Documenting the Rise of Saskatchewan’s Underground Media

A scant few years ago, if you were looking for local music, arts and culture coverage in Saskatoon, or elsewhere in the province for that matter, you had to rely on a handful of newspapers and not much else. Unfortunately this led to a lot of really interesting, and important, stories going largely ignored.

However, the media landscape of Saskatoon has since undergone a radical transformation. New papers and magazines have sprung up along with numerous blogs and online magazines. Suffice to say, some of the most compelling culture and arts journalism and writing is coming forth via the province’s underground (or ‘non-mainstream’ if you like semantics) media.

Which probably explains why we are seeing an increased focus on these stories from the larger media outlets – competition much anyone?

Michael Cuthbertson, Editor-in-Chief of the MC Press, started his outlet after serving a term as Opinion Editor at the University of Saskatchewan’s newspaper The Sheaf. His site, along with others such as The Albatross, offers a take on the news that rarely makes it into larger media outlets.

“I wanted to create a magazine that shared stories and perspectives not allowed by larger mainstream publications who are, to some extent, creatively controlled by their advertisers interests,” he says.

The MC Press, which also doubles as a physical zine with copies being found in the entranceway of local record stores, covers a diverse range of topics including “The Humanitarian Intervention of Syria”, while giving shout-outs to small press publishers. It’s not exactly reinventing the media wheel, but Cuthbertson says the point is to give readers an alternative.

“Radical opinions and obscure topics do not appear in things like the Star Phoenix or the Globe and Mail and I wanted to, as a human being and a writer, give people a chance to read a take on the news that isn’t governed by the fear of what advertisers would think of the piece.”

Craig Silliphant of The Feedback Society, a website says that primarily delves into film, graphic novels and music, says underground media sources are important since the mainstream media covers the topics that are going to sell the highest number of papers or grab the most amount of viewers. It’s a practice that he considers largely homogenizing.

“Using movies as an example, mainstream media is going to cover some mind-numbingly mediocre romantic comedy with Taylor Swift and Ashton Kutcher, rather than some amazing movie that’s tearing up the festival circuit,” says Silliphant.

“Bloggers can afford to focus on the niche things that interest them. They might have an audience of 10 or 10,000, but it’s an alternate voice to the mainstream, somewhere you can get more information about culture, or even news and world events.”

But even with the mainstream outlets paying more and more attention to online sources, there are still lots of pieces of the arts and culture ecology that slip through the cracks.

Nick Murray of Moose Jaw’s Soo Line (Greengrassradio), a site that promotes both local and national artists and musicians, says that his motivation for starting an online magazine stems from attending under-promoted shows.

“Moose Jaw is a lot smaller than Regina and Saskatoon but there are still lots of touring bands that come here as well as a good core of quality musicians and songwriters,” he says. “I want to promote these people and help make Moose Jaw a little more artistically vibrant.”

Murray says that there is an importance in offering a dissenting voice, especially in an area of the province that is typically seen as more conservative – the two papers are, as Murray puts it, “geared at retirees and the other is heavy on agriculture.”

Soo Line provides a different take on events in a community with few other options.

“I write for the youth and progressives,” says Murray. “Essentially, I too, still serve a political ideology, only it’s a different ideology from every other news source in town.”

But with the increasing popularity of sites such as The MC Press and others in Saskatoon, it’s important to draw the proverbial line in the sand between blog and e-zine. Silliphant says sites like his are more akin to a web magazine with “articles” – not blog posts. Cuthbertson says his approach is much the same.

“I really don’t regard The MC Press as a blog but rather an online magazine,” says Cuthbertson. “Maybe this seems like semantics but when I think blog I think one person ranting to the online world about how they feel without spending much time editing stuff.”

Semantics, maybe, but you probably wouldn’t call The Star Phoenix or The Leader Post a tabloid, right?

A brief look at some of Saskatchewan’s arts and culture websites

Aside from the previously mentioned sites – The MC Press, The Feedback Society and Soo Line, there are numerous other sites and blogs out there that are worth checking out.

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The Rooster

Helmed by Spareparts – that store in the mall that sells the cool sunglasses and watches – The Rooster has a Saskatoon-specific section that tends to report on fashion trends along with book and movie reviews and hip-hop playlists.

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The Prairie Dog

A Regina bi-weekly newspaper, The Prairie Dog maintains a active blog that strikes a balance between reporting on civic and provincial politics along with the mandatory posts on arts and pop culture.

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Every Corner

Reviewing hardcore and punk bands, several of which play Saskatoon’s all ages scene, Every Corner also gives major props to local musicians.

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50 Cups of Coffee

A music blog that primarily previews tracks in the vein of hip-hop, dance and house – they also feature some locals, including Hustle and Thrive and the usual gang of Hairdu Records dudes.

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The Albatross

Not too sure how local they are anymore – two of the Saskatoon-based contributors now work out of Toronto – The Albatross features current news and pop culture albeit with a hilarious and/or snarky twist.

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