"I have an idea for a magazine"

"I have an idea for a magazine"

As we move to a new platform and a new URL, and as as the world struggles over the values pluralism ... it's even more important to reflect on Schema's origins. The below was original posted in August 7, 2014, leading up to Schema's tenth anniversary fundraiser: 

We published our first post the same year that Facebook launched. I was backing up my files on Zip Disks, and my iMac laptop weighed a ton! All the really fancy webzines were being built in Flash.

Schema actually started as an idea for a large glossy print magazine. Fuelled by support from my late-mentor Milton K. Wong and the Laurier Institution, a handful of dedicated and passionate friends came together and created a prototype for a platform for a generation I was calling "cultural navigators." What these so called navigators had in common was a complex identity made up of a web of cultures ... in other words, a "schema".

We needed a tagline that helped to explain this complexity. I credit out first web-developer Yutai Liao with the concept of "ethnic cool." Stuff that was cool first, that so happened to have some ethnic connection. Hence, was born the "daily dose of ethnic cool." We also used the tagline "More Than Ethnic" for many years, which was a elegant way of describing what it meant to be Second- or 1.5-Gen (born elsewhere, but grew up in Canada as a child).

I always loved the way Milt described Schema to us:

You are trying to describe in words what your generation already intuitively understands, but we don’t yet have the language for.

In 2012, when Milton passed away, I tried to capture the story of Schema in a tribute post. In it I share our first conversation about a magazine. The below excerpt starts there:

So, I have an idea for a magazine about Canada's diversity," I said.

"Oh yeah, I have an idea for a magazine about Canada's diversity," he responded.

"Tell me what yours is about." I wasn't sure where this conversation was going to go.

Schema's prototype cover and table of contents (2004)

Schema's prototype cover and table of contents (2004)

In the end, we hatched an idea for two magazines: one for the public sector and another for youth. Same content about the evolution of multicultural identity in Canada, but with different packaging.

We met in his office a week later. At that meeting, he called John McCulloch, who had led the marketing campaign for HSBC, and Bruce Dewar, who would later become the CEO of 2010 Legacies Now. Both of whom Milton had been mentored in some way. In classic Milton fashion, he picked up his Blackberry, dialed and said, "You need to meet this guy." Fifteen minutes later the four of us we were having lunch. I was in the company of giants. I have never felt more humble.

Through Bruce, The Laurier Institution donated office space. And with Bruce and John's help I wrote the business plan for these magazines. It was in the Laurier's office that I came up with the idea of a schema to describe one's complex cultural identity and the beginnings of Schema Magazine. We calculated that we needed $250,000 to publish. Then came Milton's biggest challenge to me: that if I raised $125,000 and he would match it. Milton lent me his credibility and for a year, I set out to do just that.

I never raised that money. But that was not the lesson he was teaching me. No one was willing to invest big money into a print magazine. Milton insisted that we either raise it all, or not bother. And so we abandoned the print magazine. With the Conservative Party now in [government], we also abandoned the magazine for the public sector.

But this was far from being a failure. Seven years ago we dodged a bullet. Not long afterward, the entire newspaper industry began to struggle. Print magazines were going under all around us. Instead, we focused on an online format called a "web log." And the rest is history.

The hustle Milton put me on did raise some money. It also got some important attention: our effort was featured on the CBC's The National twice. I was invited to speak to the leadership at CBC in Toronto about a whole new way of approaching multiculturalism in media. That subsequently turned into a career in diversity and media.

Milton described Schema to me in this way: "You are trying to describe in words what your generation already intuitively understands, but we don't yet have the language for." He loved the complexity of this challenge. He could see the most latent of ideas, and always found a way to add his profound wisdom.

Yet, for all of Schema's potential social innovation, he always stressed the importance of socialization, especially as we were a virtual operation. At every update meeting with Milton, he was reminding me that the contributors needed to meet up and connect, that the relationships that Schema produced were the real profit, perhaps the real product.

Schema tied me, its volunteers and its writers to Milton. And I think he enjoyed knowing that. He was always interested in where it was going, how it was being subversive, how it gave "my generation" a greater sense of belonging as mainstream Canadians.

He was especially interested in how close the team was, and who they were. In fact, despite being the busiest man in the world, he met with the founding editors on a number of occasions. Gave us advice and encouraged us to never quit.

In the end Schema has reached more people and in more places around the world than it would have as a print magazine. It has supported the development of many young writers. It trained me to mentor and kept me sane when grappling with diversity at CBC just seemed hopeless. But most of all, it was the beginning of working with Milton on much bigger ideas.

Schema was an extension of Milton's vision for a constantly evolving, multicultural Canadian identity, or, in other words, an increasingly complex Canada.

It was his way of giving voice to young Canadians whose identity was more complicated than either mainstream or ethnic media allowed.

Excerpted from Honouring Milton Wong | "I Have an Idea for a Magazine, originally published in January 2012.

Writers to Watch Out For

Writers to Watch Out For

4 Dream Dates with Buzzfeed Heartthrob Eugene Lee Yang, Schema's Valentine

4 Dream Dates with Buzzfeed Heartthrob Eugene Lee Yang, Schema's Valentine