Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Sandy Naiman exits

Four brief lines in Monday's Toronto Sun capped 30 years of Sandy Naiman's award-winning presence in the Sun she loved.

"This is Sandy Naiman's last story for the Toronto Sun and you can now reach her at sln@sandynaiman.com."

Reach her we did to wish her well in her post-Sun freelance writing endeavors and to ask her how it all began in 1977.

When we talk about the "heart" of the Sun and "Sun family," Sandy's story, more than most others, says it all. She taught colleagues volumes about bipolar disorders
and the lifetime battles people with mental illnesses endure because for Sandy, it was a first-person story.

When she was hired in 1977, management knew about her mental illness, but most staffers didn't. That took a couple of volatile episodes in the newsroom. Sandy says she knew she had found a caring workplace when her bosses and colleagues stood by her.

Says Sandy:

"I started at the Sun as a freelancer in entertainment. Kathy Brooks hired me, with George Anthony's blessing, on a recommendation by (Ryerson's) J.D. MacFarlane, who knew I had a serious mental illness, but the Sun decided to give me a chance.

"I was approached and invited to apply for that freelance entertainment job as at the time, I was editing the Royal Alexandra's Centre Stage magazine, published by Ed Mirvish. When Mirvish heard I had a freelance assignment with the Sun to review Tom Jones at the O'Keefe, he gave me an ultimatum: "Them," as in the Toronto Sun," or me, "As in Ed Mirvish, et al." He saw it as a conflict of interest.

"The Sun was paying $25 for the review. Mirvish was paying $100 a week, with no benefits for the editing job. I took the Sun. My dad wanted to disown me, but I saw it as an opportunity. My first Sun appearance was my Tom Jones review, which ran on June 24, 1977. Then I started hanging out around Ms. Brooks, who was editing both Entertainment and Lifestyle, and George Anthony, writing all kinds of other entertainment stuff.

"That's how I got The Exhibitionists column, which ran daily. I interviewed
Bill Cosby, Helen Reddy, Neil Sedaka, Burton Cummings and all kinds of stars at the CNE Grandstand that summer. I also submitted a Lifestyle proposal for a series of six profiles of older, ethnic women who could reflect and tell their stories about coming to and growing up in Toronto. That ran, too.

"I was hired officially into the Lifestyle section on September 6, 1977, as a feature writer, with
David Kendall, who taught me how to 'punch up' my copy."

Sandy had been working from home for several years when Editor-in-Chief Jim Jennings told her in March of 2006 he wanted her back in the newsroom fulltime.

"At first, I was a little surprised, but on April 17, I started. I was given Joe Warmington's old desk. He moved over to Bob MacDonald's desk. I sat beside Ian Robertson, who taught me how to write a news lead and became a sweet friend - we're both 58 - and young Brodie Fenlon, who I came to adore, like a son or younger brother.

"I was so happy to be working at 333 again, and I loved those first months before the June 20 layoff. Working at home had cushioned me from the carnage taking place down there by Quebecor, but being back, it didn't take long to see how the spirit of the place was being sucked out fast.

"At first, it took me hours to write a 40-line news story, but Jonathan Kingstone told me practice makes perfect, like playing the piano. I wasn't very good as a general assignment reporter, but I was a body. And I could write local news. Softer stuff, human interest, United Way, you know.The last 10 months were the toughest and most exciting of my career."

Three decades, and a number of Sun and public service awards later, Sandy decided to take a buyout to save the job of another Sun news staffer in the latest round of cutbacks.

Sandy covered a lot of bases in 30 years, including Sun stints as an entertainment writer, Lifestyle features writer, business writer, columnist, news assignments etc. Columns she wrote: News: People Who Make A Difference, 2006-2007; Showcase: Book Reviews, 2003-2006; Lifestyle: Choices, 1998-2000; Women's Health, 1991-1999; On My Own, 1986-1988; Women on the Move, 1980-2000; Entertainment: The Exhibitionists, interviews with all CNE Grandstand stars, 1977.

All the while, she was collecting numerous public service awards, appearing on radio and television programs, making public speaking engagements across North America on mental health issues as a
member of the Mental Health Works Speakers Bureau etc.

And thanking the Sun for its 1970's newsroom environment.

"By giving her a chance, Sandy says, MacFarlane, Anthony, Brooks and the workplace culture of the Sun helped to lay the groundwork for her future successes," says a Mental Health Works story on the web.

The Toronto Sun Family wishes Sandy an equally busy and successful post-Sun freelance career.

We are better people for having worked with you.

3 comments:

  1. Joyce G. Thompson30 January 2007 at 22:48

    Congratulations Sandy and our very best wishes on your new adventure.

    You are an amazing feature writer! A woman who really gets to the core of the story. YOU have made a difference in the lives of many.

    Thank you for your story on needs of persons who are both deaf and blind. We are certain the Sun and their readers will miss you.

    Bless you!
    Joyce and Jim Thompson
    Thornhill

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  2. The Sun without Sandy Naiman's passion and enthusiasm for every story she writes?!! I don't think so! They'd better come up with another name for themselves, because without Ms. Naiman it's just not the same paper.

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  3. She's the sweetest pepperpot I have ever seen, met and heard as a speaker. Her enthusiasm is infectious and she can motivate a person to scale any literary mountain with her sparkle and drive. You go gal !
    Richard Szpin (a fellow blogger...those far more inept than Sandy!)
    www.szpin.net

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