April 7, 2021

In 2017, a Canadian rock star started the West End Phoenix, a community newspaper in Toronto. That’s not the coolest part of this story.

Volunteers deliver it, including a few journalists now and then, who don’t even work for the Phoenix. And that’s not the coolest part of this story.

This is: Last year on Twitter, publisher Dave Bidini lamented the loss of book reviews as “a lost art, in a way.”

“At the same time, we were trying to reach a goal of 2,021 subscribers by 2021, so Margaret vowed to write book reviews if followers would subscribe to get us to that number,” Bidini said. “And we did.”

The Margaret he’s referring to is renowned author Margaret Atwood. 

Atwood was the Phoenix’s first supporter. Now, she’s volunteered to write five book reviews for it on various themes.

“The first one was CULTS,” she told Poynter via email. 

“I think her participation really validates us in a lot of people’s eyes who still might think we’re simply a small, neighborhood press,” Bidini said. “We’ve always aspired to publish great writing, and contribute to greater literature here and abroad, through community journalism.”

And that community is Atwood’s own. 

“There’s something — actually there’s a lot — to be said for local papers, stations, etc. How else do you get news of the neighbourhood? How do young people and new businesses get their starts?”

The Phoenix has also published contributions from other high-profile neighbors including authors Roddy Doyle, Kevin Barry, Miriam Toews and Steve Rushin. 

“When we reach out and propose ideas to international authors, it’s usually a positive response because, like our subscribers, it’s not hard to get behind what we’re trying to do, I don’t think.”

The Phoenix, a home-delivered print paper, hopes to reach 10,000 subscribers in the next three years. I asked Atwood what role she hopes the Phoenix can play in her community. 

Well, that’s more for them to say,” she said. “But I believe a community of sorts has already formed around the Phoenix. It’s a risky venture and slightly crazed, but people admire that.”

Margaret Atwood, book reviewer, West End Phoenix. (Image courtesy West End Phoenix)

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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