the excellent reporting of L’actualité and the refined cultural commentary of Nouveau Projet, for example.

Maisonneuve really is a national magazine in its scope and story selection. There was a Beaverton headline that made me laugh recently – “Montreal declared the ‘I don’t know I’m just trying to figure my shit out’ capital of Canada” – and I certainly fit this bill when I was 19 and moved to Montreal from Saskatoon. The point being: Montreal presents an alternative to the norm, be it “Toronto” or “English” or whatever – you can do things a little differently in Montreal. Maisonneuve embraces this difference, and people appreciate that.

Jennifer Varkonyi (second from left, with envelope) accepts the National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year with (from right) former Maisonneuve editors Daniel Viola and Haley Cullingham, former art director Anna Minzhulina, and Gala host Chris Turner.
Jennifer Varkonyi (second from left, with envelope) accepts the National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year with (from right) former Maisonneuve editors Daniel Viola and Haley Cullingham, former art director Anna Minzhulina, and Gala host Chris Turner at the 2016 National Magazine Awards.

 

NMAF: Based on Maisonneuve’s success, what advice would you give to small magazine publishers who are concerned they can’t compete against larger magazines on newsstands (real and virtual) or at the National Magazine Awards?

Jennifer: I think the key is to take chances. Take chances on people, on ideas, on an opening, on a story’s length. If an editor’s interest is piqued, chances are readers will be interested too. One thing that small magazines have going for them is that enthusiasm I mentioned earlier, without the punishing production cycle of larger magazines, so editors can take a little more time with a story, push for something slightly better, and the results can be astonishingly rewarding. That doesn’t pay the rent, but this is where a gold medal from the National Magazine Awards makes the sacrifices worthwhile.


Jennifer Varkonyi is the publisher of Maisonneuve, Canada’s reigning Magazine of the Year. Find out more at Maisonneuve.org, or subscribe and get 2 years (8 issues) for just $30

Download the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards guide to submissions.

National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year
Submissions to the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are now open for submissions. The award for Magazine of the Year honours the magazine that most consistently engages, surprises and serves the needs of its readers. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in magazine publishing over the past year.

The jury shall evaluate each candidate for Magazine of the Year according to four general criteria—quality, innovation, impact, and brand awareness—and its success relative to the magazine’s editorial mandate. Each submitter will need to complete an application form providing details supporting each criterion. There will be 5 finalists for this award and one overall winner.

The deadline for submissions for Magazine of the Year is January 27.
(For all other categories, the deadline is January 20).

magazine-awards.com

In Memory of Neville Gilfoy

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is deeply saddened by the loss of Neville Gilfoy, founder and publisher of Progress Magazine in Nova Scotia, who passed away yesterday from complications of lymphoma.

As an innovator and entrepreneur who built Progress Media Group into Atlantic Canada’s most trusted and important sources of business information, Neville was a strident proponent of economic development and entrepreneurial spirit in the region he dearly loved.

Neville often volunteered to serve on the jury for the National Magazine Awards, regularly offering his time and expertise in service to the industry and promoting excellence in Canadian magazines. Guests who met him at the annual National Magazine Awards gala were charmed and invigorated by his enthusiasm for the potential of magazine publishing and for business and innovation in Atlantic Canada.

For being an outstanding example to all who worked with him—and to the Canadian magazine industry—the NMAF in 2006 awarded Neville the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement.

“Neville ached to see Atlantic Canada prosper and believed an entrepreneurial revolution was required to make it happen.”
Greg Keilty, publisher of Sky News

Neville spent more than 40 years in magazine publishing. He was been behind the launch of several magazines, including Atlantic Insight (50,000 paid subscriptions within eight months), Eastern Woods and Waters, and Atlantic Progress (later Progress; he also created a French-language counterpart, Progrès), and successfully built one of the most capable, committed and determined publishing teams in Canada.

He served as a CPPA/CMPA board member from 1979 to 1987, as president of the Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce, and as chair of the board of the Greater Halifax Partnership. For 15 years he taught at the Banff Publishing Workshop. He presented at hundreds of seminars and conferences, from CMPA and Magazines University to economic development groups and high-school classes. In 1999 he launched Face to Face, one of the most remarkable entrepreneurial conferences produced by any magazine in North America. In 2006 he was appointed honorary consul of France in Nova Scotia.

At the core of Gilfoy’s success was his talent and determination for making those around him share his “uncommon delight” for the magazine industry. “He eats, sleeps and dreams the business of magazine publishing,” Dirk van Loon, editor and publisher of DvL Publishing Inc., told the NMAF in 2006 when nominating Neville for the Outstanding Achievement Award. “He gladly shares what he knows with anyone else crazy enough to get into the racket.”

“Publishing a magazine that has had such a positive impact on the Atlantic region is an accomplishment that I am very proud of. Progress has a purpose and a mission and its audience is impacted by that. The company wouldn’t enjoy the level of success it does without the team of professionals with whom I work. The people who produce our magazines, our events and our online product are the absolute best and are wonderfully committed to the success of our company and the region. It’s an amazing thing to be part of.”
–Neville Gilfoy 

He will be missed. The NMAF staff and board of directors offer our condolences to Neville’s family and friends and all those who will remember him well.

More on Neville from D.B. Scott at the Canadian Magazines blog.

Nominees announced for the 62nd Canadian Business Media Awards

Today Canadian Business Media (CBM) has announced the finalists in 21 categories for the 62nd CBM Awards in Memory of Kenneth R. Wilson, honouring excellence in business-to-business magazine publishing.

More than 67 magazines entered the competition, which was adjudicated by 75 volunteer judges. A total of 36 Canadian B2B publications are nominated for awards in 21 written, visual and special categories. The Gold, Silver and Honourable Mention awards will be presented at the Grand Banking Hall at One King West in Toronto on Tuesday June 7, 2016, during the CBM Awards gala.

Complete list of finalists [PDF]

Magazine of the Year finalists

BCBusiness: For more than 40 years, BCBusiness has informed, empowered and connected British Columbia’s leaders and entrepreneurs, whom are innovating in the province and beyond. An essential source in the business community, this publication features deep analysis, strong storytelling and authoritative opinion. This year, BCBusiness is also a finalist in the category of Best Cover.

Marketing: Marketing aims to serve the chief marketing officer’s playbook. Thanks to compelling stories, supported by strong design elements, each issue informs and inspires the decision makers and by extension, the various businesses that surround them in the marketing industry. The magazine’s team is nominated for five other awards as well, including Best Issue and Best Art Direction of a Complete Issue.

The Medical Post: The independent voice for Canada’s doctors, The Medical Post is a vehicle for physicians to share their experience through doctor-authored content. The periodical, which celebrated 50 years of publishing in 2015, features surveys, research-based clinical content, helpful practice management tips and much more to the physician community. The Medical Post also garnered six nominations for written categories this year.

Top Nominated Magazines
CPA Magazine leads all publications with 25 nominations. Ranking second is Professionally Speaking/Pour parler profession with 16 nominations. University Affairs and D&A Magazine share the third position with 8 nominations each.

2016 Harvey Southam Leadership Award
The Canadian Business Media is pleased to announce that the 2016 Harvey Southam Leadership Award will be presented to Michel Dongois, senior journalist of the business-to-business press. Recognized for his outstanding professionalism, integrity and humanism, Mr. Dongois will receive this prestigious honour at the the CBM award ceremony.

The Harvey Southam Award is the highest individual honour bestowed by Canadian Business Media. Winners represent the highest standards of B2B publishing and are recognized for their contributions to the Canadian Business Media tradition of distinguished initiative, leadership and integrity.

62nd CBM Awards Gala
The 62nd CBM Awards gala will be held on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, at the elegant Grand Banking Hall at One King West, Toronto. Doors will open at 6:30pm for a wine reception and hors d’oeuvres. Dinner and the awards presentation will follow at 7:30pm.

Photo by Nigel Dickson
DB Scott (photo by Nigel Dickson)

CBM is delighted to announce D.B. Scott as this year’s Master of Ceremonies; career editor and journalist, daily blogger about Canadian magazines, teacher in the Magazine and Web Publishing program at Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education and consultant to publishers, magazines and industry associations. D.B. was presented with the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement by the National Magazine Awards in 2010.

The CBM Awards invites you to be a part of this special night, the 62nd in a glorious tradition recognizing excellence in Canadian B2B publishing. For tickets and other information—and to view the complete list of nominees—please visit krwawards.ca.

For sponsorship inquiries, please contact Barbara Gould, Managing Director, at staff@krwawards.ca or 416-939-6200.

About the Canadian Business Media Awards
The 62nd CBM Awards in Memory of Kenneth R. Wilson are produced by Canadian Business Media. The awards program recognizes the outstanding efforts of business-to-business magazine content. Regarded as one of Canada’s top business writers, Kenneth R. Wilson wrote with clarity and authority. His opinions were widely sought and respected. In spite of his busy career, he was active in a number of editor and journalist associations. A tragic airplane crash ended his distinguished career in January, 1952. He was 47 years old. It is the memory of Kenneth R. Wilson, his example and his achievements in business press journalism, that we honour each year with these awards.

Off the Page, with Jennifer Morse & Legion Magazine

Off the Page is a regular interview series produced by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. Today we chat with Jennifer Morse, general manager of Legion Magazine, winner of the National Magazine Awards for Investigative Reporting and Service: Health & Family at this past year’s gala.

NMAF: Tell us a bit about Legion and its readers.

Jennifer: Legion is an independent magazine and one of Canada’s oldest continuously published magazines, founded in 1926. Our mandate is straightforward: Bring the stories of Canada to as many Canadians as we can, with a focus on Canadian military history and issues facing members of the military, veterans, their families and communities. We blend a mix of stories—often by some of Canada’s top historians—with iconic images, using words and pictures to excite Canadians about their history.

We’re not a magazine that is focused just on profit. We have a small, dedicated staff and a budget—like many magazines—that is limited. But we’re passionate. We have a readership, including print and online audiences, of more than 640,000, which is wonderful. Our readers really trust us to deliver quality journalism.

“One Martyr Down” by Adam Day (Legion); Gold Medal, Investigative Reporting, 2013

NMAF: Earlier this year, Legion Magazine’s commitment to excellent journalism was recognized with two Gold National Magazine Awards: one in Service: Health & Family (“Lest We Forget,” which is about veterans struggling with PTSD) and the other in Investigative Reporting (“One Martyr Down,” the incredible story of the death of a Canadian soldier serving with UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon during the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006). How do these stories exemplify Legion’s publishing mandate, and what kinds of responses have you received from readers about these stories and/or the awards?

Jennifer: There has been an overwhelming response. In the last couple of years we’ve made a commitment to publish more longform journalism, which is difficult for publishers; obviously it’s more expensive. But these stories really exemplify our mandate and we want to pursue them no matter how difficult or how limited the resources are.

On those stories in particular we received a great deal of feedback from a cross-section of readers, both military and civilian—lots of letters and comments on Twitter and social media, and it’s great to get that kind of participation. People feel like it’s their story, too. There are a lot of challenges facing Canada’s veterans and a lot of debate about benefits for veterans. Sharon [Adams] really got to the heart of this in the PTSD story and another one [“Collateral Damage: Families in the Wake of War,” which won Honourable Mention at the National Magazine Awards]. These stories have been talked about in Parliament and the Senate; they are stories that may help lead to change. The recent announcement [that the government will commit $200 million to military mental-health care and benefits] I think had a lot to do with Legion’s work.

When we won the National Magazine Awards, lots of people—readers—contacted us to congratulate our writers and the magazine. These were the first two National Magazine Awards we’d ever won, and it was great for morale in the office. We already knew these stories were important to tell, and the awards and response put a stamp on it. I think readers felt like it was partly their award, too. We were very delighted.

"Collateral Damage" by Sharon Adams (Legion); Honourable Mention, Service: Health & Family, 2013
“Collateral Damage” by Sharon Adams (Legion); Honourable Mention, Service: Health & Family, 2013

NMAF: Is there a measurable impact that winning a National Magazine Award has on the business of Legion Magazine, and where do you see this?

Jennifer: I read a statistic recently about how magazine newsstand sales are soft, down 23% combined in 2012 and 2013. We all know there are challenges out there for publishers. We’ve fortunately had the opposite result over the last two years in that we’ve experienced growth in both direct circulation and advertising.

It’s not always easy for a special-interest magazine such as Legion to succeed on the newsstand. Our special “Normandy” issue was on newsstands when the National Magazine Awards were announced, when we received a lot of news and feedback. And that issue has become one of our best sellers, the top one or two issues of all time. We are also seeing a pick-up in subscriptions via newsstand copies, and we’re forecasting a 14% increase in the second half of this year. Is it related to the awards we won—let’s hope so, but I think absolutely there has been a great impact, and we are thrilled.

NMAF: This time of year is especially significant to Canadian veterans, with Remembrance Day and the WWI anniversary, not to mention the recent attacks on members of the armed services in Ottawa and Quebec. What is Legion presenting to its readers right now?

Legion Magazine, Nov-Dec 2014

Jennifer: In our November-December issue on newsstands now, we have a profile on Julian Fantino, and about the growing frustration of veterans about government neglect. I think the level of frustration being felt is unprecedented and we wanted to address that in the story. Our editorial addresses the Veterans’ Affairs

We want to put these stories in context, to present the facts for our readers, because they are important stories to Canadians. And in a future issue we’ll be covering more of the story about the attack on Parliament Hill.

NMAF: Who should be reading Legion magazine that isn’t right now?

Jennifer: Every single Canadian! A reader recently told me he bought the special Normandy issue for his 90-year-old father, a veteran of the Second World War, who said he found it so satisfying to read something truly about Canada. We’re a country with our own story. I think Legion should be read in classrooms, in senior centres, and anywhere people want to discuss what we’re doing as a country, whether we’re doing it wrong or right. We know there is an appetite for stories like Legion presents, and our readers love the discoveries they make.

Legion Magazine is published six times per year in English with a French insert. In addition to its two National Magazine Awards, Legion also won a Silver Award in Audience Development in 2014 from the Circulation Management Association of Canada for its “Victoria Cross” special issue. Find out more at legionmagazine.com and on Twitter @Legion_Magazine. Check out Legion’s holiday subscription offer for a chance to win a free Apple iPad Air.

The January/February 2015 cover of Legion.
The January/February 2015 cover of Legion.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award winners.

The 2014 National Magazine Awards are now open for submissions. Early-bird deadline: January 11.