Illustration by Kyra Kendall/Torontoist.
When Eye Weekly debuted in the fall of 1991, one of the introductory articles noted that a pile of defunct alt-weeklies from the previous decade proved that “if we don’t give you something you want to read, we’ll all be looking for another line of work very soon. Eye Weekly intends to be around for quite awhile.”
Stick around it did, through two decades of changes in tone, from irreverent humour in early years to solid coverage of recent city issues more recently. Like most weekly papers of its kind, the core of Eye has been arts and entertainment coverage. But that is about to change, as the Torstar-published paper is undergoing a metamorphosis that publisher/editor-in-chief Laas Turnbull hopes will provide readers with “a younger, hipper, more provocative version of Toronto Life in a weekly guise” that mirrors “the energy and the vibe that you get just walking around the city.”
Come May 12, adios Eye Weekly, hello The Grid.
When the publication’s new name was unveiled on Monday, Turnbull expected to see nothing but bile flowing out of commentators on the web who are easily nauseated at the slightest sign of change. “I expected it to be almost all negative because when was the last you read something in a newspaper and wrote a letter to the editor and said ‘I just want to tell you that you guys are doing a fucking great job’? It’s a lot easier to take the time to type in something that’s bitchy and complainy than it is to give people props.” When Turnbull looked at commentary on sites like Twitter, however, he found them to tip slightly towards the positive and was “really, really pleased.”
Looking back at what was a local trending topic on Twitter, we too found a mixed bag: positive and negative feelings about the name change, and some questions as to why one was being made at all. (Plus the requisite jokes about Tron, and electric shocks.)
With a new name inspired by the city’s road pattern, Turnbull intends to publish stories in The Grid that present the city from street-level, the perspective from which readers experience it day-to-day. Although arts and entertainment will remain an important part of The Grid, the scope of coverage will broaden to include topics like real estate and religion. The revamp is modelled on city magazines like Toronto Life, but aimed at a younger (20s through early 40s), less affluent audience (we hear some of you yelling “hipsters!”) who won’t be buying mansions in Rosedale anytime soon. Turnbull intends to avoid the glossy coating such publications give to the cities they cover as he feels that approach doesn’t portray Toronto well. “Most of us don’t have enough money to live in the way that the city is portrayed in a lot of other publications in this town, nor do we want to,” he notes.
The Grid will also literally lack the glossy feel of other city magazines by remaining on newsprint. Turnbull is fine with working around the limitations of pulp, even if it means photographs might bleed a bit, as it fits his street-level vision. “We want to dirty this thing up a bit,” he says, as he describes using photos as snapshots of local life. “Living in the city is not about posed portraits and gleaming white towers and streets that feel like they’ve been cleaned using a toothbrush…We don’t want it to feel too twee or like it’s presenting a kind of sterilized version of the city.”
Will the first issue of The Grid feature as many exclamation marks on its cover? Eye Weekly, October 10, 1991.
The publication’s web incarnation will also undergo significant changes, as it switches to a blog-style site built on WordPress featuring more net-exclusive content. Among the contributors to the revamped site is style writer (and Torontoist alumni) Sarah Nicole Prickett, who has been appearing often in print but will largely move to the online edition as a result of the redesign. “It makes good financial sense to put longer pieces of writing online, bandwidth being cheaper than paper and ink, and do something visual with the style page, where you have an art director to make it look good,” says Prickett. “It only feels strange, to me, still. I’m sometimes a traditionalist. But look at sites like Thought Catalog and Twitter feeds like Long Reads, and you’ll see this is all part of a bigger shift.”
Another writer now missing from the pages is long-time freelancer David Balzer. Though he had been planning on leaving Eye anyway, he was recently told his writing would no longer be appearing. (Whether for stylistic, budgetary, or other reasons, he does not know.) In a testament to the good will that Eye has built up, Balzer bears the publication no hard feelings, telling us: “I have nothing but respect for Eye and wish The Grid all the best.”
Turnbull was slightly evasive regarding other names to be included among The Grid’s bylines. He indicated that few of the paper’s current contributors have been told about what is to come (something that other writers confirmed to us), but that “we’re always looking for good people to contribute in both print and online. It’s one of those things that will unfold naturally.” We contacted several contributors and editors to find out what they knew, but most deferred our questions to Turnbull.
As for where The Grid will ultimately fit into Toronto’s media landscape, Turnbull wants the mood of The Grid to be guided by an affectionate curiosity about Toronto that celebrates all of its facets. He feels that a lot of Toronto media adopt an apologetic tone toward the city, as if they’d prefer to be living elsewhere but are making the best of being stuck in Hogtown. “We think it’s a wonderful city and I think that allows us to criticize it at some points in a more nuanced, more interesting way because we are coming at it from a position of love and affection rather than loathing, which seems to be the case more commonly…The city has changed a huge amount in the past 10 years. It’s become far more cosmopolitan, far more textured, nuanced and interesting…There’s definitely an opportunity to engage people at that level.”
In our above correction notice we omitted some of Balzer’s work with Eye. He has contributed freelance writing since 2003 (not 2009 as we originally stated) and we failed to include his tenure as arts editor. Our apologies.