Friday, 19 December 2008

Unspiked column

An insider at the Toronto Sun, not columnist Joe Warmington, sent TSF this spiked column. In pre-Quebecor days, it would have been published because that's the way we were.

The column:

"Sometimes even the professionals drop the ball!

It’s pretty difficult to disagree with the comment on a blog by a retired Toronto Sun staffer, who keeps current and former Sun employees up and all news internal.

In a state of shock, and having not slept in two nights in light of the massive job cuts at Sun Media this week, until I read the blog I did not realize this paper had not covered this news with such a small brief.

On Page 50 of the Wednesday paper, under the headline Sun Media Axes hundreds of jobs, it read “Canada’s biggest newspaper publisher, Sun Media, is cutting 600 jobs in Western Canada, Ontario and Quebec as it restructures in the face of harsh economic conditions. The chain, owned by Montreal-based media giant Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B), said yesterday the cuts will trim about 10% of its workforce and most will fall by the end of the year.”

The flash on our Money page is accurate. But it was not enough since it did not say the Toronto Sun has been affected by this. It was - and in a very big way.

"What is the value of journalism when it has come to journalists being terrified to speak their minds in fear of Quebecor’s fist?” said the blog. “Shame on all of the columnists, editors and managers who so fear the wrath of Quebecor that they remain mute at a time when public good- byes are demanded . . . They are journalists who fear being fired for speaking their minds.”

It’s fair criticism of columnists, but speaking for myself I can say no one has told me I could not write on this event and I am not in fear of doing it now. I would cover this down the street and I will cover something happening inside my own office. I assumed the story was being handled by a reporter or by our Money Editor Linda Leatherdale - but it turns out she, and many of them, were on this layoff list.

I also understand in light some hundreds of people caught in this, 27 people inside the Toronto Sun newsroom directly, our editor in tears, our publisher devastated, it easy to see how this one could be bobbled. It’s a story no one around here wanted to acknowledge - let alone write. Still, if we are going to cover news outside our building, we certainly should do so when it happens inside - especially when our competitors are.

If I am, in the future, to write about another company I disagree with, or criticize another politician, I have show that I do have autonomy and face no censorship.

We cover tough stories here. I remember in 1999 writing a story about Honest Ed Mirvish laying off 40 restaurant staff, on Dec. 23, just weeks after handing out Christmas turkeys. It was not an easy story to write about such a generous icon. But Honest Ed firing people at Christmas was news. Same applies here.

"I also feel particularly responsible since I was covering, and participating in, our St. James Town Christmas toy drive at the very time all of this was coming down. I guarantee you, had I not been on that positive Sun story, I would have written something earlier on this negative Sun story.

I don’t like what happened with the job cuts, but it’s not my place, or expertise, to comment on the business side of this newspaper, or its parent, on how they handle managing a company during a global recession.

We understand our managers inside the 333 King St. E. building did not want this and we also realize newspapers everywhere face this financial crisis.

But I will say, my sense is we as a group are committed to doing what we have to do, creatively, with all of our ability and with all of our energy, to ensure this paper grows and prospers. And we will loyally and vigorously do our part toward that end.

We love our Sun. And we love our co-workers, management and union - all interesting characters and independent souls who speak their mind and strive for the best.

There is a list of people on a layoff notice, but at this time it’s an internal document since because of a collective agreement between the company and CEP Local 87-M there are bumping rights.

This means, some of the people on the list may bump into other positions based on seniority. There has also been volunteer severance packages offered, which means more people on that list may be in fact staying. It’s going to take some time to sort out.

I know most of the people on the list, some are close friends, and the rest I have great respect for. There are talented young journalists on it and valued, smart and experienced veterans. There are writers, photographers, proof readers, researchers, editorial assistants and editors. All top notch.

We still hold out hope that all or many will get to stay as the process of buyouts and bumping continues.

There is one name I have confirmed will be departing the Sun - effective immediately and it is a big fish. As mentioned above, longtime and legendary Sun Money Editor Linda Leatherdale, who is not in the bargaining unit, is leaving us in what she tells me is a part of the downsizing.

It’s an enormous loss since she is not only one of the country’s best business writers, she is as much a part of the Sun tradition as any employee ever has been. I don’t know if she has a Toronto Sun tattoo, but she very well may.

“It’s my 55th birthday,” she told me laughing late Tuesday. “It’s not a happy birthday but I have been thinking for a couple of months that it might be time.”

For more than 20 years, she has starred here and I know people in the struggling financial world were stunned with this news. Since we did cover the layoffs last month of CTV celebrities Tim Weber, Jacintha Wesselingh and Kate Wheeler, we definitely can’t ignore such a major player moving on from here. The blog is right about that.

On a personal note, there is not a finer person than Leatherdale - a tireless fighter for the average taxpayer. I admire her so much. I sure hope she writes her own farewell column and, perhaps, returns to our pages when the business world she covers so well improves.

In this newspaper business, and at the Sun where lots of us have left and come back, you never say never.

As for other news that happens here, I promise to be vocal in my pushing to make sure our readers are informed."

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