The Montreal Mirror, the alt-weekly at which I spent most of the ’00s, was unceremoniously shut down last week.
I was the film section editor at the Mirror from 2005-2011, as well as one of the paper’s resto critics. My first break at the paper, though, was compiling the Best of Montreal, which involved manually entering over a thousand polls, each with about 100 entries, a truly overwhelming job when you consider this was before the BoM was filled out via web form. I would go on to edit the paper’s listings for a couple of years, during which time I got another break from then-film-editor Matthew Hays, who kindly gave me the opportunity to try my hand at film criticism, which I parlayed into a loose definition of a “career.” (For the first couple of years, I made my bones by being sent to the absolute worst in modern cinema—Pokémon sequels, horrifying kids’ movies, talking animal pictures—an initiation ritual I was happy to foist upon my new writers when I broke them in. And my writers, some of which predate me at the paper, deserve naming: Malcolm Fraser, Roxane Hudon, Kier-La Janisse, Christopher Sykes, Chris Barry, Anne Marie Marko, Josh Lovejoy, and mad genius Rick Trembles, all a pleasure to deal with.)
The shadow of Quebecor and the possibility of our eventual doom always loomed over us, but I think it’s a testament to the talent and dedication of the editorial staff that you rarely felt that in the paper. I have to pay particular tribute to the iron-willed dedication of longtime editor-in-chief Alastair Sutherland, who managed to keep the corporate idiocy at arm’s-length. Al deserves so much credit for making the paper what it was—we all learned a lot from him and his unfailing eye for style and tone, not to mention a bullshit detector of the highest calibre.
It’s impossible to say what could have been if we’d been overseen by corporate management that seemed to have even the remotest clue as to what to do with this weirdo, left-leaning outpost of the Quebecor empire, and which had been even slightly prepared to deal with the realities of a rapidly changing media landscape. The higher-ups seemed more pre-occupied with backwards-looking attempts to actually de-brand the Mirror in favour of Quebecor—email addresses were changed from “@mtl-mirror.com” to “@quebecormedia.com”, and in the paper’s last days, I heard there was even talk of changing the website from www.montrealmirror.com to www.canoe.ca/montrealmirror. If you head to the former now, you’ll see they got their wish in the end, along with inexplicably taking the last two years of the site offline (everything post-redesign; the old archives from 2010 and earlier are still online, almost certainly because whoever was in charge of the hit job was too clueless to realize they even existed.)
That said, my heart’s with my newly unemployed former colleagues, though they’re all so talented I’m sure they’ll land on their feet. I worry, though, about every artist, impresario, promoter, musician, etc. who relied on the Mirror over the years to get the word out about their events and projects. My years as listings editor made it very clear just how many people needed the paper to support what they did, and I worry about the effect this will have on Montreal’s cultural landscape—in both languages. How many bands got their start with an article by Johnson Cummins or Lorraine Carpenter? How many artists got their first nod with a piece in Artsweek? How many small film festivals attracted a crowd because of a review or a picture in the film listings section? And let’s not forget the number of small businesses that proudly display Mirror reviews or Best of Montreal plaques—they meant something. As much as the web has been blamed for the death of alt-weeklies, and despite what some people think, I still haven’t seen anything online that’s replaced or replicated, what the Mirror did so well. (It certainly ain’t the freeloading—in every sense of the word—Huffington Post.) I hope something does eventually come along, although I have no idea what it’s going to look like.
A version of the above originally appeared in this blog post by Steve Faguy, where you can also find other reactions from ex-Mirror staffers.