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Xtra shuffles editorial deck

Toronto's gay and lesbian biweekly adapts to new realities

ALTERED MEDIA LANDSCAPE. There are changes afoot at Xtra, including the introduction of Marcus McCann as the Toronto paper's new managing editor. Credit: Charles Earl

In Marcus McCann’s office at Xtra, the hammer is out. One painting is already up on the wall and a new whiteboard is being mounted.

McCann is Xtra’s new managing editor, and though he arrived from Ottawa early in November, he is still settling into both his office and his home nearby. McCann is joining Xtra from Ottawa’s sister paper, Capital Xtra, taking over some of the work of previous managing editor Matt Mills. Now working from Toronto, McCann will also continue to serve as Capital Xtra’s managing editor and associate publisher.

It has been a year of tough choices in workplaces across Canada, and Pink Triangle Press (PTP), Xtra’s parent company, is no exception.

This fall sees the departure of two long-time Xtra editors. The position of arts and entertainment editor has been eliminated, and Gordon Bowness, who has been with Xtra for more than 10 years, will be leaving at the end of December. Associate editor Julia Garro left Nov 7 to pursue a second career.

“I think it’s pretty clear to anybody anywhere that the media landscape is changing, and it became very clear to us that we needed to make some changes within our own organization,” says Mills, PTP editorial director. “We needed to streamline our editorial operations, particularly within the Xtra publications.”

Unlike local dailies, Xtra is not facing a serious financial crunch from the recession.

“Advertising revenues this year are down from where we had hoped they would be. But while some other publications are seeing massive shortfalls in their actual sales from last year, we are not seeing that,” says Brandon Matheson, publisher of all five PTP editorial publications.

Still, Matheson says PTP has had to think about how to cut operating costs. This year, he reduced printing expenditures and managed to cut the number of papers being thrown out without hurting actual readership. Over the years, PTP has combined management positions — for example, each Xtra used to have its own publisher, but now Matheson oversees all three.

Xtra’s editorial team will be rounded out by Mills, who will now also oversee editorial operations at Guide. Xtra.ca managing editor Brent Creelman has become an important contributor to Xtra. There are also roughly 50 regular and occasional freelance writers, columnists, photographers and illustrators who will continue to make up Xtra’s brain trust. Copy editor Lesley Fraser will be joining PTP Nov 23, working with Xtra, Capital Xtra, Xtra West, Fab and Guide.
 
But McCann and his colleagues emphasize the importance of maintaining strong local content for each Xtra, and promise not to neglect local arts or news coverage.

“We want to make sure that we give readers everything that we’ve given them in the past,” says Mills.

Readers may notice more focus on Xtra’s website. Xtra.ca relaunched in September 2008, and since April 2007 traffic has increased six fold, thanks to more and better content, blogs and video. In the long run, the physical paper will evolve as well.

“There are going to be some exciting changes to the feel of the paper in the first quarter of next year,” says McCann, but he won’t elaborate. “I’ve got to leave a little bit to the imagination.”