The strange but true origin story of Planet S

20 Years | Stephen Whitworth | Sept. 29, 2022

Before there was Planet S, there was Project X.

Project X was a scheme hatched by deranged Gen-Xers in the bat-infested basement offices of Regina’s Prairie Dog in the very late 1990s. Their mad dream: to launch an independent, alternative bi-weekly sister newspaper in Saskatoon.

At the time, Saskatoon seemed desperate for a print counterpoint to the StarPhoenix which — under Conrad Black’s Hollinger — had made corporate cheerleading and conservative politics an ever-increasing part of its personality. Smug right-wing pundits trumpeted the so-called superiority of such ideas as privatization, tax cuts and “running government like a business” — all of which not-so-coincidently benefit the multimillionaire shareholder class rather than ordinary people.

I remember when these regressive goons called for Canada to join the ill-fated Iraq invasion, reject same-sex marriage, and dismissed or downplayed climate change concerns despite growing scientific evidence. Say, they still do that, don’t they?

Saskatoon also seemed like it could use another voice on its arts scene to balance mainstream film, book and performance coverage with snapshots of weirder and wondrous things easily missed.

By spring 2002, the long-gestating plans had taken shape. Staff had been stealthily hired and, in one case, hilariously deceived over their job’s true location (sorry, David!). Office space was rented. Publication names had been brainstormed, argued over and submitted for copyright clearance. If I recall correctly, finalists included “Avenue Z”, “The Current” (oops) and “River Rat”.

The winner, as we know, was Planet S — the “S being for Saskatoon. Project X had a real name at last. “Rule Your World” was the slogan.

You’re probably familiar-ish with the rest of the story. Planet S landed in September 2002. Over 20 years, it has achieved shocking triumphs and faced crushing defeats. Alliances have been forged and enemies made. Some businesses embraced the paper while others boycotted or even banned it.

Page counts grew and shrunk, employees were hired, laid off or just left. Endless typos have been inflicted upon defenceless readers. So many typos.

As we settle into our third decade (!!!), print media faces an existential crisis. The advertising model has been wrecked by trans-national Internet megamonopolies. Across Canada, beloved local alternative newspapers have folded: Calgary’s FFWD, Edmonton’s Vue and See, Montreal’s The Mirror, Ottawa’s Xpress — all dead and buried. The few survivors — including legendary papers like Toronto’s Now and The Georgia Straight — have been gobbled up by chains and face uncertain futures.

At a time when Canadians need factual information more than ever, text-based media continues to get killed. But wait! We’re still here, and we’re not done yet. With your support, this paper — and its website, yes we have one it’s very nice — might have its best days ahead of it.

Let’s see what happens.

Happy anniversary Planet S And thanks, Saskatoon, for the ongoing love. ■