An Anecdotal Memoir
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INSIDE THE TORONTO STAR
On February 22,1959,on the program Close-up, I did simultaneous interviews with three subjects in three occasions in Canada and the United States. That the interviews were not memorable is attested by the fact that I can't remember whom they were with or what we discussed. But the following morning I received a telephone call from Herb Manning, managing editor of the Toronto Star, asking me to come and see him.
The previous Friday ("Black Friday" as it was being called in the press), Prime Minister Diefenbaker had announced the scrap- ping of the Afro Arrow because of high development costs and the inability to find another country to share the expense. The five completed planes, each worth $3. 75 million, were cut to pieces with a welder's torch and sold as junk. Hundreds of workers, many highly skilled, were laid off.
The prime minister's decision kindled a national controversy. The Arrow, a jet fighter of advanced design, was believed by many to be the best aircraft of its type in the world. It was a time of rising nationalism and the decision to junk the Arrow was seen, among other things, as delivering Canada into the hands of the Americans, threatening our sovereignty and making the defense of Canada entirely dependent on the U. S.
Beland Honderich, then editorial director of the Star and now its president and publisher, had seen my multiple interview on Close-up and had suggested to manning that he get me to adapt the technique to print. Manning linked four experts in a conference telephone call: Maj. -Gen. W. H. S. Macklin, former deputy chief of staff, Canadian army; Lt-Gen. Guy Simons, former army chief of staff; Professor A. R. M Lower, Queen's University historian, and Walter Gordon, Chairman of the Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects. I plied them with questions. The discussion was recorded and three stenographers set to work preparing a typescript.
As I was preparing to leave, Manning drew me into his office. "Would you be interested in doing an edit of the interview?" he asked. "We're going to carry a full page on the story but it needs to be cut by about half.” I'd never edited copy and said so. Nevertheless, he found me a cubicle off the newsroom and left me alone. I sweated my way through it. From time to time a young woman brought additional pages and fresh coffee.
Three days later, Manning called me in again. He explained that the Star had recently begun a new feature. The page opposite the editorial page (known in the business as the op-ed or egghead page but at the Star called Page Seven) had been set aside to provide background to the news. Would I be interested in the job? I expressed doubts as to whether I could handle it and asked for the weekend to consider it.
The following Monday I was standing on the sidewalk outside CBC headquarters on Jarvis Street talking with Pierre Berton. We had just taped a radio show, Court of Opinions, on which he was a panellist and I was a frequent guest. Berton and I had met on the Close-up set but were no more than working acquaintances. He was at the time a featured columnist on the Star.
"Pierre," I said, "I need some advice. I've been offered the job as editor of Page Seven on the Star. What do you think?"
He looked at me, incredulous. He had written a column about me and knew something of my background in the ministry, not the usual apprenticeship for a newspaper editor. He was confused further by the fact that he had recommended Ross McLean for the job and the impression that it would be tendered to him.
"Is it a hard offer?" he asked.
He looked at me again, not yet at home with the idea. "Have you ever worked on a paper?"
"Only as a sports cartoonist.”
"Have you ever handled copy, made up a page, written heads?"
"I don't know, Chuck," he said, shaking his head. "It's not an easy job. I really don't know how to advise you. If I were you, I'd think about it. Hard.”
I did, the prospect intimidated me. But I was planning to get married and needed the money. I called Herb Manning and asked him when he wanted me to start. "Tomorrow," he said.
My first day on the Star was a terrifying experience. Manning introduced me to Norman Phillips who had been handling the page until and editor was appointed. Phillips was a thirty-year veteran newsman who had done every job in journalism from junior reporter to foreign correspondent. He was a tall, quiet man, withdrawn, not at ease with strangers, and had been less than overjoyed when told that he was to be replaced by an amateur and an outsider. At the moment he was under pressure of his deadline.
He handed me a galley proof of one of the stories scheduled for that day's page. "Here," he said, “read this and give me a K-5-36.”
I retreated to a nearby desk in an agony of indecision. Dare I confess to this old pro in my first five minutes on the job that I had no idea what a K-5-36 was? The offhand way in which he had asked for it suggested that it was something elementary.
"Mr. Phillips. . .”
"Norm," he said without looking up.
"I’m sorry, Norm, but I don't know what a K-5-36 is.”
He looked up, sighed heavily, turned up the newspaper on his desk and stabbed a finger at the page. "You do not know what a head is?"
"A headline," I murmured
"Right. "He pointed at the page. "This," he said, "is a K-5-36. The K stands for kicker - the small head above the big one. Eighteen point Bodoni bold is the typeface we use for kickers. The five means five columns. The thirty-six stands for the main head, which is thirty-six point Century bold italic. Read the galley and write a head. You can figure the character count from this head here. Allow one and a half spaces for Ms and Ws and a half space for is and lower-case Ls.” He returned to his work.
Head spinning, I went to my desk and wrote half a dozen heads. He glanced at them, pursed his lips and put them aside. "Better come with me," he said, grabbing a fistful of galley proofs and heading in long strides toward the composing room. "We’re running late.”
The production of a big-city newspaper has greatly changed with computer technology but it was and is a small daily miracle. In 1959, it was a much more labor-intensive task. News stories came to the editorial department from the paper's reporters and feature writers and from hundreds of sources around the world: wire services, legislatures, free-lancers and special correspondents; from war zones, sports arenas and entertainment centres; from stock markets, picket lines, corporations public-relations agencies, political parties, hospitals and police forces. Many of the stories were rewritten. All were edited. Each was changed to conform to the newspaper, style. Then, having been assigned a specific place in the newspaper, the story was slugged (given an identifying one-word title), a head was written and the entire, scruffy, scrawled-on bundle was dispatched to the composing room.
There, it was set by a man at a great, clacking linotype machine, which cast type in lead slugs a line at a time. The story, now in a column width, was placed in a galley, a long metal tray, and after proofs had been pulled, was dispatched to the designated page form. In the meantime, the head had gone to another typesetter who set it by hand, cast it in lead and forwarded it to the appropriate page.
The Star's composing room was a great, low-ceilinged room, ablaze with fluorescent light and stinking of printers' ink and hot lead. Dozens of harried men toiled in an apparently uncoordinated chaos. I stood with Norm Phillips at one end of a metal form enclosing Page Seven. A compositor was bent over at the other end, working from a layout indicating where each story should go, fitting together the jigsaw puzzle. From my vantage point the page was wrong-end-to, reversed, and a three-dimensional negative. Norm and the compositor easily read the tiny slugs of type; I could barely decipher the headlines.
It is not, on a newspaper, "All the news that's fit to point," but all the news that fits. Lead is not compressible. A head is too long and has to be rewritten on the spot. A paragraph is removed here, a line deleted there, and a too short story leaded-out. Norm was bent over his proofs looking for matter he could delete without doing injury to the story. He passed me a proof and said; "See if you can cut this by six lines.” Minutes later, as I wavered in indecision, he snatched it from me and did it himself.
I stood at the head of the form dizzied by the frenetic activity and banshee noise of the composing room. The page as running late, and the foreman, a large-bellied, ruddy-faced man, came by to badger us with shouts of, "Let's go! Let's go! Lock'er up!" Newspapers speed to their destinations on planes, trains, buses and trucks and must meet schedules. As the pressures mounted and the din increased, I was in despair. In one week I had to be ready to go it alone.
But as I would soon learn, "making up" the page was the simplest part of the job. Page Seven had been established in part to counter the competition of public-affairs television. Its purpose was to "background" the news, to present expert opinion, to offer insights and information on the complicated issues of the day. The job was really the production of a small magazine six days a week. Ideas had to be developed and assigned, fees negotiated, photographs or illustrations found. A balance had to be maintained among local, national and world stories, with the occasional spice of lighter stuff.
A week later, Norm Phillips gave me a laconic, “Good luck," and left me on my own. I could barely work for the trembling of my hands. I soon learned, however, that the problem didn't lie in getting the job done; but in doing it well.
I was entirely unprepared for the resentment that followed my appointment. I wasn't expecting flags and banners but would have been heartened by a "Welcome aboard,“ especially from the senior people. At the daily staff meetings, where the following day's paper was planned, the atmosphere was chill. As we were expected to do, I made suggestions. In my zeal I made many. The city editor, especially, dismissed them as impractical or "old stuff.” Harry Hindmarsh ("Young Harry") the managing editor chaired the meetings. He listened to the comments and then said some- thing like, "Wait a minute. I think Charlie [as he called me] has a couple of good ideas here. Let's get on them.”
I now understand the resentment. I had been handed one of the most desirable jobs in the newsroom and I wasn't even a newspaperman. I'd never filed a story. I hadn't come up through the ranks. I was "a former evangelist, for Chrissake!" And "a god dam television personality!" Was there a background less likely to commend?
Things were not improved when, eight months later, I was named features editor and assigned a staff of three. Or when eight months after that I was appointed executive managing editor, with responsibility for the editorial content of the paper, excepting the editorial page. Or when, a few days later, I was moved into the corner office at the southeast end of the editorial floor, succeeding Hindmarsh, who had been transferred upstairs to deal with the ailing Stat Weekly.
Writing about it in Maclean's some years later, Alan Edmonds quoted Pierre Berton as saying,
Not long after I was named managing editor, I went to Pierre and Jan Berton's annual pool party. Berton serves a punch at these affairs that about 99 percent Pimm's Extra and 1 per cent fruit juice. It does get the party moving.
Late in the afternoon I approached the punch bowl for a refill and encountered McKenzie Porter, a Telegram columnist, there on the same mission and not for the first time. Porter is a professional Englishman and is known among journalists as "the belted Earl.” He is much attached to tradition and is often sticky about what he regards as the proprieties. He greeted me with, "Well, Templeton, how are things with God these days?"
"I'm not quite sure," I said lightly. “Haven’t checked lately.”
He emptied the ladle into his glass with careful deliberation and then said, “What in hell does a goddamn evangelist know about the newspaper business?"
"Not much," I said. "That's why Honderich gave me the job.”
He was working hard at fixing me with his gaze. “I mean, what the fuck does an evangelist know about getting out a newspaper?"
I didn't quite know what to do. It would have been simple to give the Earl another belt, but I'm not given to violence as a solution to problems and am, in general, opposed to hitting old men or drunks. Without another word, I filled my glass and turned to leave. He followed, his voice rising, the insults becoming obscene.
It was one of those times when you think of the right riposte at the moment, rather than later that night in bed. I turned and said to him, "Look, you have the advantage. You obviously know a lot about me. I don't even know your name.”
Some months before, when I was first appointed features editor, I had a phone call from Val Sears, now Ottawa bureau chief for the Star, then the paper's Washington correspondent. He said, "I've been wondering whether you'd like a story on Senator John Kennedy?" Kennedy had been returned to the Senate in 1958 with an overwhelming majority and was beginning to be touted as a leading presidential possibility.
"What story on Kennedy?" I asked.
Sears told me that Kennedy and his wife of six years, Jacqueline Bouvier, weren't getting along and that Kennedy, Whose womanizing tendencies were only becoming known, had a mistress whose name was, appropriately, Smith, He wanted to know if he should file a story on the subject.
"Val," I said, puzzled," Why would you think I'd want to run a story like that?"
"No reason, really," he said.” Just testing.”
I seldom talk with anyone about the newspaper business in Canada without the question being asked in some form: "Beland Honderich - a real son of a bitch to work for, eh?" My response has always been, "Sometimes. But I wouldn't have had it any other way.”
In 1955, at the age of thirty-eight, Beland H. Honderich was appointed editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star, a newspaper that had been the foremost Canadian practitioner of William Randolph Hearst's yellow journalism. Almost single-handedly, he turned it around. Within five years he put together the finest staff that has worked for any Canadian newspaper at any time and made the Star the antithesis of what it had been.
There is among newspapermen much mythologizing of Honderich's predecessors, Joseph E. "Holy Joe" Atkinson and his son-in-law, Harry A. Hindmarsh. Little wonder: they were extraordinary men and the stuff of journalistic legend. Bizarre tales about them and their exploits still warm the hearts of veteran reporters downing a beer at the Toronto press Club. The gloss of nostalgia and a rueful affection skip lightly over the gargantuan excesses and shudderingly irresponsible journalism they often indulged in. In the first half of the century, the Star, for all its merits and its crusades for the underprivileged, was a biased, dishonest and unprincipled newspaper. Its polices were often unethical, its passions were mostly purple; its treatment of the news was often outrageous. When it suited Atkinson and Hindmarsh, the Star was more British than the flag, more royalist than the Queen and more Liberal than Mackenzie King. Warts and all, it grew to become Canada's largest daily.
In the federal election of 1949, the Star established a record in the scurrilous coverage of an important story. The Liberal party under Louis St. Laurent was seeking re-election. The leader of the Conservative party was George Drew, the former premier of Ontario. Atkinson had died the year before, leaving the bulk of his estate to the Atkinson Charitable Foundation. The Ontario government - with whom the Star had had a bitter and long- running feud-subsequently introduced. The Charitable Gifts Act, frustrating Atkinson's intentions and arguing that the bequest was an attempt to avoid paying succession duties. When the bill passed, Hindmarsh wheeled his heavy artillery into position.
In the election fight, the Star abandoned every vestige of responsible journalism. During the final weeks of the campaign it carried as many as eight election stories on page one, all biased. It purported to expose what it called "a secret deal" between Drew and Maurice Duplessis, then premier of Quebec. Drew, the Star trumpeted, had agreed to appoint the former mayor of Montreal, Camillien Houde, to the Tory cabinet as leader of the Quebec Conservatives. Shame, cried the Star and launched an anti-Houde campaign. They had an ideal target. During the war years, Houde, while mayor, had urged Quebecois not to register for what was in effect the national draft, and was imprisoned.
To spearhead the crusade, Hindmarsh dispatched a reporter to Quebec, and with him, photographers under orders to dog Houde's steps and photograph him in the most unflattering poses possible. It was not a difficult assignment; Houde was a grossly obese man with an exceptionally ugly face and a great paunch. The photographers shot hundreds of pictures, managing to get some dandies at banquets.
The final low blow was delivered on the front page of the first edition on the Saturday before the election. It remains the most infamous headline in Canadian newspaper history. Three lines of the blackest condensed Gothic type spanned the top of the page:
KEEP CANADA BRITISH
DESTROY DREW'S HOUDE
GOD SAVE THE KING
Below was a grotesque photograph of a shirtsleeved Houde, looking positively evil. The cut lines read:
This man will become one of the leaders of Canada if voters Monday elects George Drew as head of a Conservative government. He is Camillien Houde, isolationist, ex-internee, and foe of Britain.
Every story on the front page attacked Drew. It was too much for Alexander Stark, a member of the Star's board of directors. He deleted the third line for the second edition, substituting, VOTES ST. LAURENT. But was only able to do so because Hindmarsh, who had written the heading, had gone for the day.
In the 1951 provincial election, the Star topped even this shabby performance. To defeat the incumbent Leslie Frost, it championed the Liberal leader, Walter Thomspon, an uninspiring candidate. It was decided in the Star offices that the Liberals should base their campaign on promise to introduce a prepaid hospital-care plan; they would attack Frost for purportedly refusing an offer from the federal government to aid Ontario hospitals. It is difficult today to credit the astounding reach of the Star's vendetta. Speeches by Conservatives went unreported. CCF candidates were reported only if they had something complimentary to say about Thomson. In the last week of the campaign, according to Ross Harkness, in his excellent book, A. E. Atkinson of the Star, the Star devoted 312 columns of type and pictures to Thomson, but carried only 44 columns of international news and 83. 5 of local news. On the eve of the election, the Star did not carry one line of international news!
The front page of the November 10 issue is a classic. The main headline read:
MAY BE YOUR MOTHER - THOMSON
Beneath it was a five-column picture (not of an actual Ontario couple, but a stock photo from a model agency) of an aging couple. The caption: Should dear old people like these go to mental institutions? Across the entire width of the page, in bold type, was a quotation from Thomson to the effect that the minds of ten thousand elderly folk could have been saved if Frost had accepted the hospital plan offered by the federal government.
Despite this fulminating, the Ontario liberals suffered the worst defeat in their history, electing only eight members to the legislature and polling only one- third of the vote. Yet, while this astonishingly irresponsible campaign was underway, the Star had a steady and sizeable increase in circulation, and suffered a sharp drop after polling day.
Despite its excesses, the Star had many notable achievements in legitimate journalism. Its reporters were dispatched around the world; some filed excellent news stories and features on significant events. In pursuit of a breaking human-interest story, the Star's efforts were sometimes awesome: it didn't merely double-up, it sent teams of reporters and photographers. It once hired an entire railroad train - to transport staffers to the site of a story and to keep its rivals out of the area. Reporters for the Star and the Telegram (whose standards were not much higher) sometimes kidnapped newsworthy persons, wining and dining them in locked hotel rooms to keep them from talking to the opposition. Gangs of "kidnappers" sped across Toronto corralling Irish Sweepstakes winners, witnesses to bizarre murders or others who could offer exclusive or inside comments on stories of broad interest. Hindmarsh formed a famed Flying Squad, complete with staff cars and a portable wire-photo unit. It was on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, ready to go anywhere in the province and nearby American states in pursuit of a story. The Flying Squad cars, jammed with reporters and photographers, would descend on a scene and drop off men at likely points to ferret out information and round up every available picture before the opposition arrived.
The Star was the first Canadian newspaper to use wire photo. In 1928, it was the first to distribute papers by plane - albeit to St. Catharines, Ontario, and mostly as a publicity stunt. A Star reporter made the first long-distance telephone call from Canada to Mexico in pursuit of a story, and in 1932 to South Africa to interview the governor-general who had once been an Ontario farmer. Beyond that, it founded the Star Fresh Air Fund and the Santa Claus Fund and did many other good works.
Belinda Honderich clamped down on the excesses. Time magazine took notice of the metamorphosis, Its February 25,1955 issue stated, "The Toronto Star turned grey one day last week.” Banished overnight were the sensations, the sudden deaths, the nude bodies and grisly scenes once played large on the front page under blazing headlines. Crime reporters were no longer permitted to identify criminal suspects until they had been formally charged.
These were first of the many notorious "Honderich rules" as he dragged the Star kicking and screaming into the realm of responsible journalism. In enforcing his view of what the Star should be, he was often arbitrary and unreasonable. He seldom praised and was inflexible in disciplining carelessness or slovenliness. Sometimes he was crotchety about trivial matters; among them one that particularly irritated staffers, an insistence that they leave their desks tidy at the end of the day.
Shortly after I joined the Star I was told the story of staff resistance to one of Honderich's economy drives. Reporters were notified that, before a new pencil would be issued, the stub of the old one must be turned in. It was an invitation to journalistic inventiveness. A reporter would turn in a stub, get a new pencil, cut it into five pieces, sharpen the tips and turn them in for five new pencils.
Reporters traditionally resist management, but Honderich's zeal stimulated more than the usual amount of vilification, Wherever reporters met to talk shop you would likely hear the familiar one-liners: "Beland's not in today; he's over at the foundry getting a heart transplant.” And after the Star moved from 80 King Street West to Yonge Street at Queen's Quay: "Honderich moved the plant to the waterfront so he could be near his U-boat.”
Most of the Honderich rules were wise: let the main headline on the front page (the so-called “black line") be no larger than the lead story demands. The black line may not be used for crime stories, unless the story had other human-interest aspects. There must be balance on the front page: news of the world, news from Ottawa, news from across Canada, local news. But with the seriousness, news must be balanced by a change of pace, a lighter piece. Moreover, every story must include, within the first half-dozen paragraphs, a background paragraph, so that a reader unfamiliar with the subject matter is given a context.
One of the rules led to bad journalism. Honderich was and is an admirer of Walter Gordon. Gordon was then one of the leaders of the new nationalism that was sweeping Canada. Later he was the accident-prone finance minister in the first Pearson government. Honderich insisted that, whenever Gordon made a speech, the story be carried on page one. Sometimes such display was valid; Gordon often made news. At other times, the story was unimportant and trivialized the front page.
There were many other rules; some of which often made a Star story pedestrian compared to the matching story in the Telegram. A classic example may be seen in a comparison of the lead paragraphs in the two papers on the morning astronaut John Glenn first orbited the globe. The Star's lead was long and leaden, cluttered with background information that would have been better handled further down in the story. The Telegram's lead read; "This morning, in the time it took a suburban commuter to drive to work in downtown Toronto, U. S. astronaut, John Glenn, blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and circled the globe.”
In the 1960s, the rivalry between the two Toronto afternoon papers was intense. The Globe and Mail was a competitor but the Telegram was the enemy. Nothing gave Star staffers more satisfaction than to score a beat on the Tely.
The two newspapers were as different as the men who con- trolled them: John Bassett was Honderich's antithesis in almost every way. Politically a Liberal (at the time), Honderich was conservative and introverted as a man; Bassett, a Tory's Tory, was flamboyant and unconventional. Honderich came "from the wrong side of the tracks" in Kitchener, Ontario, and had worked his way up from general reporter to editorial director and eventually publisher. Bassett was the son of the publisher of the Montreal Gazette, was himself owner and publisher of the Sherbrooke Record and had been born with a mouthful of silver spoons. Honderich seldom speaks in public and his photograph is rarely seen; Bassett is a buoyant extrovert and a celebrity. Honderich's Star sought to remove itself from the raucous, jaundiced journalism of its earlier days; Bassett's Telegram was a free-swinging, Fleet striating, punchy-headlined journal - even its pages were pink for a time. It is not surprising that the men who founded the tabloid Toronto Sun were mostly former Tely staffers.
I came to know John Bassett through an incident that is typical of the man's unconventional directness. One morning, my telephone rang. Bassett wasted not one sentence on preliminaries. "I'm told that Beland Honderich is out of town and can't be reached, and that you're in charge of the paper. Is that right?"
"That's right", I said.
"Then let me tell you the reason for this call. I'm informed-and I have every reason to believe it to be true - that a Star reporter is preparing a story on my forthcoming divorce. Are you aware for that?"
"No," I said.
"Good enough, “he said. "Well now, we haven't met and you don't know me, but I'm sure you'll accept my word when I tell you what the situation is. Beland and I have an agreement: the Telegram won't carry anything on his divorce if the Star doesn't carry anything on mine.” He paused to chuckle. "Not that there would be in mine. At any rate, in Beland's absence I wanted to let you know about that agreement".
"Thank you for calling.”
He paused for a moment. "You accept what I've just told you?"
"Of course. If you tell me straight out that you and he have an agreement that's good enough for me.”
"Good," he said, and hung up.
I called the city desk and asked if someone was preparing a story on Bassett's divorce. Yes, I was told. "Kill it," I said.
The reporter who had been working on the story came to see me, wanting to know why it was being killed. I didn't give him a reason but simply repeated that we weren't going to run it.
"I was assigned the story by the city editor," he grumbled, “and was told to double-check my facts. I've been working on it for days and I've done a lot of hard digging. I have a right to know why it's being killed.” I told him that I'd made such a decision. He turned to leave, muttering half to himself, "What I'd like to know is; who's running this goddamn paper?"
"Sometimes I'm not sure," I said. "But I know one thing - you're not.”
For a brief period the Star had informal monthly meetings of senior editorial people. They were held after hours in a conference room at the Lord Simcoe hotel, now razed but then only a block from the Star building. After drinks and a meal, all present were encouraged to talk candidly about the news operation and to put forward suggestions for improvement. Few said anything pointed or critical; the only exception I can recall being Ron Haggart, who wrote an influential column on municipal politics.
On one occasion, after the others had gone, Beland and I were sitting alone, drinks in hand, relaxing. He turned and said, "It wasn't a very productive meeting.”
"I thought it went pretty well," I said.
He took a sip of his drink and was silent for a long moment. "The staff doesn't respond to me very well. What's the problem?"
Although the question was entirely out of character, I wasn't surprised. The hour was late. We were tired. We'd had more than a few drinks and the moment seemed conducive to candour. I rested an arm on his shoulder, and with all the presumptuous wisdom of a number of scotches, said, "You want to know what your problem is? I'll tell you what your problem is - you're a Mennonite and you've never learned to enjoy sin.”
It was a fatuous comment; the kind of thing that only gets said with an evening far gone. Today, in retrospect, however, I think it may well be true.
The staff on the Star, put together by Beland Honderich during the late 1950s and early 1960s, was the best ever assembled in the history of Canadian journalism. Pierre Berton wrote a daily column. Nathan Cohen was entertainment editor and drama critic. Ron Haggart covered Metropolitan Toronto politics. Martin Goodman was in Washington and Val Sears in Ottawa. Robert Fulford wrote about books and the arts. Dennis Braithwaite (and later, Roy Shields and Bob Blackburn) covered television. Mark Gayn was a roving correspondent and editorial writer. The veteran, Roy Greenaway, was at Queen's Park. Jocko Thomas was at "police headquarters.” Milt Dunnell was sports editor and Jack McArthur headed the financial department. Lotto Dempsey reported on women. Leonard Bertin covered science. Jack Brehl, Rae Corelli and George Bryant wrote features. In the newsroom, Richard Needham was city editor and Andy Lytle news editor, with that nonpareil of headline writers, Willis Entwistle at the heart of the "rim.” Norm James was the chief photographer. On the editorial page, Duncan Macpherson raised the newspaper cartoonist's art to new heights.
In October 1962, Berton decided to leave his enormously popular column to major in television. I considered a number of writers from across Canada but couldn't sell myself on any of them. One morning as I passed Milt Dunnell's desk, he asked, "Are you still looking for a columnist? If you are, have you considered Gary Lautens?" Lautens wrote a column on sports for the Hamilton Spectator but I'd never heard of him. "He's good," Milt said. "And funny as hell.”
I read some of Lauten's columns and invited him to come to see me. He was entirely lacking in self-confidence. It took some persistence to convince him that he had the stuff to make it in Toronto. He wrote wonderfully zany material, but each day he would endure an agony of self-doubt, and when he encountered me in the newsroom would denigrate his last column. I made it a practice to read his stuff in advance, and when it was particularly good, to tell him so. He wrote the column for twenty years and is now executive managing editor for the paper.
I also needed a religion editor. One day while involved in a search for the right man, Allen Spraggett strolled in to ask for the job. He was pastor of a tiny church in Frankville, Ontario, a hamlet of fewer than a hundred people.
"What makes you think you can do the job?" I asked.
"I would certainly do it better than it's being done, “he said.
I told him to return home and write a story about any religious event in his area. "With it," I said, "include a list of the half-dozen things you would do were you religion editor on the Star.” A few days later I received a news story about an evangelistic campaign in a nearby town along with a list of more than a dozen projects he would launch if he had the job. I hired him.
Immediately he became a target of fun among the staff. The incredulous report went out: "The guy types with one finger.” Most newsmen use the hunt-and-peck method, but Spraggtt picked out his stories with one finger on one hand. It was viewed as a small wonder. But he did an imaginative and thorough-going job with the weekly religion page and left only after he wandered into the cloud cuckoo land of the occult. He prospered there but it finished him as a credible journalist.
Nathan Cohen had been hired to do one thing: to write a daily column on the entertainment scene, specializing in drama criticism. Canadian theatre had just begun the flowering that would take place over the next twenty years. Nathan was inflexible in his determination to serve the theatre by insisting on excellence; he made few allowances for the fact that Canadian companies lacked money, had inadequate facilities and drew sparse audiences. He adamantly refused to excuse second-rate productions merely because they were Canadian and better than the norm. He was hated with passion in those early days, and I was frequently berated by actors and producers for permitting his "negativism," which, they argued, discouraged attendance and was delaying the emergence of a distinctive national theatre. They hail him now; they railed against him then.
Nathan was thought by those who didn't know him to be pompous and imperious, indifferent to others' opinions. In fact, he was shy and easily embarrassed. He was courtly around beautiful women and florid in his compliments, but he was ill at ease and more than once I saw him blush. He smoked heavily, an unfiltered American cigaret, but didn't inhale. He never learned to drive a car and was driven about by his wife. In some ways he was rather Victorian: he seldom swore and didn't enjoy off-colour jokes. After a friend gave him a cane, he was never without one. Over the years, he was presented with walking sticks of various designs - one enclosed a rapier - and he took a boyish delight in showing off his latest acquisition.
Although he often denied it, he enjoyed public attention and relished the craning of necks when he entered a theatre. He and I once gleefully fashioned a conspiracy, in which he would attend an important opening at the Royal Alexandra theatre and, two minutes before the curtain, make a grand entrance, sweeping to his usual seat on the right aisle, a cape billowing behind. He went as far as to enquire at Malabar's about renting a cape and a top hat but never did do it.
His great gifts were a sure understanding and a love of the theatre. He harboured one dominant ambition - to be drama critic on the New York Times. The opportunity never came. He was invited to join the New York Post but refused, probably because it would make difficult a move to the Times. He was respected by American producers and, when their companies came to Toronto, a major concern was Cohen's reaction. In 1960 when Lerner and Loew's Camelot opened the O'Keefe Centre, Nathan wrote an extraordinary review in which he made specific suggestions for the improvement of the production. As I recall it, all but one of his suggestions were incorporated in the play.
Nathan made a great show of resisting the job, as entertainment editor of the Star - it was not his metier, he would be spreading himself too thin, he wasn't sure how well he would handle staff. It was his fashion to demean his own capacities so you could take issue with him. I played the role, offering him secretarial help and an editorial assistant. Slowly but predictably he came around, shaking his massive head in mock wonder at his departure from sanity. He ran the best entertainment section in the country.
Nathan and I played a weekly charade. I would notify him each Thursday of the size of the Saturday entertainment section "news hole" - the amount of space left over after the advertisements had been blocked in. Friday mornings, I would hear the singular sounds of Nathan approaching along the hall: the heavy shuffling of feet, the muttered imprecations, and the murmurings of despair.
He would throw himself heavily into a chair across from me, toss a wad of tattered page-dummies onto my desk and roll his eyes toward the ceiling. "Charles," he would mourn, “what are you doing to me? You're asking the impossible. How can I possibly produce an entertainment section if I have to jimmy the material into this pathetic, minuscule space? “He would then toss a sheet of paper onto the desk on which he had scrawled the features he had planned. He would huff and puff and fulminate, place spread fingers against his shirtfront, and with the overdone expression of a man betrayed, demand more space.
I would hear him out, enjoying the performance. When he was finished, I would say to him, “Sorry, but that's it. There aren’t any more. We have to earn enough from the advertising to pay your princely salary.“ Groans and appeals to heaven. After a while we would tire of the game and go on to gossip about the newspaper and entertainment businesses.
He came into my office one day and dropped a photograph on the desk before me.
"Any idea who that is?" he asked, a slight smile on his lips.
I studied the picture. It was a candid photograph - what is called in the business a "grab-shot" - of a very old woman. The contours of her face sagged; the eyes looked hunted and flashed with anger. She was turning toward the camera, obviously caught off guard in what appeared to be a theatre dressing room. There was something familiar about the face.
"No idea," I said,
"She's playing in town right now," Nathan hinted. I shook my head.” Marlene Dietrich," he said.
I looked at the photograph again, barely crediting my eyes. Marlene Dietrich had been one of the most exquisitely beautiful women in the world.
"The question is," Nahtan was saying, “do we run it?"
"Of course we don't run it," I said hotly.
Nathan's smile broke widely. "I'd already made that decision," he said. “I merely wanted to remind you that time is the enemy.”
Honderich was a notoriously difficult man to work for. He kept a close watch on every part of the paper and arrived at his office by seven to read all the galley proofs. His criticisms of stories and headlines were usually valid and, although sometimes you would go from a meeting grinding your teeth with rage, you would have a grudging admiration for his editor's eye.
He and I clashed seriously only once. It had been decided to devote the entire front page of the second section to a series on the virtues of Metropolitan Toronto. On five consecutive days we would present some of the reasons for pride in the city: the superb harbour, the swiftly burgeoning downtown, the diversity and excellence of services, the public transportation system, the parks and green spaces, the tree-lined streets and magnificent homes. For a week, we would unabashedly brag about our
I assigned the project to Bob Needham, the city editor. (He now goes by Richard Needham and writes for the editorial page of the Globe and Mail.) He did an excellent job of assigning, supervising and editing the various features. I laid out the pages, cropped the photographs and wrote the heads. When the first of the five pages was proofed, I took it to Beland.
He examined it, making approving noises. Than he said "Charles. . . this picture: wouldn’t it be better if you ran it four columns?. . . This head's too strong. . . . And this story below the fold; I’d think you'd want to give it more prominence.”
The entire page had to be remade, and the result lacked balance and cohesiveness. The following day I took him a proof of the Tuesday page. He went over it and made half a dozen criticisms. Again, a major revision was required. On the third day a similar thing happened. As he finished his comments he said, "Now Charles, if you'll just have those changes made,"
"I'm sorry, Bee," I said. “I can’t do that.”
He looked at me, puzzled "What do you mean, you can't do it?"
"Simply that I won’t do it. The page is fine as it is.”
There was an extended pause. When he spoke his voice was soft. "Charles, I would like the changes made,"
"I’m sorry, Bee,"
"What's the problem?" he said,
I was aware of an inner trembling. I was also aware that I was suddenly inflexible. "I changed Monday's page, and Tuesday’s, but I have no intention of changing this one. It's a good series and it's well presented. More important than that. It's the best I can do. Three days in a row you've indicated dissatisfaction, so obviously my best isn't good enough. Perhaps you should get someone else.”
He didn't respond for a moment but looked down at the page proof before him. "Charles," he said, “I would like the changes made. If you aren't prepared to make them, will you pass the page to someone who is?"
"Yes," I said, "I'll send Phil Sykes to see you.” Sykes was then assistant managing editor.
As I opened the door, he said," Are you sure you've given this enough thought?"
"Yes, “I said.” I've thought about it for three days. Longer than that actually.”
"You realize, Charles, that if it comes to an impasse between the editorial director and the managing editor - you know what the outcome will be?"
"Yes," I said. "I know that.”
Please ask Mr. Sykes to come and see me.”
I did, and went to my office, closing the door. I sat numbly reviewing what had happened, deeply saddened. I loved my work on the Star. Apart from the long hours and the unremitting pressure, there was no part of it I didn't delight in. Yes, Honderich was a demanding superior, and sometimes exasperating, but I was in sympathy with what he was trying to do. The Star had become a fine newspaper. A recent study had listed it among the twelve great newspapers in the world. I liked the challenge and the scope of my work and the assurance I felt in doing it after years on the job. Had I been too precipitate in bringing on the confrontation? No. It is impossible to work creatively and well if someone is constantly second-guessing you.
There was a tap on the door and Honderich entered. He crossed the office and stood with his hands in his hip pockets looking out of the window at the excavation that would soon house the footings for Toronto-Dominion Bank tower.
"Am I really that impossible to work for?' he asked.
"What we're trying to do, you and I, is to turn out a good newspaper. It's not easy.”
"Beland," I said, "Wherever I've worked, I've asked only one thing of my employer-leave me free to do my work. If I'm not good enough, fire me. But if I am good enough, leave me free to do my job. The prerogatives are yours. I don't resent direction or instruction - you're the guy who's finally responsible - but, day-to-day, let me do my job. It's impossible to work with knowledge that somebody's looking over your shoulder.”
He turned from the window. "You're tired," he said. "Take a week or two. Go off to Florida or somewhere and send me your expenses. We'll have a talk when you get back.”
I took ten days off and sat in the sun. When I returned, neither of us said anything about the confrontation. Honderich stayed away from the newsroom and, apart from our usual morning briefing sessions, didn't interfere. After six weeks, the earlier pattern resumed.
The second time the Star and I almost parted company also had to do with editorial interference.
Harry A. Hindmarsh was managing editor at the time and a member of the board of directors. Although not named to the position, I was acting as assistant managing editor. Harry was fighting a health problem and frequently arrived late at the office. I was on the desk each morning, making the decisions, laying out the front page, getting the paper out. Hindmarsh would arrive, check on what was in the works, and then sit in the spare chair at the news desk to take over principal responsibly.
But there was a growing problem. He was arriving later each morning and would order changes that would delay the edition. Three mornings in a row the paper closed late. One morning, he arrived later than usual and went, as was his custom, to the photo desk to look over the available "art," as photographs are called. "Charlie, “he calls out, photograph in hand. "Why isn't this on the front page?"
It was an excellent picture, not a news photo but a good human-interest shot. I had considered it, but had rejected it, because it would need to be played large to be effective. Using it would have meant cutting back on an important story, and it was a heavy news day.
"It's too good a picture to miss," he said. “Run it.”
The men at the photo desk were watching. “Ill have to remake the page, "I said. "We're running late now. We've closed late for the past three days.”
"Charlie," he said, "I told you to run it.”
"I'm sorry, Harry. We're late now. I've got to get back to the desk.”
"Run the goddamn picture!" he flared.
"No, goddamn it!" I said, suddenly angry. "You want it, you change it. And while you're at it, get the goddamn paper out.”
I turned and went to my office. I began to empty the drawers of my desk, waiting until the paper was away, when I would be fired. An hour passed, and then two. Then Harry was at the door. He came in, closed the door behind him, and for a few minutes made inconsequential talk. Finally, he smiled his lopsided grin.
"I had talk with Beland," he said," and he tells me I was wrong. Especially having a row in front of the guys at the photo desk," He stuck out a hand, "Okay?"
I gripped his hand warmly. "Okay.”
There was no one in the upper echelons of the Star less well known to the staff than the president, Joseph S. ("Young Joe") Atkinson. In the almost five years I was on the paper I met him only once and never saw him in the newsroom. Shortly after I'd been appointed executive news editor, we passed in the hall out- side his office. He invited me in and we chatted for a few minutes. I can't recall what was said; my mind was preoccupied with a story going around the newsroom that embodied the light regard in which he was held, rightly or wrongly, by the editorial staff.
According to the tale, Atkinson, who had a fondness for gadgets, had a console installed on his desk: simply by depressing buttons, he could open or draw drapes. One morning he was with an important visitor. The brilliant sun pouring through the window provided the opportunity to show off his new device. He depressed a button and the drapes moved silently closed. But rather than rest there, they immediately opened, and that cycle completed, drew once more. Back and forth they went until aid was summoned.
Conventional newsroom wisdom had it that Burnett Thall, the production manager and a vice president, was next in line to Atkinson, who was believed to be more interested in things mechanical than things editorial. Thall had impressive credentials: he held a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto as a research engineer and, before coming to the Star, he had worked on atomic reactors with the National Research Council and as a research physicist at the Chalk River atomic energy installation.
The newsroom gossip also had it the Honderich, although undoubtedly competent and also a member of the board, was an outsider and unlikely to move higher than his present position as editorial director. I had heard the speculation but had paid little attention. Atkinson was a young man, and the possibility never crossed my mind that a boardroom struggle to be his successor was going on.
One morning Bleand called me to his office and asked me to begin a file listing every foul-up or delay in the composing room and the reasons for each one. It seemed a reasonable request. There is on-going tension between the editorial department and the composing room on any newspaper. Deadlines are important: the "product" must be rushed to market while it is fresh; connections have to be made with planes and trains and buses. A news-man, a breaking story in hand, will continue to send copy to the composing room up to the last possible minute, as the composing room foreman fumes and fulminates. The journalist wants to get out the latest news; the foreman wants to get out the paper. Consequently, each department tends to blames the other for its problems.
There was little trouble in fattening Honderich's file: almost every morning there were delays or problems to document. A few weeks later, Honderich requested the file, and shortly thereafter, asked me to meet him at ten the following morning in Thall's office.
We gathered, the three of us, around a glass-topped coffee table. Thall, an open, gregarious man, was relaxed and cordial. Honderich was unusually tense. Thall offered coffee; Beland dismissed it. He dumped the file on the coffee table and began to read selected items chosen to demonstrate the inefficiency and ineptitude of the composing room. It was intimidating litany
Early in the conversation, Thall had attempted a light-hearted response, but he grew silent as it became clear that Honderich was going to make his case without interruption. Beland closed the file and slammed a fist on it. I feasted for the tabletop as he pounded it, emphasizing his words. There would be an end to this costly ineptitude, he thundered. Unless there was a marked improvement in the next ten days, he would take the matter to Mr. Atkinson and the board. Before Thall could reply, Honderich rose, picked up the file and left. I followed awkwardly.
There was some improvement in the composing room the following week, but the process was a labor-intensive one and subject to breakdowns. It occurred to me that, if this was the opening salvo in a showdown fight for power, Hohderich would win hands down. As indeed, in the best interests of the paper, he should win. He was tougher, more ambitious and better equipped as a journalist to be the publisher than was Thall. I had left the Star when, in 1965, he was named assistant publisher, than president and publisher the following year when Atkinson became chairman of the board. When Atkinson died unexpectedly in 1968, Honderich stood alone at the top.
I began to have problems with Needham. I had inherited him from the Star editorial page when Hohderich proposed that he be made city editor. From the beginning, I found it impossible to be at ease social intercourse. When I would assign specific tasks, he would listen, head down, his attitude almost servile, saying little or nothing. At the end, he would give a quick bob of his and be off.
He was a good city editor; imaginative and resourceful, careful about details. And he worked long hours. I would come in Saturdays to get the first edition away, and leaving, would see him in his office, often with a group of people. He would neither say hello nor introduce his friends. He was there sometimes on Sundays. I got the impression that he preferred the office to the place in which he lived.
He began a vendetta with Arnold Brunner, a reporter. Prior to Needham's coming, we had hired Brunner away from the CBC to run the world news desk. It hadn't worked out, and I had shifted him to features, where he did excellent work. Brunner was that rare breed of reporter, the "digger," the man who will pursue a slim lead with stubborn and indefatigable tenacity. He'd handled a number of stories creditably and without problems, and I was surprised when he came to me, complaining that he was being harassed by Needham.
I talked to Needham about it. He was irritated, it seemed, by Brunner's unwillingness to accept certain small routines. Brunner was expected to report mornings at eight o'clock, but would often arrive a few minutes late. It became an issue, with Brunner - who worked hours of unpaid overtime - resisting what he regarded as a martinet demand for punctuality. Needham cut him back to inconsequential assignments. Brunner began to arrive early and then dewdle so that he could walk in one or two minutes past the hour.
I had them both in and told them to act more sensibly, but things grew worse. Brunner was talking about leaving and I didn't want to lose him. And he had become convinced that Needham disliked him because he was a Jew. It was a silly quarrel.
All this came to a head one morning when I was with Honderich for a briefing session. He mentioned that he had received a memo from Needham recommending that Brunner be fired; he was surprised when I told him that I knew nothing of the recommendation. Honderich said that he would return of the memorandum to Needham and tell him to discuss such matters with me. "What's the problem?" he asked. " I thought Brunner was doing good work," "He is," I said, "but he and Needham have been feuding.” "Nevertheless," Honderich said, " I think you should accept the recommendation of the city editor in matters pertaining to his staff," I told him I wasn't prepared to do that in this instance. Brunner was one of the better reporters on staff and, more important, he was being badly treated. Later, I told Need-ham to resolve his problems with Brunner, and not to Honderich. I told Brunner to settle down and stop playing games. They established an uneasy peace.
On December 1,1962, the Hamilton Tiger Cats the Winnipeg Blue Bombers met at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto to decide the winner of the Grey Cup. The game would be remembered as the "Fog Bowl," it was the only game in the history of the Canadian Football League to be played over two days.
The forecasters warned of dense fog, and there had been talk of postponing the game. But as the time for the kick-off approached, visibility at the CNE stadium was adequate, Four minutes into the second quarter, a cool breeze moved in, chilling the moist Lake Ontario air and forming a dense ground fog; Within minutes the game was almost invisible from the stands; as the fog thickened, even those on the sidelines were unable to follow the play. The spectators, feeling cheated, began to boo and call for a postponement of the game.
I wasn't at the game; I was in the newsroom supervising the various editions. There had been reports that the Telegram was organizing to print the latest results and pictures first and we had laid elaborate plans to beat them at their own game. Needham had worked out an ingenious system to provide photographs with the least possible delay. A team of motorcyclists would carry the film from CNE Stadium to the Star. Their ability to slip between lanes of clotted traffic and to skirt bottlenecks guaranteed that we would get pictures first. Open telephone lines, as well as radio and television sets tuned to the game, ensured instantaneous play-by- play results. In addition to front-page converge, I had allocated four inside pages for pictures. We were geared to "beat the Tely",
In the newspaper business it is regarded as a matter of grate importance to "scoop" the opposition. Reporters are intensely competitive and will go to almost any ends to break an exclusive story, even though beating the opposition is of little practical importance. Decades ago, when there was no radio and television many readers bought two and three papers a day. Then "the scoop" was useful. Today, if you are beaten, you scalp - a euphemism for steal-the opposition story and immediately go to work to match or better it in the following edition. The public is not seldom aware which paper broke a specific story, nor does it much care. Nor does a scoop increase sales.
It is a common myth among laymen that headlines sell news- papers, but most of a newspaper's circulation consists of home delivery; increased sales at the newsstands are usually a small proportion of overall sales. There are exceptions, but they are few. The principal benefit in beating the opposition to a story is to staff morale. When a newspaper breaks a significant story that the opposition doesn't have, there is an almost palpable sense of exultant satisfaction in the newsroom.
Back at CNE Stadium the situation was deteriorating. After an abbreviated half time the game had resumed but now seemed likely to be postponed. The pictures arriving at the Star were diffuse and we were having treble finding enough clear shots to fill the inside pages. But we knew the Telegram was faring no better and so consoled ourselves.
As the deadline for the All Star-our final edition approached, the time came to choose the best available photograph for the front page. I was tempted to go with a close-up action shot but held off. A touchdown had just been scored and it had put the Blue Bombers ahead by one point; it might be the most important play of the game. I had Needham check the stadium to see if a picture of the touchdown was on the way; if so, I would consider delaying the paper. No, came the answer, it hadn't been possible to get a picture of the touchdown.
I scanned the photographs coming off the wire-photo machine. There! - Canadian Press had a picture of the crucial play. It was faded by the transmission process and would reproduce badly, but it showed what was likely to be winning touchdown. I ordered it onto the front page.
I was in the composing room supervising the lock-up of the page when I saw Honderich and Needham on the far side of the room in a head-close conversation. As the page was wheeled away, Honderich came toward me. We went to one side, apart.
"Charles", he said, "Bob tells me he went to a great deal of trouble to organize a system of delivery to get pictures from the CNE Stadium. Is that so?"
"Yes it is," I said. "And it worked perfectly. You may have noticed that we've been ahead of the Tely," "I've seen that," he said. "But he tells me that, on the front page of the All Star, you've hone with a
picture from CP.”
"He says there's a real feeling of let-down among the staff. All that organization, all that planning wasted,"
"Bee," I said, "I went with CP because they had a picture of the touchdown. We didn't. At the moment, I'm more interested in being first with the news I am in staff morale.”
He was silent for a moment.” We didn't have the touchdown?" I shook my head. "I see," he said
I wanted to find Needham and kick his tail, but decided, the hell with it. I went to my office to wait for the edition to come off the presses. In the meantime, I was told that the final nine minutes and twenty seconds of the game had been postponed until the following day.
Not long afterwards, Needham left to join the Globe and Mail.
In February 1963, John Diefenbaker's erratic government lurched toward extinction, marking the pathetic end of one of the great missed opportunities in Canadian politics. The end had come in disarray, with name-calling and some of the cabinet in revolt. It was a tawdry and untidy disintegration.
In the aftermath, the Star's editorial page had upbraided George hees, who had been minister of Trade and Commerce, charging him with vacillation and inconsistency. Hees wrote Beland Honderich, arguing that his resignation and his motives were being misinterpreted and asking for an opportunity to set the record straight. Honderch gathered his editorial writers and invited me to sit in. We met with Hees in Honderich's office.
Hees presented a credible defense of his actions. As the meeting broke up, I found myself standing with Hees, Honderich and Bob Neilson, the Star's chief editorial writer. I like Hees and wanted to see him in the Liberal party, and although I had no formal connection with the party, side, “George, what would you say if some senior person in the Liberal party were to ask you to join?"
He paused, looking down, fingering the chain stretched across his vest. "Well", he said cautiously, "I'm happy to talk to anyone at any time. . .”
"Now, George," I said, "That's a politician's answer. You've been talking openly here. What would you say if someone in authority among the Grits were to try to recruit you?" As he was considering a response, I added, there is a pretty fair precedent - Winston Churchill crossed the floor to join the Liberals".
He brightened. “Say, that's right. He did.” Then he added, "I'd be happy to talk".
Afterwards, he and I repaired to my office to talk a little politics. He was greatly exercised about Diefenbaker and at one point called him “the most dangerous man in Canada".
"All the more reason for joining the Liberals, “I said. "If you're seriously interested I can have someone in the prime minister's office invite you in. Perhaps Pearson himself".
He sat, frowning. “But where would I run?"
Mischievously, I said, "If Dief's as dangerous as you say, how about Prince Albert?"
"No, no, no," he said. "That's his territory. And I'm not sure how well I'd do in a rural constituency".
I got in touch with Keith Davey, knowing that he would be interested in any move that might help attain that majority government he sought for Pearson. Pearson did speak to Hees, and in April, 1964 - although I can't say unequivocally that the one flowed from the other - Hees was named president of the Montreal and Canadian stock exchanges. Pearson wanted him in the cabinet and was planning to appoint him if he ran successfully in the next election. But Pearson faced strong opposition from members of his cabinet and others who had done battle with George in the Commons over the years.
More than two years later, during Holy Week 1965, I had a telephone call from Hees. He would be in Toronto on Good Friday and would like to meet for lunch at the Granite Club. There he asked me to evaluate the likelihood of his being given a cabinet post. I was candid. I told him that opposition to the move had hardened and that there was little chance of it happening.
I then said, “George, you're a political animal. You'll never be happy out of politics and you are by temperament a Conservative. You have most of your life invested in the part, ever since you were president of the young Tories. Forget the Liberals. It isn't going to pan out. Rejoin your own party".
He seemed to emerge from beneath a cloud. As lunch continued, he decided to make the move almost immediately. I suggested that he call John Bassett and tell him first about the decision. He returned from the telephone to say that Bassett would be delighted to meet him. Within the week there was a front-page story in the Telegram in which Hees announced his return to the Conservative party and a lead editorial welcoming him back
There were a host of important and exciting stories during the years I was at the Star, but none so dramatic and momentous as the ascendancy to the presidency and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He stirred an extraordinary admiration and affection among Americans, but no more, I think, than among Canadians, who were not so much influenced by partisan political factors.
He was the scion of a wealthy family, young, handsome, brilliant, cultivated, a war hero, a Pulitzer prize winner and married to a woman as beautiful as and more stylish than any beauty queen. He transformed the presidential press conference into a tour de force of wit and incisiveness. He was a phrasemaker and a skilled debater who had bested Richard Nixon by a whisker. He launched the new Frontier, defended the Freedom Riders in the southern states, founded the Peace Corps, accelerated the space program and promised a man on the moon within the decade. And in the Cuban Missile Crisis, he stared down Khrushchev. A spangled excitement trailed him.
Few Canadians gave ear to Kennedy's critics, even though they made a strong case: the Bay of Pigs was a tragic blunder; the Berlin wall had been erected; the missile crisis was dangerous brink-man ship; and American involvement in Vietnam had, through Kennedy's actions, deepened to commitment.
To a Canadian journalist, Kennedy was, beyond all else, news. Compared to Diefenbaker's bombast and Pearson's fumbling, Kennedy was a fresh breeze. The world suddenly became more exciting. I remember most vividly the sense of foreboding in the newsroom as that Soviet ship bulled through the waters toward a blockaded Cuba, nuclear missiles clearly visible on her deck. We were publishing pictures of lights burning late at the White House and of grapes depicting the northernmost range of the Cuban- based missiles. The air vibrated with tension. With every other North American, I held my breath until the word came that Khrushchev had backed down.
And then, on November 22,1963, the thousand days ended and Camelot crumbles. My wife came pounding up the stairs to my bedroom. In the doorway her face was grey, disbelieving, distraught. "Val Sears just called from the newsroom," she said. "President Kennedy has been shot!"
I was in bed recovering from the flu. Gathering clothing as I went, I ran for the car.
The tension surrounding the city desk was incredible. Over arching it was a bizarre sense of unreality. It was not possible that Kennedy was dead. Nor were we certain he was: the news was changing every few minutes. There were reports form a dozen sources, most of them tentative and contradictory. In addition to the tumult of the newsroom and the chatter of the newswires, a radio and a television set were blaring at the groups surrounding them.
As the news changed, we rewrote our lead story and the headlines. We remade the front and inside pages to accommodate new photographs. Honderich, unable to remain in his office, was in the chair opposite mine at the news desk. Since the arrival of television and radio, newspapers no longer print' extras"- editions other than those regularly schedule - but Honderich changed that that Tuesday afternoon and a fleet of taxicabs joined our trucks rush fresh bundles of papers to every available outlet.
Then, finally, confirmation: President john Fitzgerald Kennedy was dead and we were all bereft. The heavy black headlines had already been prepared. The story need only a new lead. I nodded to Andy Lytle, the news editor, always a locus of strength, and he left for the composing room to lock up the front page. We could relax for a moment before beginning the preparation for the following day. I brought a cigarette to my lips to light it. As I did, I saw another, freshly lit, lodged between my fingers and a third in the brimming ashtray.
Beyond its tragedy, the assassination of John Kennedy was a great continuing news story. And it developed it seemed, every hour: the beautiful young widow with blood and brains on the skirt of her modish suit: the capture of Oswald in the darkness of a neighborhood movie theatre: the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson aboard the plane that would return Kennedy’s body to Washington: Caroline and John-John kneeling with their mother by the casket: the leaders of the Western world marching down Washington’s broad avenues to the mind-numbing pulse of the drums; the infinite sadness in the eyes of Bobby Kennedy: the rider less horse following the cortege. . . . .
It was a television story, but it was no less a newspaper story. We strained for every detail: we culled from the files of every news service, omitting no item of significance: we ran page after page of pictures. It was the kind of story newsmen curse under the pressures of reporting but from, which they draw pride and satisfaction when they are done.
I slept in Sunday morning, slept as though drugged, not stir ring until just short of noon. I came down the stairs, bone weary and not fully awake, relishing the knowledge that the day ahead had no demands on me. But if you are a journalist, news is a narcotic. I turned on the television set. A crowd was milling about the hallway of a Dallas police station. A voice informed that Lee Harvey Oswald was about to be moved to a more secure prison. I sat down to watch. I wanted to see the wretched little thug who had snuffed out the life of the man whose vitality had energized millions.
There was sudden jostling of bodies, a flashing of cameras, and there he was: the thin ferret’s face, the puny nondescript dwarfed by his bulking Texas escort. A man pushed forward from the right side. His arm reached out. There was the sharp sound of a gunshot. Oswald grimaced.
Two images had been burned into my mind: Oswald’s contorted face and the face of a man standing within arm’s length of the wounded Oswald - Peter Worthington, a reporter on the Toronto Telegram. There could be no mistake about it: there he was again I leaned forward, searching among the crowd. Where was our man, Rae Corelli, the man we had dispatched to Dallas post-haste the day of the assassination?
The telephone rang. It was the city room. Did I know Oswald had been shot? Yes, I’d been watching television. What was more, I’d just seen Peter Worthington at the scene. “God, no!" was the response. "Where’s Corelli?' I asked. "Was he on the scene? Get on the phone and find him. I’m on my way in.”
I learned when I arrived at the newsroom that Corelli had been asleep in a motel, exhausted after a series of eighteen-hour days of scrambling competition with hundreds of the best reporters in the world. But there was no time to sort that out now. Tomorrow the Telegram would have Worthington’s first-person account splashed on the front page. I could imagine the bold, black headline: "I WATCHED OSWALD DIE!" I could see the photograph taken from the television screen with Oswald's and Washington’s heads encircled and the sub-head: EXCLUSIVE; TELY MAN THERE AS OSWALD FELLED BY A AVENGER'S BULLET! What could we do to match it?
I called in staff, got people talking on telephones, checking with every possible news source as to who might have eyewitness accounts. Perhaps we could counter the Worthington story by tracking down someone else who had been in that crowded hallway. Perhaps we could get an exclusive interview with the policemen who had been leading Oswald by the arms. Perhaps. . . . Perhaps. . . . In the end we did well, but when the first edition of the Telegram landed on my desk, I looked at it and ground my teeth.
A week went by. I was in my office when someone on the city desk called to tell me that Corelli Was back in the city and would be in the newsroom within the hour. Left instructions that he be sent to see me as soon as he arrived. In the meantime, I would have to decide how to discipline him. It was unforgivable that he hadn't been on hand when Oswald was transferred. True, it hadn't been widely publicized, but Worthington had been there. So had the television cameramen. So had the wire services and other reporters. It was Corolla’s job to Know that Oswald Was going to be transferred and to be there when it happened no matter how deep his exhaustion. It was an unforgivable lapse.
Yet when I had been named features editor and three men were assigned to me, Corelli was my first choice. He is a solid, experienced journalist with a gift for vivid phrases and succinct statement. In later years he would become entertainment editor of the Star and then go in to television with Global and the CBC. The telephone rang: "Corelli's on his way to your office.”
I heard his footsteps, heard him greet my secretary and steeled myself to do what had to be done: I would assign him to night rewrite for a month, an onerous job. No, I would dock him a week's pay. No, I would sit him down for a month to update our standing obits (obituaries). I would give him hell. . . .
But as he approached the doorway, I realized that nothing I could say to him would match what he had already said to himself a thousand times. The greatest story he would ever cover had slipped through his fingers. No upbraiding by me could match the reproach he had already heaped on his own head. As he put his head through the doorway, I Said, “Welcome back. Go home and get some sleep. We'll talk tomorrow.”
I fretted about what should be done by way of discipline and finally consulted with Ray Timson, now the Star's managing editor and Andy Lytle, the news editor. There was agreement that, Corelli should be laid off for a week without pay. The Newspaper Guild objected, and in the end his pay was restored.
Only once in my years as a newspaper editor did I get to run into the newsroom and shout, “stop the presses.”
It was late on a quiet Thursday afternoon. I was in my office, awaiting the All Star final edition. Ron Lowman, an assistant city editor, was on the desk. He alerted me that a good story was breaking and gave me the essential details: the RCMP, operating with a search warrant granted to the department of National Revenue, had raided the offices of New Era Appliances Limited, seizing a large amount of cash and all the company's records- enough to fill a moving van. I instructed him to run the story across the top of the front page under What we called "the Red Line, “a single 36-point headline printed in red ink.
A boy brought me the first copies off the press. I had already approved the headline but, because the story was breaking as we went to press, had not read the copy. Now, scanning it, I came to the second paragraph. “Police said two of the firm's officials are Jack and Murray Bluestein. They are relatives of gambler Max Bluestein, who recently testified at Ontario's Royal Commission on crime.”
It was as though I had been struck on the head with a hammer. For some months, the Ontario Provincial Police had been investigating allegations that organized crime had infiltrated the province. Their investigation had been stimulated in part by a Star column by Pierre Berton. Max Blustein, a small-time hood who lived off the avails of gambling, had been beaten up inside a Yonge Street restaurant and bar known as the Town Tavern. Although blustering had been savagely punched, kicked and beaten with iron bars, and although the Town Tavern had been filled with customers at the time, no one would admit to having seen anything. Berton described it as "the greatest case of mass blindness in history. “The political brouhaha stimulated by his revelations had led eventually to a crime probe at which Blustein had testified and to which our story referred.
What galvanized me into my run to the newsroom was the second paragraph. By identifying the owners of New Era as "relatives of gambler Max Bluestein, "and by making reference in the same sentence to the crime probe, we were implying that the owners of New Era were connected in some way with organized crime. If no more, we were implying guilt by family connection.
I skidded to a stop at the city desk. "Stop the presses"! I shouted - undoubtedly melodramatically. Someone called the pressroom while I went to the composing room. It was too late to rewrite the story and to replace the front page - the early press run was already on the trucks so I had the offending paragraph chiseled out of the metal plate and set the presses to rolling again.
Alex Macintosh of the law firm Blake, Casseiis was the Star's legal counsel. When the problem was reported to him, his immediate response was, “you’ll probably receive a libel notice within forty-eight hours.“ We did.
The situation quickly worsened. We learned that not only were Jack and Murray Bluestein not related to Max Blustein, they didn't even spell their names the same way: Max omitted the "e.” We ran an immediate retraction.
There was worse news. In writing the story, someone had carelessly referred to the raided company as New Era Home Appliances, a business having no connection with New Era Appliance Limited, and we were required to print a second retraction, clarifying that point.
The Bluesteins subsequently sued, claiming that the Star story was false and "had brought the plaintiffs into public scandal, odium and contempt.” We had" seriously injured their character and reputation and had caused and would cause them losses of business, income, profit and credit as a result.” They sought damages of two million dollars.
Our only possible defense lay in the unlikely chance that, despite the denials and the difference in spelling, the Bluesteins and Blustein might be distantly related. We set reporters to digging but came upon an immediate roadblock: the New Era Bluesteins had been born in Europe and we were unable to trace their birth certificates.
In the meantime, Ray Timson, then an assistant city editor, kept after the story. Under pressure from Timson, a staffer went one afternoon to the neighborhood in which the Bluesteins lived. A women's tea party was in progress. There were cars parked up and down the block. As only an old-fashioned reporter would do, he copied all the license plates and ran a check on them at OPP headquarters. Encouraged, he kept digging.
Timson came to see me. "The Bluestein libel suit. . .” he said.
"Isn't their case based on the fact that we identified Murrary and Jack Bluestein as relatives of the Max Blustein, and that they are not, in fact, related?"
He grinned at me. "Well, they are related. Murray Bluestein and max Blustein married sisters!"
The case was dropped.
Late one afternoon Honderich asked me to sub for him at a dinner at the Toronto Club arranged by Ron Todgham, president of Chrysler Motors of Canada, for Lynn Townsend, then the company's American president. It was to be a small affair, with the only outside guests being the heads of the three Toronto papers. I donned black tie and went along.
James Cooper, then the publisher, represented the Globe and Mail. He was a taciturn man who appeared ill at ease and said little through the lavish dinner. Shortly after the cigars and cognac were served he excused himself and left. But not John Bassett. He had arrived late in a mood of elation; that very hour he had averted a strike at the Telegram by negotiating an agreement with the typographical union. It was a pleasant dinner with much boisterous talk and extraordinary food and drink. Bassett and Townsent jousted in friendly to fashion about Canadian-American relations. I talked mostly to Todgham and the three Chrysler executives who had accompanied their bosses.
As we rose from the table, Bassett declared that it was too early to end the evening and insisted that we all be his guests at the Oasis Room of the Barclay Hotel, a nightclub of which he was a habitué. Seven of us piled into Bassett's Rolls Royce and headed for the club on front Street. For all its virtues, a Rolls is not a spacious car. I found myself in the back seat with Townsend on my lap. We were so many that it was impossible to get the doors closed, and pedestrians were brought up short by the sight of an overloaded Rolls-Royce careering down University Avenue, its doors hanging open, while the president of Chrysler USA compained at full voice about "the lack of space and the lousy air-conditioning in these goddamn European imports.”
As we arrived, a table-dead centre and immediately below the stage-was being cleared. Bassett ordered champagne. It was showtime, and a comedian-master of ceremonies was in the middle of his routine. No one at our table paid any attention; all were engaged in boisterous and convivial conversation. The comedian soon surrendered to the inevitable and brought on the first of a series of belly dancers.
Bassett summoned the manager and told him to get rid of the paying customers. "Hurry them up. Give them their checks. "The manager made a feeble protest but went to do as he had been bidden. About half an hour later the club was empty, and Bassett called for a private show.
Back came the M. C. to introduce, with ill-concealed resentment, a series of belly dancers. As a Princess Nadia began her routine (it seemed that all the dancers were Middle-East royalty) Bassett pre-empted the M. C. and took over the stage. To the tumultuous acclaim of the Chrysler brass and myself, he matched princess Nadia as she divested herself, only copping out when it came to his boxer shorts.
I got home shortly after three.
On April 16, 1964, Toronto lawyer Barry Pepper requested that Mr. Justice Dalton Wells cite Star reporter Blaik Kirby for contempt of court. He held up the final edition of the previous day's Star and read aloud a paragraph. Kirby, Mr. Pepper argued, had written his story in a manner that was "arrogant and insolent.” Mr. Justice Dalton Wells called Kirby to stand before the bench and sternly warned that, if he continued to report matters not given in testimony, he would indeed be cited. As would the Toronto Star.
It was a serious matter. Not only Kirby but also I, as managing editor, and possibly the publisher might be charged. The penalty could be a large fine, even a jail sentence.
The warning was part of the climax of one of the longest running scandals of the early 1960s. In the buildings of the natural-gas pipeline from Alberta to the Quebec-Ontario border, a sub-contract was granted to a company called Northern Ontario Natural Gas (NONG). The distribution franchise in Sudbury was the key to the success of the. NONG pipeline, for International Nickel was then probably the world's biggest customer for natural gas.
Ralph K. Farris, president of NONG, offered the then mayor of Sudbury, Leo Landreville, an option on 10,000 shares of stock. Subsequently, Landreville was active in supporting the company's bid for the Sudbury franchise. Acting with caution, Landreville did not exercise his option until after he resigned as mayor and had been appointed to the Ontario Supreme Court. He then sold 2500 of the shares to pay for the stock and finally sold the remaining 7500 for a profit of $17,000.
He was charged with municipal corruption and conspiracy, but was acquitted. However, a Royal Commission headed by the late Ivan Rand found that his acceptance of the shares had "odours of scandal," and that his conduct at the securities hearings into the affair was "unworthy of a judge.”
The involvement of Landreville and other prominent public figures, including a minister of the Ontario government, in the NONG scandal had been uncovered primarily by the persistence and assiduous digging of a young Sudbury reporter, Blaik Kirby, who later joined the Star. One of the results of his reporting was a charge of perjury against Ralph Farris, and it was during his trial that Barry Pepper, who represented Leo Landreville, asked that Kirby be cited for contempt.
The problem grew out of the fact that Kirby was familiar with every aspect of the case. Listening to the testimony, he began to fear that men he knew to be guilty were going to escape judgment. In his zeal he included in his news reports date not given in testimony. On the first occasion, the judge made a general statement of the press, warning them not to report evidence that hadn't been presented in testimony. When Kirby erred again, Mr. Justice Wells called him before the bench and specifically warned him, pointing out that, among other things, his actions might lead to a mistrial. He would not, he said sternly, tolerate any further misreporting, and in the event that it continued, would hold not only Kirby but also his employers in contempt.
I couldn't remove Kirby from the assignment; it was his story. But neither could I risk another problem. I dispatched another reporter with him whose sole responsibility was to see that Kirby did not include in his reports anything that had not taken place in the courtroom. Nonetheless, Kirby slipped in prejudicial material and we had to excise it.
I took further precautions. Each day I checked Kirby’s story in proof from, had it initialed by the reporter who had been in court with Kirby and then initialed it myself. I personally wrote the head, had it proofed and then initialed it. Nothing could go wrong.
Until the day the paper was running late. There was pressure in the composing room to close the page on which the NONG story appeared. So solemn had been the warnings that the story was not to be altered or cut, that when the compositor found himself short of room, he dropped the second line of the heading. The heading had read:
NONG OFFICIAL LIED
RCMP OFFICER SAYS
Without the attribution in the second line, the heading stated that Farris had been found guilty of lying.
When the edition landed on my desk, I turned up the story and saw what had happened. I immediately ran to the composing room, cut enough from the story to make room, replaced the omitted line and replaced the page. By checking the counter on the presses, I learned how many copies had been printed. I sent a messenger to Mr. Justice Wells' office with a copy of the edition showing the mistake. With it, I sent a copy of the corrected page and a note stating that only 4800 copies had been printed. The fault was a grievous one, I admitted, but it had been the result of human error, and had immediately been rectified.
Awaiting his response, I sat in my office contemplating an image of myself behind bars. The prospect didn't please. Fortunately, Mr. Wells took a generous view of our foibles.
I was fond of Kirby but he had to be fired. He had been warned a number of times but had disregarded all cautions. I gave him a praiseful letter of reference and he worked for a while in London, England. I reiterated the praise when he applied to the Globe and Mail where he distinguished himself as a television critic until his death.
During my years at he Star, I maintained close associations with the Liberal party. I could not, of course, participate in party activity and was doubly careful to avoid any partisanship in the news pages. The federal Liberals had returned from the wilderness. They assumed power after the election in April 1963, and immediately executed a series of pratfalls. Among them were the disaster of Walter Gordon's first budget - in its preparation he had used outsiders and almost had to resign - and the almost farcical misadventures of the much hailed "Sixty Days of Decision," in which it seemed each sweep of the new broom created problems.
But their troubles were nothing compared to the Ontario Liberals'. They and the NDP had been rejected by the voters in the 1963 election; even their leader John Wintermeyer lost his seat. The Conservatives, led by John Robarts, were sitting on a fat majority of seventy-seven, holding eighty-five seats to the Liberals' twenty-three and the NDP's eight. In the seventeen elections of the previous sixty years the Liberals had lost all but two won by Mitch Hepburn. In the twenty-one years prior to 1963, there had been seven general elections; the Tories won them all. The Liberals were a fumbling and inept group in legislature: leaderless, fractious and anything but an effective team. So ineffective were they that, in the most recent election, the traditionally Liberal Star had supported the Conservatives.
Then, overnight, the opportunity came to reverse Liberal fortunes, perhaps even to take power. There had been much talk of organized crime in Ontario. The media carried dozens of stories, arguing without presenting much hard evidence, that Ontario had become a centre of Mafia activity. As well, there had been charges in the legislature - few substantiated - and calls for the Ontario Police Commission to " do something.”
The Attorney General in the spring of 1964 was Fred M. Cass, a lawyer from the Cornwall area. He had been under pressure from the police commission - then smarting from press attacks - to provide them with the powers they claimed were necessary to hold organized crime in check. In response, Cass introduced Bill 99, an infamous and ill-conceived piece of legislation that would have granted the police far-ranging and arbitrary powers, including the authority to question suspects secretly and to jail them indefinitely without trial. The reaction was immediate and violent. Bill 99 was dubbed "the police-state bill," and the outrage from every quarter shook the Robarts government to its foundations.
The Globe and Mail had first shot at the story and did an excellent job on its news and editorial pages. The government had clearly been caught out, but rather than retrench, it sought with considerable arrogance to brazen it out. On the Star, we threw everything at them: stories, features, precedents, editorial cartoons, and with other newspapers, focused the protests of civil- liberties groups, law societies and the churches. It was a great story and we ran hard with it.
With the first edition out of the way, I telephoned Andy Thompson, the Liberal member for Toronto Dovercourt, with whom I had done some work for the party. Andy was a young lawyer who had entered politics out of a concern for the poor and dispossessed. Of the disparate band of Liberals in the legislature, he seemed the one most likely to rise to the challenge, but on the telephone he seemed bemused, uncertain.
"Andy, “I said, "you must seize the opportunity. It's straight from heaven. You'll never again have as good a chance to turf out the Tories.”
But he continued tentative and hesitant. It was obvious that he had" grasped the enormity of the Conservative blunder, nor did he seem able to summon the drive to do anything about it. I pressed him to rise in the evening session of the legislature and to make a speech against the bill. "Fight it, Andy. Even it the Speaker rules you out of order. Even if you are named' and banished from the chamber.” I almost dictated the speech for him, spelling out the salient points, marshalling the arguments. That evening he rose in the legislature, and after a slow beginning, caught fire. His speech was played large on the front pages of the newspapers.
On March 23, 1964, after five and a half hours of stormy debate, Robarts finally gave in to an incensed Opposition, wide- spread public outcry and the crumbling loyalty of his own party. He killed the controversial sections of Bill 99 and accepted the resignation of his Attorney General, Fred Cass.
Shortly after the tumult died, Andy Thompson came to my office. His manner was serious. "Chuck," he said," a few days ago you told me what my responsibility was in the legislature. Now I'm telling you what yours is: it's to take over the leadership of the Ontario Liberal party. You’ve got to do it: there isn't anybody else. If you'll run, I'll support you, and I'm sure I can get others to do the same.”
His proposal came as a surprise to me, and I immediately dismissed it. Even though my Liberal connections had gone underground during my years at he Star, I had maintained old friendships within the party, scrupulously keeping the two interests at arm's-length. It was no secret that I planned one day to run for political office, but as my newspaper responsibilities grew, that day had been pushed farther back. Moreover, since the debate of Bill 99, the media had been touting Andy to succeed John Wintermeyer. I advised Andy to go for the leadership, that it was impossible for me to consider it.
But he would not be dissuaded. He continued to press me, listing people he was certain would join him in supporting me if I would run: among them Walter Gordon, then Minister of Finance in the Pearson government, and Keith Davey, the federal party's chief organizer. And he was sure he could persuade a number in the Ontario caucus. "You've got to do it, Chuck," he said. "For the first time in years the Conservatives are vulnerable.”
As the days passed, the possibility began to intrigue me. Each night, late, I went on long walks through my neighborhood, examining the question. As I thought about it, the idea came alive as a possibility. Had there been anyone in the caucus able to do the job, I wouldn't have given it a moment's consideration. The only two possibilities were Thompson and Robert Nixon, the member from Brant, but Andy lacked the qualities of leadership and Bob had performed disappointingly in the debate on the police-state bill. Nor was there anyone in sight beyond the caucus. There was, it seemed, a tide to be taken at he flood.
I had known since I quit the ministry that one day I would run for public office. That was one of the reasons why on my return to Canada I had moved immediately to become active in politics and had joined the Liberal party. But my disposition had always been toward federal politics. It was I thought, where the action was, where the potential for usefulness was greatest. But I had been having second thoughts. I was beginning to believe that the provincial government was closer to the people and touched lives more immediately.
There was another argument for serving at Queen's Park rather than in Ottawa: I would not have to be away from my family most of the week. This was important to me. Sylvia and I now had four children; the eldest, Deborah, was ten, the youngest, Tyrone, was two. At the Star I hadn't gone to the Press Club after working hours. I had quit playing golf when I married because I was spending too much of the weekends on the course. I owned shares in a curling club but had deliberately avoided learning how to play, knowing that I might get hooked. My young family needed me at home; more important, that was where I wanted to be.
I found myself considering what I might be able to accomplish if I were leader of the party. I was still gripped by the idealism that had led me into the ministry. What an opportunity for usefulness politics could provide!
Then, of course, there was my ego. In my naiveté, I didn't doubt that if I ran I would win. Nor did it seem impossible that one day I might be premier of the province. I decided to discuss the matter with Beland Honderich. He was deeply disturbed, and angry. "Charles", he said, "you'll be making a great mistake. You're deluded if you think you can accomplish more for society in politics than you can here. You're in charge of the largest news- paper in Canada. In the Star you can crusade for any legitimate cause with more effectiveness than you can in the legislature. Even if you win the Liberal leadership, which is doubtful, the possibility of unseating the Tories is slim. You can spend the next ten years of your life frustrated and powerless on the opposition benches. Years ago, I asked myself the same questions you are asking, and I decided that the best place to exert my influence was here, right here at the Star. It was the right decision for me. It's the right decision for you.”
At the end of our discussion he said, "You must realize, Charles, that if you go after the leadership you'll have to resign. You can't be a candidate and run the paper. Even if you were to treat the news with total impartiality the public perception would be that it was slanted.”
I told him that I would take three days to think it through. I locked the door to my office. My secretary took all telephone calls and sent in lunch. I ran a line down the centre of a piece of paper, and began to list the arguments pro and con, straining for objectivity. I stayed with it ten to twelve hours each day, and went walking alone evenings, pondering. By the third day I was emotionally. Exhausted but certain of my decision-I would seek the leadership.
I notified Honderich. He was upset but didn't try to dissuade me. Typically, he warned me that my connection with the Star would not necessarily mean I would have the Star's support in the political wars. I telephoned Andy Thompson, notified him of my decision and told him the date on which I would announce my resignation. He agreed to hold it in confidence. I had discussed with my wife the possibility of my running for office, but when I told her of my decision, she was displeased. Nor would she, as the weeks went by, become reconciled to it.
Five weeks after Andy Thompson came to see me in my office, I resigned from the Star. It was a difficult time. I said a private farewell to Beland and found myself close to tears. The staff presented me with a portrait by Irma Council signed by everyone in the newsroom, and there was a party at the Press Club, with a number of prankish memorabilia - a ballot box to be stuffed, a large cardboard carton in which to keep my political promises and some stage-money to be used for bribes. On the final morning, as I passed through the revolving doors and emerged onto King Street, the members of the typographical union were passing out ON STRIKE placards. They waved at me and called out," Good luck, Charlie!" I returned the wave. None of us knew what a long, hard battle laid ahead or that we would all lose.
At the turn of the century, When Joseph E. Atkinson was named editor of the Toronto Evening Star, it was the smallest of six newspapers in Toronto. It comprised eight pages, carried advertising on the front page and sold for one cent a copy. During the first half of the century - in an era when newspapers were unchallenged in merchandising the news - it prospered and grew, while three of its competitors disappeared. In 1959, when I joined the Star, it had become the largest newspaper in Canada and was undergoing fundamental changes. Today, not twenty-five years later, it is a very different newspaper from the one I was responsible for. By the end of the century, if there is a Toronto Star, it will be so changed from today's as to be unrecognizable.
In the early part of the century nearly everybody read news-papers; many read two or three a day. There were no options. Television was decades away. Radio was in its infancy and hadn't yet discovered either the importance or the revenue potential of news. Motion pictures presented weekly "newsreels," as they were called, but the items they carried were few and were more features than news. Daily newspapers had a near monopoly in reporting what was happening at home and around the world.
That day is gone. As the world became a neighborhood and the news more complex, the media proliferated and the competition to be first and more interesting intensified. With the advent of television, newspapers quickly lost ground and credibility. Public opinion polls consistently show that newspapers are the least trusted of the major media. In a descending order, respondents find the news most credible on television, radio, magazines and newspapers. I would reverse that order.
Television news is trustworthy, it is believed, because you are yourself witness to the event. ("Look, I saw the prime minister say it in the House of Commons.”) The presumption is that, in electronic journalism, the event is transmitted directly to the viewer whereas in a newspaper it is received second-hand; reporters intervene and filter it through their biases. The viewer is unaware that the prime minister may have spoken for several minutes and a film editor chose three snippets from his statement and fused them into a seamless thirty-seven-second clip. Except in live coverage of an event, there is no unedited news.
These are bad times for the press. The number of daily news-papers in North America has shrunk dramatically. Nor has Circulation kept pace with the growth of population. Advertising dollars are the lifeblood of the news media and those dollars go where the greatest numbers of bodies are. Today, they are slumped before television sets. Fewer readers mean fewer advertisers, and inevitably fewer newspapers. Let a journal falter and its competition or one of the chains will seize and kill the poor emaciated thing in order to have a clean shot at the available readers. Struggling to stay alive, many publishers have descended to offering their declining readerships a daily diet of sex, sport, crime and human-interest stories, plus the appetizer of a big-buck lottery. For many, it has been a losing battle.
I am not suggesting that newspapers will disappear. The prediction that they would be outmoded and one day made extinct by the electronic delivery of news now seems to have been fatuous. For, in addition to providing a cheap, convenient and easily retrievable "data source," newspapers are an effective medium for advertisers. Newspaper advertising has the advantage of constant availability; it delivers its message at the consumer's convenience and is not gone forever after a brief glimmer on a television screen.
Despite some of the auguries and despite recent history, I am convinced that newspapers will persevere. Their numbers will almost certainly decline. (It seems likely that one of Toronto's three newspapers will die, although it is not yet possible to say which it will be.) However, no newspaper will make it to the year 2001 in any health unless it undergoes radical changes.
The direction of those changes can already be discerned. Reporting the news will remain fundamental but it will cease to be the dominant concern. The trend will be to more information, information explaining the increasingly complex and often baffling world we live in.
Ours is a sensate age. We are assaulted daily by sights and sounds, most of them increasingly vivid and clamorous. Inevitably, our senses deaden, and to be effective, the assault on them must intensify, the messages being driven home through techniques that simplify the facts even as they exaggerate them. Television is in large part responsible; it has magnified the importance of the picture and has diminished the text. The picture may no longer say more than a thousand words but it does catch the eye, and to gain that benefit the thousand words are made subsidiary.
In the years ahead, newspapers will become more visual and more specialized, a conglomerate of news, pictures and special features aimed at numerous audiences - only one of which will be seeking hard news. They will no longer offer only the traditional sections (Women's Sports, Business and Classified); more specific targeting will be practiced. The daily newspaper will become a daily magazine.
One can already see the front page of many newspapers being transformed into magazine covers. The tabloids have long featured one dramatic picture, a provocative headline, an index and nothing more. Others commit much of the front page to a glorified table of contents often labeled Inside, like a circus barker touting the attractions within. The index has become akin to what television calls "the teaser," singing a siren song of pleasures ahead.
The newspaper of the future is visible in embryo. The week-end editions of many newspapers carry little news, not only because there is less important news on weekends, but also because they see themselves as more than a newspaper. They have become a package of mini-magazines designed for readers with more leisure time, readers who want to catch up on and put in context the important events of the week past and to pick and choose from among a variety of articles touching on special interests. While only beginning to realize its potential, today's week- end paper is the pattern from which the future daily will be cut.
It will be a fundamental mistake if newspapers ape electronic journalism. Television has borrowed much from the print media and is still imitative, principally because most of its news and documentary people began in print. It will improve only when the people who run it are children of the electronic medium and not print. The same is true of newspapers. The newspapers that fold will do so in part because they fail to make the most of their intrinsic advantages, which are many.