Thursday, November 22, 2012



So the Dracula now controlling the Sun newspapers has sucked more blood from the neck of the chain. I guess we're lucky he doesn't guillotine.
What can you expect from some robot who once fired me as Santa Claus (but that's another story) and had a wacky separatist father.
In the fallout from the latest eclipse, there has been a pimple of eruption by survivors about the Day Oners and the long-time infantry because they dare talk about the good old days in their retirement.
Good old days often aren't. Yet nostalgia salves the burn from the wounds of those who fought in the early days of any company that is larger or more sophisticated than a kennel. But we at the Toronto Sun did have a grand run before the financial jackals pulled us down.
This may be tiresome to those outside the business because we all have our memories and our inside jokes about our past at work. It's just that those in the media tend to be more interesting because so many of the participants are characters. It's not  easy to be reporter or editor when several other outfits are trying to screw you every day.
Rob Granastein, who got bounced last year as Toronto Sun Editorial Page Editor,  has just written about his 17 years and lamented about the latest slaughter of the innocents, the latest victims of a serial killer.  But he grumbled about some unnamed retired Sun staffer who had the temerity, apparently, to run a Sun Family blog.
It's true that John Cosway, one of those stalwart who are the spine of any real newspaper, did allow the glorification of the early days in the blog which he no longer runs because it was a lot of work and there are other things to do besides recording when the Sun was one of the largest and best newspapers in the land.
The blog had an apt name because we really were a family, with all the squabbles, suspicions, joys and sorrows of any family forced to live in an old patched shoe.
His contributors often wrote about Doug Creighton - the original Toronto Sun publisher who started the entire giant Sun chain and was raised to sainthood in the blog. This would amuse and touch Doug if he pays any attention to the earth now that he's busy running the Heavenly Sun Times and taking long lunches laced with a fiery nectar at the local Winston's while chatting up St. Peter to get his more suspect friends through the Gates.
Creighton, bless him, has received great tribute for his amiable stewardship. But there are many who have never seen the light of publicity, like Jim Thompson, just fired, a Day Oner who was already valuable at the Tely from which most of us came, from the shadows into the sunshine of Creighton and success.
We must never forget the contributions of the anonymous departed, like Cosway, who did, among other chores, the difficult job of rewrite. Or of those who remain, like Don MacPhail, who may well be the most important part of the Comment section.
I will listen to them because they have earned my respect, unlike some of those who skitter across the water and never really leave a wave.
I suspect that one of the things that bugs Granastein and the others who have accused me and others about being too negative about the "product" today is that we know just how the various roles have been diminished, along with the numbers. Even the publishers have gone from barons to just another punching bag for accountants.
Let me give you a windy example of another change in hierarchy.
The first Editor was Peter Worthington, one of the Three Mouthketers who created the paper and thus the chain. Worthington went his own way, which often bugged Creighton, and the concept that Worthington would clear or even tell anyone other than Creighton about the editorial thrust that was his primary job would be greeted with hysteria by him , the newsroom and the entire executive floor. Worthington was a true Editor, involved in everything, and he would have glared if you said he just ran Comment.
When Creighton brought in legendary newsman Doug MacFarlane to watch everyone and reduce goofs as we succeeded, Worthington went to the composing room and rewrote the editorial page masthead. He upgraded his title to make sure that no one, including JDM, thought he was subordinate.
Worthington was followed by Barbara Amiel, who apparently has a famous suspect as a husband and also thinks she really knew how a paper worked.
Then I took over for 13 years after being a sub from the beginning. And like my more illustrious predecessors,  I was listed second on the masthead and involved myself in everything, although there was some grumbling that I should stick more to Comment. Only Creighton and Paul Godfrey had any say in the editorial and it generally appeared without them even seeing it.
Over the years, the Editor's position has been diminished. One Executive Editor running the newsroom would only take the job if he appeared  above me in the Masthead. The erosion in the position and power now has something called the Editorial Page Editor who isn't even king over Comment and has assorted bosses.
The changes are also enormous in other areas, as Hugh Wesley, the retired chief photo conscience, was saying the other day. Long gone are the days when the Sun was a collection of silos of talents each headed by a personality/performer/politician. There was co-operation with the other papers as the chain matured, and there was sharing of columns, pictures, cartoons and beat produce, but not to today's extent where the chain is becoming a Canadian version that copycats U.S.A. Today as a homogenized national product where your local news only is mentioned if it becomes really major.
I liked the old Sun better. This doesn't mean I want to denigrate those who put out the "product" today under a souless management where dollars are more important than news.
I am sure that in several decades, the Sun journalists of today will also have victories and gaffes that they will chat about as they unfold their memories. They have extraordinary pressures on them that we only faced with our skeleton staff in the very early days. For example, when Editor Worthington went off to save the world for democracy, I continued to write my daily Page 4 column and also do his job.
Let's not forget, however, that long before computers and cell phones were even dreamed of, the complex act of writing news and the simple act of phoning the office were a lot more complicated.
Just the mechanics of producing the paper, from writing with old typewriters on paper to pasting up flats of copy, were far more time-consuming and frustrating than what happens now.
I only hope that there will be Suns still around for the present crew to criticize in their retirement, that the chain has survived under the Quebec boot, that it turns out that Dracula is not just drilling the neck to test for the guillotine.
Meanwhile, let those of us who survived in the business for many years, say 50 in my case, count our blessings and tell our yarns and remember how recording daily life worked before any nut could be a blogger, Twitter passed for snapshot commentary, Facebook pretended wisdom and the media obsessed about politics because it was cheaper than investigative journalism.
My thoughts about my friends in the Sun family past and present copy what Shakespeare wrote so gloriously about in King Henry V before that famous battle on St. Crispin's Day.
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." The Bard had the King saying that those asleep in Britain would rue the day that they were not part of the fight. And there must be those jealous that they were never in the battle with us.
Any writer of editorials or columns or routine paras or even cutlines for more than a few years is my brother even if they would like to kick me in the slats.
United in our memories, battle hardened with scars, whether mental or even physical, let us charge together into battle, brandishing our mastheads, with the war cry: "Don't let that bastard grind you down."
If I have to spell it out, the bastard is any publisher or fawning assistant or fatcat CEO who think they're more important than any writer or desk beaver or image technician who know every gimmick in computers and multi-tasking to make the Sun shine even when it's cloudy and the boss is an asshole.


Sheila Reagan said...

Nice job John. You summed it up perfectly. The pain of these huge losses is only lessened by the great, rollicking stories of past triumphs. That was life 'in the old days' at The Sun. And boy how we loved her. How we love her still.

Unknown said...

It was fun being part of the Sun from the early days in the Eclipse Bldg. to the latter days in the once shiny new edifice since sold. I was proud of my small part and prouder of the great characters around me including Downing and Bobby Mac. Too bad Quebecor doesn't have a convenient urinary flower pot.