Though the collective operated on a volunteer basis, we did have one paid staff, our editor Philinda Masters, who contributed to the paper, edited the copy, managed the office, facilitated our relationships with our typesetter Pink Type at the gay newspaper The Body Politic and printers, paid our bills and, basically, took care of everyday business.
After 5 years, Broadside secured a small grant through the city housing department to pay Donna Gollan to manage our circulation and sell advertising among other things. Donna was followed by Ingrid MacDonald, and then Jackie Edwards came on to the staff, thanks to another grant Broadside shared with the Canadian women’s health magazine Healthsharing.
GETTING THE WORK DONE
The Collective Process
The Broadside collective was a high-functioning collective for several reasons. First, each member understood what was required and met their commitment. And it was a serious one: two meetings a week – Mondays and Thursdays – plus both afternoons of one weekend a month for production. Incredibly, meetings always started on time.
Second, we were able to operate via consensus. In the 10 years that Broadside published, not a single vote was taken. That’s because we had a shared understanding that it made sense to step back from a discussion when someone else knew more. People had their own roles – we experienced no "tyranny of structurelessness."
Most important, perhaps, was the fact that we kept the focus on what we were doing. Everything – from personality conflicts to playful conversations – took second place to meeting deadlines and getting the newspaper out. What we were creating was always bigger than the group and we were always conscious of the fact that we were part of a whole movement that was bigger than Broadside. We weren’t just putting out a newspaper that we liked. It had political meaning and was connected to something else.
Volunteers played an important role at Broadside, especially during production and when we organized the monthly mail-out/distribution of Broadside to our subscribers, thereby engaging the community. This distribution involved attaching address labels to papers and organizing them by postal code into bags that a collective member drove to the post office the next day. We did all the actual production ourselves, engaging volunteers when they had the skills to participate, or developing those skills on the fly. Both production and mail-out activities were often stepping stones into collective membership.
From the beginning, Broadside was incorporated as a for-profit corporation because, in part, we were concerned, especially in the early days – and we’ll confess to a certain level of paranoia here – that we were vulnerable to a takeover from competing political groups, but mostly because we wanted our membership to be firm, so that people could invest in us.
We rejected the non-profit option because, though we never expected to turn a profit, the rules of directorship were more complicated. The decision gave us a lot of paper work, but it also guaranteed our independence.
We capitalized the project by selling subscriptions, which gave us access to start-up funds. We sold these subscriptions by leafleting every feminist meeting in Toronto, tipping people to the up-and-coming publication and actually succeeded in raising enough to pay our initial bills. Not that money was ever easy. Generally, we consistently paid the important bills and the rest involved an ingenious juggling act facilitated by our editor Phil Masters.
In 1984, we received an arts grant from the Ontario Arts Council. We were inexperienced enough at grant applications then that we didn’t apply for the full amount available to us, until a grants officer suggested that we go all the way. We later received a grant from the Canada Council on the strength of our Arts section and a grant from the federal Status of Women Canada (then known as the Women's Program of the Secretary of State) to facilitate promotion and circulation initiatives.
As far as advertising was concerned, we never had a single individual who dealt only with advertising, though we had collective members or staff who engaged in the process. In our efforts to involve our community through advertising their events and services in our pages, Ottie Lockey got involved early on in setting things up, and was followed by various staff and collective.
A successful feature was our "Happy International Women's Day" ad page, which allowed shoestring operations and underfunded women's organizations to showcase themselves for a very low rate. We did have a lot of supporters who took out repeat ads for 10 years. Overall, Broadside was averaging $300 per issue in advertising revenue, about one-tenth of our entire operating budget!
We were, however, very creative fundraisers, organizing benefits, some of which became templates for other organizations looking for fundraising ideas. A cabaret at the now defunct Bamboo set a precedent for many groups who later staged similar entertainments. Previously, feminist groups weren’t looking to the bar scene for party venues. Other funders featured Shawna Dempsey performing her infamous and hilarious We’re Talking Vulva, and a screening of Lizzie Borden’s Born In Flames, all indicative of the fact that Broadside stayed aware of cutting-edge feminist art.
There was also a champagne and strawberry brunch held at the Women's Cultural Building on Lombard St., a number of fundraising dinners at feminist-friendly restaurants, and even a successful bingo night at the Heliconian Club in Yorkville. In addition, many wonderful supporters opened their homes for other gatherings. The fact that these events brought in any cash, however, is a testimony to the strength of the feminist community at the time and their confidence in Broadside as a publication.
There is no simple reason why Broadside ceased publishing; several factors played a part. Some of it had to do with the changes going on in our own community. We were an all-white collective with an all-white sensibility, which in itself was making us less and less relevant within a movement in which women of colour were seeking more voice and leadership.
As it was we were a credible publication – almost an institution – with no money. Our subscriptions numbered over 3,000, which by Canadian standards was not low – at the time 85 per cent of publications in Canada had less than 2,000 subscribers. But we had reached maximum growth.
And members of the collective were going through their own changes. Most important among them: after 10 years, Phil Masters took a position at a long established feminist publication, the academic journal Resources for Feminist Research (RFR), published out of the Centre for Women's Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (U of T).
When we announced that Broadside was folding we were flooded with letters from feminists from all over the country mourning the demise of the magazine [read them in our last issue]. If we weren’t convinced of the newspaper’s value at the moment we decided to cease publication, those testimonials assured us that it had played an essential role in gaining justice for women.
Broadside helped reinvent journalism to make room for a feminist voice. It uncovered the work of female artists who otherwise never would have been given much attention and it developed challenging and risky new ideas – all of that, while participating in the day-to-day organizing of a grassroots movement.
For more on our decision to cease publication, please follow this link to our final issue to read the last editorial, and check out the letters of support we received at that time.
THE DIGITAL PROJECT
Since 1988, the complete Broadside has been stashed away - some in libraries, some at the National Archives in Ottawa, some in collective members’ basements. At a small memorial for former collective member Beverley Allinson, some Broadsiders reminisced about our time together, what we’d accomplished and the extent to which Broadside may have been forgotten.
We began to think about the opportunities the online world offers us. We realized we have the technology to bring this immense project to a whole new audience and to give new pleasure to our original readers who can now revisit every article in all its glory.
We’re proud now to be able to present all the content from every issue over all 10 years in a digital format. We’re sure this written history will bring back memories for many and inspire new generations to work for change.