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A Healthy Corrective to Self-Censorship

National Post's
Barbara Kay on
"The Métropolitain"

Barbara Kay

22 May 2008

As we all are being told, newspapers - the kind that leave your fingers a bit inky, that is - are in decline. Readers and advertisers are shifting online at a rate traditionalists such as myself find alarming.

I'm no Luddite. The Internet is pure gold for work and social communication; but online news and blogs don't cut it for me as my primary source of daily reading pleasure. Sharing my morning coffee with a tiny, rigid iPhone is a glum prospect. And while it's nice to be archived in perpetuity on the Web, for me there's no satisfaction to compare with seeing my column on a soft, rustling, clippable, eventually yellowing page.

Thankfully, it's not all bad news for print newspapers. According to Beryl Wajsman - journalist, talk-show host, social activist, iconcoclast, and now founding editor and publisher of The Métropolitain, a new bilingual Montreal print venture - it's mostly subscription newspapers that are facing some hurdles. Free newspapers supported by advertising targeted to a specific demographic, he claims, are doing well.

To prove it, Wajsman and his talented team, including managing editor Anthony Philbin, senior editor Daniel Laprès and contributing editor Brigitte Garceau, are investing their energies (and his backers' serious money) into the expectation that a tabloid of ideas and public affairs commentary aimed at Montreal's most bicultural and politically sophisticated readers can swim upstream.

Since May 1, The Métropolitain - biweekly to start, weekly in prospect - has been available in print (30,000 copies targeted at high-income and-influence Montrealers) and online at http://www.themetropolitain.ca/. It's starting on a solid footing - according to Wajsman, at least. He claims he has eight months publication assured through advertising commitments from 25 clients.

As a contributor, I'm not disinterested. I'd like this feisty, outspoken newspaper to succeed as a healthy corrective to a Quebec media landscape that too often censors itself on sensitive issues. Contributor partisanship amongst The Métropolitain's writers spans the political spectrum from socialist to libertarian. What all have in common is something in generally short supply in Quebec - a devotion to individual rights and the free exchange of ideas, however offensive to thin-skinned cultural-grievance collectors. It therefore stands to reason that Quebec political and cultural elites are a frequent target of The Métropolitain contributors' writerly pique.

A rousing editorial by Wajsman set the tone of the first issue on May 1: "For too long, this island has been the champ-de-mars of the culture wars ... based on ... the lie that some unique injustice was done to a native people in its native land. And that one of those peoples has a superior moral claim on its sovereignty. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth."

What's especially wonderful about The Métropolitain is its bilingualism (each article, whether in French or English, is unique; none are translated). This represents a "union montréalaise," in Wajsman's words, which emphasizes the bilingualism of most Montrealers, and neutralizes the persisting image of whining "angryphones" one sees so often in the French media. It is richly symbolic to see, alongside the anglo writers and contributors like David Solway and Duff Conacher, civil libertarian and multilingual commentator Julius Grey, principled francophone writers - senior editor Daniel Laprès, historian Esther Delisle, academic Alain-Michel Ayache, economist Germain Belzile, dramatist Pierre Malouf and up and coming talents like David Simard and Vincent Geloso - whose brains and savvy are scandalously under-utilized in Quebec because they hold the "wrong" views about identity politics.

But Beryl Wajsman is the driving force of the venture. This happy warrior is a familiar name to politically engaged Montrealers. A 24/7 political animal with a taste for revolutionary tropes, Wajsman's Sunday Corus radio talk show on 940 AM is called The Last Angry Man for good reason: He trades in unflagging indignation on issues of social justice. His tenacity on and off air often delivers results on otherwise orphaned issues.A fearless gadfly, Wajsman accepts personal threats and - he tells me - the vandalism of his car and hacking of his website as a small price to pay for the pleasure of rousing a too-often lethargic public.

Bonne chance, The Métropolitain. May you long be the source for many thousands of happily inky fingers.

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