I Remember When Maclean’s Was a Serious Magazine

Dan Brown’s new book is “the most anticipated book in decades”? Really?

Maclean's Cover

We always had Maclean’s around our house growing up. I remember enjoying the movie and book reviews, and I think I learned a lot about editorial writing from Allan Fotheringham’s back page columns.

These days, the magazine seems to have lost its way. On the one hand it clings to its more serious routes, while on the other it indulges in these woeful, tabloidy covers. What went wrong?


  1. I await your nomination of a book, in the last few decades, which was more anticipated.

    Truman Capote’s “Answered Prayers”?

    I carry no water for Mr. Brown. I haven’t read any of his previous books. But I’m not so high-minded as to believe that a national news magazine has to ignore this story. Because it is a story.

    1. I’m going to go with Mark’s suggestion of the seventh Harry Potter book.

      I’m not denying that it’s a story. I just don’t think it’s front page material for a serious Canadian magazine, particularly phrased in such a sensationalist fashion.

      Last week’s cover? “The Millionaire Murderer. The fast times and terrible end of a Calgary developer turned reality TV star”

  2. Maclean’s has gone through a number of reincarnations (in content, publication frequency and physical size) — in fact, my father was part of the team that assembled a corporate history of the magazine back in the late 1950’s and one of the topics that it dealt with was the spelling of the magazine name. This was back when the magazine was part of Maclean-Hunter (which also published Chatelaine along with 50 or so business publications) having editorial offices on University and the printing arm was in the north-east corner of 401 and Yonge street.

    It hasn’t always been a newsmagazine and was, for a time, a more feature-laden publication similar in many ways to The Saturday Evening Post. It was during that “style period” that my dad had a couple of pieces published (under a nom de plume, actually).

    Now-a-days, it is part of the Rogers media empire and is, like many media organizations, trying to identify a target market and define its niche. It’s not a glamourous business to be in so I’m sure their flailing about is symptomatic of the common magazine malaise — made more difficult because Macleans is trying to be relevant to a relatively very small market.

    Incidentally, I notice you used “Maclean’s” in your piece and “mcleans” in your tags. I know it went through several spellings, but I think (and I’m subject to correction) that it was always “mac” — it was the capitalization (or lack of) of the “L” and the presence or absence of the apostrophe that varied.

    Disclosure: I read a number of dead tree publications — Maclean’s hasn’t been one of those publications for several decades.

  3. Excellent nomination!

    I can’t find good sales figures for individual Harry Potter novels, but the series has sold 400 million books all together.

    It looks like Da Vinci did sell more copies than the penultimate Potter tome, which suggests there will be more “anticipating readers” for this sequel than for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

    On the other hand, Rowling books are consistently very fast sellers on their first day of publication, and it looks like (since early figures are now out) Rowling’s book probably beat Brown’s book in terms of first-weekend purchases, which is a reasonable proxy for “anticipation.”

    So you can make an argument for either book.

    1. Also, if we’re measuring the ephemeral idea of ‘anticipation’, I’d argue that your average child generates more Units of Anticipation than your average adult. Think Christmas morning here.

  4. I am just a little disappointed in culture that pablum like Dan Brown’s work is highly anticipated by my fellow Canadians.

    I read MacLean’s while waiting at my acupuncturist’s office and found it to be all over the map in terms of content. The reality guy murder article was news for sure … but made tawdry.

    I also read the Dan Brown article and was surprised at the flat writing but moreso by the fact that this alt-history, short attention span, made for movie is what passes as important in a contemporary literary context.

    I also read the Ted Kennedy focused issue and found several well-written and in-depth pieces so i guess my problem is disappointment that the topical selections are based on what people will buy – but hey that’s business.

    In the meantime, i’ll continue to toil in relative obscurity creating *important* content which few ever find.

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