Letter from the editor: Why we won’t be covering Collision this year

Update: After this column was published, Web Summit accredited The Logic’s journalists for Collision. You can read more here

Many of you will no doubt be attending the Collision tech conference in Toronto later this month. Unfortunately, The Logic’s journalists won’t be joining you. Because we usually report from the conference, I thought our readers—and the broader public—deserved an explanation of why we won’t be able to attend.  

A few weeks ago I got an email from Donal Donovan, the head of media for Web Summit—the Dublin-based company that runs Collision, as well as a few other tech conferences in Europe and Asia. “It’s come to our attention that you’re organising an event in Toronto on Monday, June 26th, piggybacking on Collision,” Donovan wrote. “Running other events that piggyback on our own is not something we support.” Though his team had been in touch with our newsroom about having our journalists moderate onstage events at Collision, as we’ve done in years past, Donovan told me they “won’t be having anyone from The Logic speak at this or any future Web Summit or Collision events.”

Then, last week, a member of Donovan’s team informed us that because of the event we’re organizing, Collision had rejected our newsroom’s request for accreditation, meaning our reporters can’t even cover the conference. 

The event with which Web Summit is taking issue is The Logic Summit. A showcase for live journalism, it’s taking place at the Design Exchange in Toronto on the afternoon of Monday, June 26. It’s a private event for The Logic’s subscribers (though if you’re not yet a subscriber, you can subscribe now and get a ticket for the Summit, too). 

Though the Summit is our biggest event so far, we put on dozens of events like it throughout the year. We haven’t marketed the Summit either as an event linked to Collision or as a competitor to it. The Summit doesn’t overlap with any of Collision’s programming, and in fact we were careful to make sure it wraps up before Collision’s opening night party begins. 

We even reached out to Web Summit in March and April of this year, offering to make a speaker we’re bringing in for our event available to speak at Collision, at no cost to them. We received no response. Once we started unveiling the rest of our lineup of speakers, however—which includes Affirm CEO Max Levchin, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence and GM Canada CEO Marissa West—Web Summit decided to cut us off. 

Let me be clear: as a private company, Web Summit is absolutely entitled to make its own judgments about who is and isn’t allowed on its stages, or at its events. I could read you chapter and verse about freedom of expression and media freedom, but honestly, those are arguments better saved for stakes higher than attendance at a tech conference.

Beyond informing our readers about why our journalists won’t be at Collision, however, I’m writing this because Web Summit isn’t just any private company—it’s a company that benefits richly from public subsidies, and that is in the middle of trying to secure even more public money.

Last month, our friends at BetaKit published a long piece of investigative journalism that dug into Collision’s uncertain future in Toronto, and how much money Web Summit was asking all three levels of government to commit to keep it from moving its conference to a different city.

I encourage you to read the piece for yourself, but among the revelations it contains: Web Summit’s initial ask to bring Collision to Toronto included “a financial contribution of 2.5 million euros (approximately $3.8 million CAD at the time), plus funding for travel and accommodation for foreign press, speakers, and event staff, and free venue rental and internet service for each year.” Collision, BetaKit reported, “is currently receiving around $6.5 million CAD annually from Toronto and its partners as part of a deal funded largely by Destination Toronto,” a non-profit representing the city’s tourism industry.

To keep the conference in Toronto, however, BetaKit reported, “Collision has sought a deal worth an amount similar to what Collision’s parent company Web Summit receives from the Portuguese government to host its events in Lisbon, worth 11 million euros per year ($16 million CAD).” Local interests including Destination Toronto, Toronto Global and the Toronto Region Board of Trade have asked the federal and Ontario governments to chip in to convince Web Summit to commit to the city. Web Summit declined BetaKit’s request for comment on its ask. With its future in Toronto seemingly dependent on public subsidy, on Friday, BetaKit reported that a Vancouver delegation was exploring a pitch to bring Collision to the west coast, “a push that has garnered the attention of the City of Vancouver and the Government of B.C.”

In an op-ed published in The Globe and Mail after BetaKit’s story, Philippe Telio, founder of the Canadian tech conference Startupfest, urged governments to reject Web Summit’s demands. Launched in 2011, Telio says the first year his conference’s growth slowed was 2019, “when our government effectively paid the foreign-owned Collision to come here and compete against us.”

“The lesson we’re teaching Canadian entrepreneurs is simple: You can’t be world-class, and your governments will literally pay foreign companies to compete against you,” he wrote.

I founded The Logic to do journalism, not advocacy. But part of our mandate is to help make Canada a better place to live and work by facilitating the hard conversations we need to have as a country.  With our Summit, and with our award-winning reporting on Canadian business and tech, we’re doing exactly that. If you’re attending Collision this year, I sincerely do hope that you enjoy yourself. It’s unfortunate our newsroom won’t be there with you.

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