This article was originally published in The GRIND, a brand new free ALT newspaper. Find THE GRIND at your local subway.

NOW Magazine’s first issue began with a promise to its readers. The five-person editorial team wanted to be the voice for news and entertainment directed at Toronto’s young adults, who in 1981 were the tail end of the baby boomers. (Truly everything was made for them…) 

From the beginning, NOW blazed its own path, becoming the place where generations of young people came to learn about the hottest new Toronto talent, coolest dive bars, what was on at the Fringe festival, TIFF, everything about Carnival, and Pride – whatever made Toronto, Toronto

As it grew, the magazine expanded its focus beyond arts and entertainment, and it became a place where diverse people and stories could be found at a time when that was still a rarity in almost every newsroom.

I shot my first assignment for NOW on a frigid February morning in 2020, and though I struggled to make my numb fingers work, I couldn’t stop thinking about how excited I was. By the time I moved to Toronto a decade ago, NOW magazine was 30 years old and in every bar, coffee shop and TTC station I went to – literally everywhere. As soon as I picked up a copy, I wanted to shoot for them. 

What drew me to NOW was the freedom I saw in its pages, the ability to tell stories and make images that I wasn’t seeing in traditional media. In NOW’s pages I saw a dedication to the diversity of Toronto, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. It’s one of the things that drew writers, photographers and designers to the publication, and it also kept them there, possibly long after they should have moved on. 

“Think of the voices that came through this publication,” NOW’s former editor-in-chief Rad Simonpillai says. “Go through our archives, you’ll find Matt Galloway interviewing Questlove or reviewing Jay-Z albums. You’ll find a cover story on Paris Is Burning written by my predecessor Cameron Bailey. You’ll also find that for decades, while Canadian media stayed white as hell, NOW was pretty much the only Canadian outlet that could imagine movie or music writers of colour. That’s how I ended up writing in these pages.”

Without really planning it, NOW had created its own talent pipeline as the same young Torontonians the publication was designed for grew up being inspired to write for it. 

Richard Trapunski, who would go on to become NOW’s music editor, wrote his first review in 2010. “It was almost hard to believe. I had been opening that same magazine to that same section every week for years. In high school, I would pore over its band interviews and record reviews and listings, imagining shows I might go to if they weren't all 19+. Then later, in university, I used them to plan my nights. It was indispensable.” 

Throughout its life, NOW was also a place for creativity and collaboration to flourish. “Coming from a career in dailies – I started at the Toronto Star – working for NOW was a goddamn joy,” says NOW’s former film writer Norm Wilner. “The structure of an arts weekly gave us the time to think about what we were writing, and if I wanted to devote 800 to 1200 words to a Cinematheque retrospective on the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang, it wasn’t even an argument! NOW was genuinely collaborative from the jump, all of us striving to make the best newspaper we could.” 

NOW was also an active voice in Toronto’s political scene, never shying away from highlighting under-reported issues like Indigenous resistance, the city’s horrific shelter system, and cycling deaths that the city would rather sweep under the carpet.

As NOW moved through its third decade, the publication faced growing financial struggles. Like other print publications the reasons were multifactorial – but in 2014 a shift in digital strategies to address these problems began to change the quality of the publication. “The moment you start chasing SEO  [search engine optimization], you stop serving the readership,” Wilner said. “It was a lesson not all of us learned, unfortunately.” 

In 2019, one of NOW’s founders, Alice Klein, sold the publication. But the new ownership and COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help NOW’s existing financial problems. 

The publication’s slow decline accelerated in February 2022, when NOW stopped paying its staff with any regularity. Despite this, many continued to work with the hope the publication could be sold and saved. 

But hope can only bring you so far, and as the months dragged on more and more staff, understandably, chose to leave. 

“My time at NOW was cut way too short. I can't help but look at my time with bittersweetness,” says former food writer Ramona Leitao. “The work I did and the editorial team are the only reasons why I can look at my experience at NOW somewhat fondly. They let me document almost anything I wanted to and encouraged my ideas from day one. One of my biggest highlights was the way they supported me in writing my first cover story (!!) on West African eats in the city.” 

Where NOW Magazine goes from here is currently unclear, but the potential end of the publication would leave a huge hole in Toronto’s media landscape. The Grind seems poised to fill some of that void, but it’s still too soon to say. Meanwhile, a print issue of NOW hasn’t come out since August, and Simonpillai announced he was leaving the publication in September.

“There was, and is, no other local outlet that cares about local art scenes like NOW did. Musicians and promoters and venues and the weirdos writing about it – we were all part of the same ecosystem,” Trapunski says. “When Drake plays OVO Fest, you need [someone] there to cover it, but what about the smaller artists on the way up? Who will cover the up-and-coming musician playing for 100 people at the Silver Dollar, or whatever the equivalent is now? For years, I saw firsthand how much young local artists cherished being in the pages of NOW Magazine – even just a few words.”

What speaks volumes to how important NOW and its legacy are to Toronto is how dedicated its staff has always been and how hard they have fought to keep that promise from 1981 alive. Regardless of what happens next for NOW, I’ll always be proud that for a short time I got to be a part of that 41-year-long journey. Most of all though, I’ll always be thankful for the talented, dedicated, inspiring colleagues with whom I have shared a masthead. My only regret would be that it wasn’t for longer. You know, unless Drake buys it, like, right NOW.

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Oct 18, 2022
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