Saturday 21 April 2007

Al Cairns e-mail

Al Cairns, easily one of the finest investigative reporters to ever sit down at a desk in the Toronto Sun newsroom, recently took a voluntary buyout. It wasn't an easy decision for the award-winning reporter and author, but enough was enough. He writes:

"Excitement, energy, passion, undying loyalty!

All of these things were in the air when I first walked into the Toronto Sun newsroom in the spring of 1989.

Editors shouting out the latest developments to reporters; reporters arguing the merits of assignments and coverage with editors; telephones ringing non-stop; police scanners turned up full blast.

The place was buzzing!

Lorrie Goldstein could barely sit still, could barely contain his enthusiasm for the job, for the story, for the staff.

This, I thought to myself, is what journalism is all about; this is where I want to be, this is where I belong!

And for 15 years or more, I felt like I did belong.

When I asked for a voluntary buyout package some four or five months ago, I did not feel that I belonged at the Toronto Sun any more. Honestly, I felt betrayed at many different levels.

That said, I am on my way with a solid resume, great connections and fantastic memories. My years at the Toronto Sun were truly amazing years. And I will never forget the paper, nor anyone connected with it.

During my time at the Sun, I worked with some of the best journalists I have ever encountered. Time and time again, with the smallest staff in Toronto, we kicked butt. We kicked butt so many times on so many stories. Even in the later years, when staffing was cut and cut and cut again, the hardcore crew that remained still kicked butt.

My hat goes off to ALL the staff who remain at the Sun. Despite all odds, you guys still put out the paper day after day. Today's Toronto Sun truly is the Daily Miracle.

When I started in the newsroom in 1989, the daily news reporting and columnist staff consisted of: Antonella Artuso, Mike Bennett, Claire Bickley, Christie Blatchford, Mark Bonokoski, Christina Blizzard, Dick Chapman, Anne Dawson, Rashida Dhooma, Gretchen Drummie, Bill Dunphy, Anita Elash, Ciaran Ganley, Jerry Gladman, Lee-Ann Goodman, Kathleen Griffin, Kevin Hann, Ian Harvey, David Kendall, Rob Lamberti, Lee Lamothe, Sue-Ann Levy, Michelle Mandel, Elaine Moyle, Steve Payne, Sam Pazzano, Tony Poland, Ian Robertson, Zen Ruryk, John Schmied, Marjorie Sim, Jean Sonmor, Mark Stewart, Jane van der Voort, Jamie Wallace . . .

And that was just the writers in news. That's not even counting sports, photo, entertainment, lifestyles and money.

Count the numbers. Look at the talent.

It isn't until I compiled that list that I realized how far the Toronto Sun has slipped.

Then along came the likes of Rob Benzie, Thane Burnett, Scott Burnside, George Christopolous, Licia Corbella, Sarah Green, Jeff Harder, Brad Honywill, Jonathan Kingstone, Philip Lee-Shanock, Sharon Lem, Moira MacDonald, Scott Magnish, Dave Ryder, Ian Timberlake, Joe Warmington.

Later still, Laura Bobak, Jack Boland, Kim Bradley, Chris Doucette, Brodie Fenlon, Alan Findlay, Rob Granatstein, Brian Gray, Jonathan Jenkins, Lisa Lisle, Natalie Pona, Vivian Song and so on.

I worked with some great editors too.

I want to say here that Gord Walsh's leaving the Toronto Sun played a big part in my own decision to leave. I always trusted Gord. I always sought his advice. At his going away party, I looked around the crowded Crook's bar and thought to myself: The Toronto Sun, this crowd of great people, the kind of commitment they have continually given to a company and their fellow workers, will never, ever happen again.

I am a fan of Mike Strobel's column. But my fondest memory of Mike is not the Shaky Lady or anything like that, but what he said to once after I burst into his office one day screaming my anguish at another editor's terrible mistake.

Mike looked at me from his chair and waited for the smoke to stop pouring out of my ears. And then he said: "But Al, editors are your friends!"

While Steve Payne worked on city desk, I remember him bellowing out in his stark Cockney accent: "John Schmied, this isn't a story, it's a bleeding novel mate!"

Lou Clancy's feature editing was amazing. Mike Simpson is a true gentleman who inspires confidence. To steal John Kryk's words, Jim Jennings gave us hope when there wasn't any.

The overworked and under staffed guys on the city desk who every day find themselves in what I know from first-hand experience is a crap sandwich.

I wrote so many stories at the Toronto Sun in 17 years gone. I have so many to tell about the Toronto Sun in the years ahead.

I fondly remember Dick Chapman coming up to me with a smile on his face and saying: "Hey Al, when I leave the Sun, I think I'll get into journalism."

Tom Godfrey is the most amazing contact man I have ever worked with.

I'll fondly remember working with Joe "Scrawler" Warmington on some great scoops and watching him on other days as he worked his butt off trying to get unique stories. Joe is the hardest working, most dyed-in-the-wool journalist I have ever seen. It was such a delight to work with Joe on the Tie Domi story, which was essentially my last byline at the Sun.

I'll never forget Ray Smith and his never-ending stories about his days at the National Enquirer. How he was told to blame the Three Mile Island meltdown on Jane Fonda. How he and other tabloid guys used to goad Sean Penn into flipping his lid. I cannot remember how many times I picked Ray up from the floor after he fell asleep and slumped off his bar stool at Crooks, or Hogtown, and then delivered him back to home to his lovely, caring, understanding wife Lucille.

How can I ever forget my dear departed friend Bob MacDonald. A part of me - and a part of many others - passed on with him. While many in the business knew Bob as a crusty old news campaigner and complainer, I knew him as a kind and generous soul who always cared. In my darkest hours (and there have been a few) it was Bob who would come over to my desk and, with his bright blue eyes staring right into mine, ask "Wanna coffee?" No matter the obstacles, Bob always inspired me to soldier on.

While Ray and Bob have passed on, so many great friends and colleagues have moved on. Some by choice, others through no choice of their own.

I so much miss the cheery, red face and hair of Scott Burnside, my sidekick during the Paul Bernardo trial and co-author of Deadly Innocence. (Scott is now at ESPN.)

Bright-eyed Brodie Fenlon, who ultimately took over Scott's place and followed the Karla story with me, is now at the Globe and Mail. Brodie is not only one of the best reporters I have ever seen, but he genuinely is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life.

Laura Bobak, whose tenacity helped track down Karla Homolka's lesbian lover in Montreal (she was seven months pregnant) is now at Canadian Press.

Christie Blatchford, a tenacious writer and wicked digger who absolutely has no match in the hard-hitting columnist world, is a top force at the Globe and Mail.

Everyone, it seems, has done pretty darn good after leaving the Toronto Sun.

Lou Clancy head's Osprey's editorial; Mike Simpson is Toronto Star sports editor; Lee-Ann Goodman is at Canadian Press; Natalie Pona is at the Hamilton Spectator; Kim Bradley, now news editor of News 66 Radio in Calgary; Jamie Wallace at Osprey; Ciaran Ganley and Mike Patton are helping keep our Ontario tax dollars work; Ian Timberlake is somewhere in deepest darkest Indonesia; George is with Toronto Police; David Kendall is a landlord; Steve Payne is coaching professional soccer in Brazil (true); Scott Magnish is living the surreal life and making up games; Himani is putting out a great magazine and having a blast; Philip Lee is at CBC; Harvey is having the time of his life freelancing and so on and so on.

Quebecor's massive loss, it seems, is everyone else's gain.

I will never forget the great times I had playing music (well, some kind of noise) with the Shrinking Newsholes: John Kryk, Jamie Wallace, Jonathan Jenkins, Ian Harvey, Alan Findlay. What a hoot.

Playing great rounds of golf on great courses with Jim Thomson and Al Maffei and Paul Ferguson and Art Roach and Andy Donato and Jim Tighe and Mike Strobel and Tim Fryer and John Cuthbert.

Pounding back Grand Marnier and pints at Betty's with Bob McConachie and Ciaran Ganley. Playing soccer with Ian Harvey and Steve Payne on the Sun team and against Jack Boland, Billy Dixon and Rob Seagraves on the Financial Post team.

Playing hockey with Les Pyette and company at Moss Park. Having Martini's with Doug Creighton at the SkyDome and talking about golf. Helping Rachel Sa figure out that she could get a job at the Toronto Sun. Talking with my great friends, Bob, Brad, Brodie, Joe, Tom, Himani . . .

As the saying goes: "You can take the boy out of the Sun, but you can never take the Sun out of the boy."

Today's Sun is but a skeleton of what it was back in 1989. What I saw on my first day is gone forever. Its demise truly is one of the great tragedies - perhaps the greatest ever tragedy - of Canadian journalism.

Good luck Pierre Karl Peladeau.

You will need it."

Thank you for your e-mail, Al.

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