Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Thanks Doug

On this day five years ago, Doug Creighton died at 75 from Parkinson's disease and a broken heart.

His spirit died 12 years earlier when bastards in the Toronto Sun boardroom ousted him from the tabloid he co-founded in 1971 with Peter Worthington and Don Hunt.

Many words were spoken and written after Doug died on Jan. 7, 2004, including an obit penned by Warren Gerard, the late, great Toronto Star obit writer. It remains online five years later, as it should.

The "why?" of Doug's ousting has never been answered, but Paul Godfrey's announcement in front of shocked employees on Thursday, Nov. 5, 1992, that he was in as CEO and Doug was out, was, for many of us, the day the music died.

Prophetically, it was.

All of the peaks reached by the Little Paper That Grew were marked while Doug was at the helm as founding publisher and ultimately, CEO. It has been a slippery slope since his ouster. The buyouts began a year later and you know the rest of the story.

We rarely mention Godfrey's name on this blog because in our gut, he played a role in Doug's ouster, as Doug said he suspected in his book, Sunburned: Memoirs of a Newspaperman.

Doug officially had a year to go before retiring and Godfrey, a politician he hired as publisher, would be his successor. Word was Doug was having second thoughts when the axe fell.

Until the "why?" of Doug's ouster is explained, we'll hold on to those thoughts about Godfrey.

Doug, a much loved and admired newspaperman with roots stemming from the Toronto Telegram in the 1940s, was, as then Sun columnist Christie Blatchford said, "more than a chief executive officer to the people who worked for him. He gave us loyalty, compassion and humanity."

She penned those words for a full-page Toronto Sun ad, paid for by numerous employees who were eager to let Doug, colleagues and readers know where their loyalties were embedded.

We were loyal to Doug because, in a nutshell, he was a newspaperman, one of us.

When the going was good, which was most of the time, we partied at the invitation of Doug, Peter and Don. The 20th anniversary party at the SkyDome in 1991 was a show stopper.

There are also untold stories of Doug going out of his way to assist employees in times of bereavement, illness and financial need. He treated everyone as family, including a couple of top drawer alcoholics who would have been shown the door at other newspapers.

The bean counters Doug allowed into the building by going public to pursue expansion goals never did grasp the concept of "family" and "sharing" in business. Those sentiments were seriously out of whack with their bottom line doctrine.

Doug was everything the backstabbing Sun board members of that day and PKP are not. They will probably go to their graves perplexed by the lasting admiration we have for Doug.

Truth is, you can't buy loyalty.

You can't treat newspaper people like mindless, dispensable sheep and expect any degree of loyalty.

You can't treat readers like inconvenient necessities and expect them to remain loyal.

The Toronto Sun earned its bragging rights as one of the Top 100 companies to work for with mutual respect, compassion, heart and a sense of sharing.

You need to have worked in the Sun newsroom then to appreciate the daily ritual of a couple of hundred talented people coming together daily, working their magic and producing a respectable tabloid. The dress was casual, the environment was laid back and friendly.

As the late Sun writer Jerry Gladman once told a neighbor: "I am not going to work, I am going to be with friends."

The newsroom to die for was too good to last.

It broke our hearts to see Doug discarded at the tabloid he called a home away from home for 21 years. To express our gratitude, we threw a 64th birthday party for him where it all began in 1971 - the Eclipse building.

About 900 people, mostly employees, crammed into the creaky second floor factory space many of us once called home to say thanks.

As Doug wrote in ending his 195-page memoirs:

"I was with my real friends - the staff. I will never forget them. Nor will I forget that they were the real heroes who helped to create the company.

"If I had to leave, it at least ended where it all began."

Doug, an Order of Canada recipient, watched the decline of the Sun from the sidelines in the years before his death.

He has been spared the demoralizing slide of the past five years, last month's Black Tuesday and the pending buyouts of more veterans from the glory days.

He wouldn't recognize today's Sun, with a skeleton newsroom, zero morale, a successful tabloid formula all but abandoned, a half-empty 333, a payroll halved since he left, and a total lack of respect for employees and readers.

He would cringe at the thought of longtime dedicated employees, including John Downing, Valerie Gibson and Linda Leatherdale, leaving without thanking them for their loyalty in print. That is not the Sun he cherished.

But Doug would smile his broad smile at the presence of Peter Worthington, Andy Donato, Christina Blizzard and Jim Thomson, the last four Day Oners still on the job 37 years after the tabloid was launched by 62 men and woman from the defunct Toronto Telegram.

(Andy's fulfilled pledge to include Doug's image in every one of his editorial cartoons, from the time of his ouster to his official retirement date in 1993, sealed our respect for Andy.)

So the Sun, as it is being managed today, would be foreign to everything Doug believed in as a co-founder.

Yes, print newspaper sales are on the decline, but with a never-say-die tabloid boss with Doug's commitment to print, the Sun would be fighting the good fight with ample staff and the full support of loyal employees and readers.

He would embrace the Internet, but not at the expense of his beloved tabloid.

The Miracle on King Street is fading fast under Quebecor, but we'll always have the glory years at the tabloid in our hearts. They can't take that away from us.

In 1971, some pundits said the Sun would never fly.

It flew high for 21 years.

More than 2,000 employees over the years became lifelong members of what Doug affectionately called the Toronto Sun Family.

As TSF members, we are forever grateful for being blessed with the opportunity to share in a unique North American print media success story. It was quite the ride.

Thanks Doug. We miss you and love you as always.

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