Keeping the name, tossing the content

On Oct. 11, 2012 the Winnipeg Free Press (WFP) announced huge changes to Winnipeg’s beloved alternative music publication, Uptown Magazine.

It was publicized in the WFP that Uptown—formerly a standalone publication—will be “relaunched as a new section that will run as part of the Thursday edition of Free Press delivered to subscribers and available for sale on newsstands.”

While the publication will be incorporated within the WFP, this weekly section will also be available around Winnipeg at current Uptown newsstands.

What the WFP did not publicize is that with these changes came the elimination of all staff positions at Uptown Magazine – a division of Canstar News. This information was made public through the blog of journalist and ex-WFP staff  member Melissa Martin. Martin was laid off from the paper during their last round of cut-backs in September, which saw a total of seven reporters and editors losing their jobs.

“Last week, the Winnipeg Free Press made the decision to ‘change’ Uptown Magazine,” wrote Martin in her blog, aptly named Nothing in Winnipeg. “At the end of the month, all the Uptown staff jobs will be terminated. That is four full-time positions and one part-time position axed, including Uptown editor Jen Zoratti.”

“This move will put some very talented young media folks out of work. (The fact that they have to keep working there for three weeks after being informed seems… rather unfortunate.) And after a couple of decades in the business, Uptown is effectively done.”

Oddly enough, this information has not received much press coverage despite the huge implications it may have on alternative music news in Winnipeg.

These changes have undoubtedly left many of Uptown’s readers questioning the future of alternative music and arts news in Winnipeg.

Bob Cox, publisher for the Winnipeg Free Press, has no doubts that their current Entertainment section staff will be able to fill the shoes of the former staff of Uptown Magazine.

“I am sure that Winnipeg Free Press staff can produce an interesting entertainment weekly, combining the content of Uptown and ‘The Tab,’” Cox told the Manitoban. “The new approach is an effort to reinvigorate both the entertainment content of the Winnipeg Free Press and Uptown to put it on a sound financial footing.”

However, with recent staff layoffs at the WFP potentially creating an even larger workload for existing staff, Martin has doubts that Uptown Magazine’s reputation for local, relevant music news will remain unscathed.

“I have a lot of love and respect for my former colleagues at the Free Press [ . . . ] there [are] some really talented people that are going to be contributing to it, and some of them who are even more intimately familiar with what Uptown Magazine meant than I ever was,” Martin told the Manitoban.

“Unfortunately, there’s too few of them, they’re at later stages in their careers, and there’s not a single music specialist remaining on staff – which doesn’t bode well for the ‘new’ Uptown really being able to capitalize on exciting content that’s relevant to new readers, or being able to bring fresh voices to the media landscape.”

“So in the end, I don’t see the point in retaining the brand at all, when it will effectively be altered beyond recognition. I mean I fundamentally understand why they want to keep the brand name alive: it’s familiar in Winnipeg, [and] it has value. But there’s something awkward, cynical and even a little grim about clinging to the brand name while tossing out everything that the brand actually stood for.”

Former staff of Uptown Magazine held a “funeral” of sorts for the publication on Oct. 25 at the King’s Head Pub – an opportunity for staff, friends and fans to come together to share stories, reminisce, and offer speeches as a fond farewell to the publication that has held a place in so many Winnipeggers’ hearts.

Only time will tell whether the new Uptown Magazine will be able to hold a candle to its former embodiment. One can only hope that this new publication will remain a venue for local bands, artists and the like to share their art with our city, and that alternative music news in Winnipeg will live on.


Illustration by Justin Ladia.