Alberta Report (magazine)

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Alberta Report (magazine)

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        The Alberta Report began as a weekly general news magazine called the St. John's Edmonton Report. Billed as a faster way than the local newspaper to get a complete picture of the week's news, the Report sought to tell the news, the reasons and personalities behind the news, and why the events happened. However, the main focus was on political figures and events from a socially conservative Christian viewpoint.

        The Report was produced by the St. John's Press, a small publishing company that was run by the Community of the Cross, an Anglican lay Order. The Order also managed St. John's School of Alberta, a Christian boarding school for boys located in Stony Plain. The roots of Company of the Cross's publishing venture began in 1971, when the Company also printed the weekly multiple listings catalogue for the Edmonton Real Estate Board. Staff consisted of the St. John's School students who worked on the press, and members of the Order who worked as journalists for the magazine. The original editorial board consisted of Keith T. Bennett, who was also the minister of St. John's School, and Ted Byfield, the founder of the magazine.

        In October of 1973, a prototype of the magazine was issued, with the Report going into full production in the first week of November of that year. Initially, the magazine covered “People”, “Government”, “Economy”, and “Faith”. Over the next few months, two new topics were added – “Schools” and “Edmontonia”. Eventually, sections on Sports, Law, Science, and the Arts were also added. Other staples of the magazine included publishing the works of contemporary artists on the back cover, and advertisements for charitable organizations. Additional advertising space was added when the circulation of the magazine exceeded 7500 weekly subscriptions. In 1974, the Company of the Cross created a new publishing company called St. John's Edmonton Report Ltd. The publishing company became incorporated in order to qualify for second-class mail service. At this time, the Directors for the newly incorporated business included Keith T. Bennett, Ted Byfield, and Duane Berezowski. Also in this year, the magazine headquarters moved from their original location to Edmonton in order to minimize the rising costs of staff commutes between Stony Plain and Edmonton, and rural challenges for delivering the magazine to its Edmontonian client base.

        By 1976, the magazine had a subscriber base of 20,000 in the Edmonton region. Its success derived from its controversial, albeit Christian, perspective, particularly with older readers distressed by the new moral and cultural transformations, such as gay rights, feminism, and abortion. Furthermore, the Report fulfilled a niche in the local media market in covering stories outside the purview of big-city newspapers like the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald.

        As part of the Company's success, it expanded into Calgary with the St. John's Calgary Report, which was launched in 1977. Unfortunately, the expansion of two magazines, and the related operating costs and business expenses to produce both Reports, including the hiring of professional journalists and photographers, nearly forced the magazines into bankruptcy. In order to minimize the loss of revenue, both magazines were merged to form the Alberta Report in September of 1979. As part of this merger, the publication company's name, St. John's Publications Ltd, was changed to reflect the new title of the magazine – Alberta Report Limited. Additionally, the subscription price for subscribers in southern Alberta rose to be the same price that was charged for the St. John's Edmonton Report. This was part of Edmonton businessman Al Hardy's reorganization of the company. Shortly after Hardy's death, Ted Byfield acquired control of the magazine and published the Alberta Report under Interwest Publications.

        For the next five years, the Alberta Report was at its pinnacle with a subscription base of nearly 60,000. This was the heyday of the magazine, and its production quality improved as the Report's photographers learnt how to snap photographs, and the magazine employed an art director and librarians. Consequently, better cover imagery and cataloguing of the photo archives resulted from the hiring of the new staff members.

        The recession in the mid-1980s took its toll on the Alberta Report and by 1986, Interwest Publications was losing revenue again. To offset its loss, the Western Report was launched to appeal to a broader conservative audience than the Alberta Report. The Western Report was more of a national type general news magazine with bureaus of editorial staff representatives stationed in Vancouver, Victoria, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg. Even with this broader base, the magazine still presented a distinctive Western voice and followed the early years of the political birth of the Reform Party, and later the Alliance Party, as well as the beginning of Preston Manning's and Ralph Klein's political careers. Hence in the early days of the Reform Party of Canada, the Report played an instrumental role in attracting supporters from the West, particularly Alberta, while destroying Albertan support for the federal Conservative Party.

        Financial trouble continued to plague Interwest and in 1989, the company decided to capitalize on the West's largest market by launching the B.C. Report in British Columbia. The new Report did not meet financial expectations and in the following year, Interwest went into receivership. Within a few weeks, the Alberta Report and its sister publications became the primary business assets of United Western Communications, of which Ted Byfield, John Scrymgeour, and Don Graves each owned one-third. The economic downsizing and other publication projects helped to defray the ongoing losses from the magazine operations.

        In the mid-1990s, the editorial focus of the magazine shifted from its previous mandate of providing general news with a conservative Christian perspective to providing greater emphasis on social issues. The new editorial focus arose as the Report attempted to differentiate themselves from mainstream media news. Plunging into the “Culture Wars”, the Report's perspective on feminism, abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, human rights law, subsidized art and political correctness earned the reputation of the magazine as being intolerant, bigoted and at times racist. As a result, the company expended their financial resources to fight human rights complaints and defamation lawsuits. Furthermore, the company experienced further financial loss as mainstream advertisers boycotted the magazine. By the end of the 1990s, the magazine was firmly ensconced in the fringe of Canadian political and media discourse.

        Once again the magazines were redesigned and launched as The Report with minor variations between the Alberta, B.C., and National editions. Although the company attempted to increase circulation and sales in Ontario, the magazine was unable to gain a foothold in that market. The decline in readership and the scant editorial resources meant that many of the stories and images had to be freelanced or commissioned to outside sources. Within the last three years of the magazine's publication, the company adopted desperate and erratic strategies to improve circulation and revenues. However, in 2002, United Western Communications Ltd. sold its assets, including the photographs of The Report, to History Book Publications Ltd. in exchange for the relinquishment of outstanding debt. At the same time, Link Byfield who was the publisher, decided that another avenue, the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, would better serve the political and social causes that The Report had served for so many years. This proposal proved unsuccessful, and in the spring of 2003, The Report printed its last issue and ceased publication.


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