Introducing the Sask Dispatch

Briarpatch’s new, Saskatchewan-focused news insert

Volume 1, Issue 1 of the Sask Dispatch. Saskatchewan-based subscribers of Briarpatch will find it in their copies of the magazine, starting with the Nov/Dec issue. The Dispatch will also be available for free at a few locations around the province.

“What is this?” you ask.

It’s a very small, new, Saskatchewan-focused publication produced by Briarpatch and included in copies of the magazine sent to our Saskatchewan subscribers. We are aiming, in the Sask Dispatch, to more regularly focus Briarpatch’s fearless investigative reporting and critical commentary on our home here in Saskatchewan. Corporate media have shown they can’t be relied on to look out for poor folks and the working class, Indigenous communities, and other marginalized groups. We hope we can reliably cover issues of importance to those demographics.

You are holding the first issue of the Sask Dispatch, but the story of how this came to be starts many years ago.

Briarpatch began as an anti-poverty newsletter, stapled in the corner and distributed on the streets of Saskatoon in the early 1970s. Within a few years Briarpatch moved to Regina and became “Saskatchewan’s independent newsmagazine,” a tagline we wore for many years. We got a big provincial grant, had the grant entirely eliminated a few years later by the Blakeney NDP, and still managed to build a following around the province and country.

By the turn of the millennium, Briarpatch had become a publication of national and international scope and importance – a remarkable feat, given that we’re mostly reader supported. But this meant that Saskatchewan was less in the picture, and less represented on our pages. So, in 2009, Briarpatch staff launched the Sasquatch, a provincial newspaper published every six weeks. The paper covered important issues other outlets hardly touched, like queer activism, small farms and factory farms, treaty education, urban poverty, and climate activism. Many people subscribed to, and a number of organizations advertised in the “News with bite” paper, which sold for $3.75 an issue.

Original copies of the Sasquatch, a Saskatchewan-focused paper published by Briarpatch from 2009 to 2010. Photo by Eagleclaw Bunnie.

However, quality news coverage costs a lot of money, as does printing a newspaper, and at that time people were flocking from print to digital. Keeping the Sasquatch going required funnelling money away from the production of Briarpatch Magazine, and the newspaper began endangering the future of the magazine. After about a year, the Sasquatch called it quits and packed up.

The idea, though, of an independent Saskatchewan-focused publication writing truth to power is still a good one. And around the Briarpatch office every once in a while, while watching the media landscape become even more barren, we’ve daydreamed about relaunching something like the Sasquatch. But how?

The idea, though, of an independent Saskatchewan-focused publication writing truth to power is still a good one.

This summer, a publication we had nothing to do with briefly sprang on the scene: the Saskatchewan Herald. A completely anonymous news and opinion site, the Herald published one or more articles a day about Saskatchewan politics, drew widespread attention, and disappeared when widely called out for being anonymous. Far-right media personality John Gormley got up in arms about it, as did journalists like the Regina Leader-Post’s D.C. Fraser. (We emailed the Herald editors several times to talk, but never got a response.)

The brief existence of the Saskatchewan Herald showed us two things: first, there is a gap in Saskatchewan media coverage, specifically that which explains and critiques the actions of the local governments; and second, that there is an appetite for media to the left of the corporate mainstream.

Postmedia papers, like the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, and flagship National Post – with due respect to the journalists there doing good work – are business papers enforcing colonial narratives.

The Prairie Dog and Planet S are primarily arts, food, and culture papers, featuring minimal political coverage of Saskatchewan, with some exceptions (like stories about Regina city council).

Half of CBC Television employees in Saskatchewan were laid off in 2000, and the cuts have continued since, bit by bit. There might by now be more empty than used space at the beautiful CBC building in Regina.

We are under no illusions that we can single-handedly bring a healthy media ecosystem to the province. But grounded in 45 years of activism and publishing in the province, Briarpatch can do something.

We’re trying out a low-cost, low-risk way to produce and publish more journalism about Saskatchewan. We’ll keep sending the Sask Dispatch out to our Saskatchewan subscribers, and if people seem to like it, we’ll start distributing copies in other locations around the province. We’ll also post the articles online.

We’re trying out a low-cost, low-risk way to produce and publish more journalism about Saskatchewan.

While publishing Briarpatch as a national magazine, we’ve continued to cover Saskatchewan issues. Briarpatch articles have investigated carbon capture and storage here, explored socializing and decolonizing the province’s oil industry, drawn attention to the disappointing choice of grand marshal by Pride Regina, covered Conexus’ construction in the park (where we dug up facts others missed), discussed what it was like in the courtroom of Gerald Stanley’s trial, and more. And that was just 2018 so far.

The Sask Dispatch will bring even more attention to important issues in the province. We’re still working out all the logistics, but we look forward to hearing from you about this project and doing what we can to serve you, our readers.

Long term, we want to build journalism capacity here. In particular, we want to empower people to write coverage centring Indigenous people, the working class, poor folks, and queer and trans folks; these are the people who have been let down by media here. We say “no more.”

So, if you’ve got a story that Saskatchewan needs to hear, or are keen on supporting this project, please get in touch!