Sunday 29 December 2013

Thane Burnett exits Sun Media after 26 years

Thane Burnett, Sun Media writer extraordinaire, has left the building after 26 years, most of them spent in the bowels of 333.

One fewer storyteller from the glory years that earned the Toronto Sun a reputation for gifted storytellers: Mark Bonokoski, Jerry Gladman, Peter Worthington, Christie Blatchford, John Downing and other prose masters.

It seems being promoted to the national desk is a kiss of death.

This is globe-trotting writer's farewell:

I can see the bartender tapping his watch.

So I guess it's time I gathered up my coat and headed out.

But before I go, and you've been great to sit and listen to my stories, I'd like to pass along a few parting words.

Not any great wisdom. More like a period at the end of a last sentence.

After 26 years of telling tales for Sun Media, another four with a Halifax paper, I am no longer their reporter. Though I guess I still qualify as a journalist.

Years ago, I stood with a group to meet Prince Charles. He was introduced to our motley band with someone explaining: "Your highness, these are a few local reporters."

"What's the difference between a journalist and a reporter?" the prince asked.

A veteran among us chimed in: "A reporter is a journalist who has a job."

So I am no longer a reporter or 'Sun Scribe' — the scrappy moniker used by my peers in the newsroom since 1971. And, because of the complicated marketplace of the business, I may never be a newsman again.

Beyond being a husband and dad and, on better days, a good man, I've always seen myself as a news writer. And my stories have always been for you — until now.

I see you looking at me with a certain unease. Don't.

These years have flown by in endless rounds of adventures. If you had told me at 20 years old how I would spend the next three decades, I would have paid to live through it.

Did I tell you once, while at the Calgary Sun, a Blackfoot elder guided me through a vision-quest involving me going without food and water, and being left in the wilderness for four days? Or the time I was, after I joined the Toronto Sun, smuggled into a South American prison? That a Canadian soldier dove in front of me to protect me from incoming fire in Afghanistan?

Oh, ya, I guess I did tell you.

Wait, what about how I felt in earthquake-ravaged China, or on the island of Montserrat during a volcano that melted my boots, or in remote India where I followed a trail of AIDS patients, or Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing or inside Ground Zero's 'frozen zone' on 9/11 or finding Biddy Baby, a tough Louisiana swamp-man whose family stubbornly rode out hurricanes Katrina and Rita inside a bandit's camp?

You're right. I told you them all, right here.

I just really appreciate the time you gave me.

And I've always been aware they were never my stories. I just carried them to you.

I know there are plenty of louder voices — those demanding you feel outrage about this or screaming the other guy shouldn't be allowed to believe that.

But behind these obnoxious characters, there are as many as 13,000 journalists working in Canada — many quietly knocking on doors or jumping on planes so you'll know the full truth of a story.

Is the industry dying? No, though it is going through serious growing pains that many other trades have known.

In fact, there are apparently — despite corporate shakeups — as many journalists in this country as a decade ago.

How do I know? A journalist dug into it and told me so.

Showmen like Rush Limbaugh like to routinely call out the flaws of 'mainstream journalism'. But Limbaugh, and those like him, simply feed off of the work done by reporters who daily venture out to ask questions and bring you back answers.

Yes, I have worries about journalism. We all do. But I believe in storytelling and the need to be informed when there are sirens blaring on the street outside, or when a government is throwing its citizens in prison a half world away.

Better journalists than me have died believing the same thing.

If I do decide to replace my pen with a hammer or rake, to give up what I've been doing for so long now, I'll still wander in here each day -- now to listen rather than tell.

I just thought it was important, if these are the last words I write for a newspaper, that you know having you sit with me to hear my many stories has been a great honour.

And with one hand on the door latch and the other over my heart, be sure I always tried my very best, knowing you were waiting right here.

Malette exits Intelligencer after 34 years

Belleville Intelligencer's Chris Malette exits with Sun Media buyout after 34 years, but will continue column.

Chris MaletteThis is his farewell column as a staffer:

Desk cleared out?


Office supply room looted for box of paper clips?


Men's room key turned in?


Adios muchachos! I'm out of here.

After 34 years at The Intelligencer and 35 playing with ink and paper, your humble scrivener is calling it a day. The big leap, the sayonara, last call, you name it – I took a package, as they say.

There came the dreaded announcement some weeks back that Sun Media/Quebecor was laying off 200 in a round of “reductions,” to help the corporate bottom line. 

Long story short – I'm leaving and someone is staying as a result. I don't want a hero cookie for it, it was my time to go. I'd watched as our newsroom was hollowed out of some storied journalists over the past several years and was sad, truly sad, that I was the last one standing from the crazy, brawling, bawling, laughing family that was here when I shuffled in the door at 45 Bridge Street E. in 1979.

So, here it is. My last column as an Intelligencer employee. I'd be remiss if I didn't thank a few people along the way, not the least of whom is the late Myles Morton for the great atmosphere he fostered here for those many years he and his family ran The Intelligencer. Myles was generous in ways I can't begin to describe and helped cement many journalists' decisions to keep at the craft. There are far few, if any, like him in the game any more.

As mentioned, people like Linda O'Connor, Ady Vos, Henry Bury, Ron Hiuser, Brian O'Meara – all the 'lifers' as we called ourselves – long since left. My old pal Bones, Paul Svoboda, is still here so I'll pass the torch from failing hands, to cadge the Habs credo. Here, Lurleen, Vachon, Meeks (over from Trenton with Kuglin) Richards, Hendry, Miller, Mountney and Lessard are left to carry on, too. Bonne chance, mes amis!

I have worked, as I said, for bazillionaire Ken Thomson, Conrad Black's Hollinger, Osprey under Michael Sifton and Quebecor under Pierre Karl Paledeau. I have been the play thing of multi-millionaires for all of my working life and like most of us in the craft we're lucky to have a camper trailer or RRSP over five figures, as a result.

C'es la guerre. None of us got into this game to make it rich and the owners know it. They knew they could pay us poorly, but those of us with a passion for news and the life of listening to your stories and telling your tales of triumph and tragedy would do it for nickels. And nickels we got.

So, I'll be toiling in words, probably, until they plant me or the noodle goes from too many raps on the rugby pitch, but it's early days to worry about that.

For now, it's time to sit back with a mug of nog and ponder a life well spent with pen and paper, having covered years of the zoo that is city hall, walked among the famine stricken in Somalia, the wretched poor of Haiti, the hurricane battered of Honduras, the war weary of Bosnia – it's been a life-changing experience and not one many reporters from smallish dailies such as ours ever got to cover. I have been blessed and made a better person for the suffering I have seen around the world as a result.

But, I have been blessed, too, with the love of family and the ability laugh long and hard at my own foibles and the camaraderie of a coterie of great friends, so, yeah, I'll be fine.
I'll miss most, however, you, the readers who have kept me going all these years.

Oh, one more thing? I'll see you all in the new year. I might be gone from a parking spot here at the paper, but they're letting me play in this space each week!

Cheers, until then.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Bob Boughner exits CDN after 54 years

Bob Boughner
Updated Dec. 29 to include Bob's farewell to readers

Years ago, a survey said the average stay for a reporter at a Canadian newspaper was five years.

Many a Toronto Sun reporter beat that average hands down because of favourable pre-Quebecor working conditions, but a record of sorts must have been set by Bob Boughner at the Chatham Daily News.

My first daily reporting job, thanks to Bob Turnbull, the late, great Globe and Mail city editor, was at the Daily News in the summer of 1963.

Bob was working the newsroom at the time. More than 50 years later, he is down to his final two days on the job.

He leaves Friday, having saved the job of Daily News reporter Vicki Gough by taking a Sun Media buyout. Sounds like the caring Bob I knew for three months in 1963 in helping this very green cub reporter and former Globe and Mail copy boy get to know Chatham.

All the best, Bob. You have served Chatham well.

Bob's Dec. 19 farewell to Chatham Daily News readers:

Santa has come along with an early Christmas present for me – retirement.

And so after 54 years this is my last day on the job as a reporter for The Chatham Daily News.

I was a mere teenager when the late Jack Bowers took a chance with a drop-out from the farming program at Ridgetown College to allow me to cover the much-coveted newspaper farm beat.

My late teacher, Bernie Jones, always told me he thought I might someday become a writer.

In later years he said he was proud that I succeeded in a highly-competitive field of endeavour.

Covering special events, reporting on fast breaking news and interviewing celebrities and big-name politicians came easy to this eager reporter.

I can remember the traffic chaos caused when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker allowed me to interview him for nearly 45 minutes on his private train car on the CNR line in Chatham while enroute from Windsor to Toronto.

The same thing happened a few years later when the president of the CPR (a Mr. Crump) passed through Chatham and invited the late Bill Gray and myself to hop aboard his private train coach which was stopped for nearly an hour at the CPR crossing on William Street.

I was in the newsroom the morning a bulletin came across the wire that U.S. President John F. Kennedy had been gunned down in Dallas and one of the youngsters I interviewed that morning called recently to say he was still reading my articles.

I vividly recall walking the streets of Detroit conducting interviews during the riots along with former CFCO reporter Pete McGarvey.

I can’t begin to count the number of colleagues that I have worked alongside over the years including Dave Hodge, who went on to become a big-time hockey announcer on TV and George Hutchinson, who spent a few years at Ontario House in London, England, representing Ontario.

It wasn’t until recently that someone pointed out that I’m likely the longest-serving reporter in Canada – move over Lloyd Robertson and Peter Mansbridge.

Having a face-to-face talk with Nelson Mandela ranks high on my list of achievements as does helping in some small way keeping the doors of Navistar open for an extra year or two by opening the doors of communication between Navistar officials in Chicago and former CAW boss Buzz Hargrove. Buzz was salmon fishing off the coast of Vancouver when I helped facilitate a flurry of phone calls.

During my career I had the great fortune to cover a number of politicians, including former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, Chatham-Kent Essex MPs Dave Van Kesteren, Elliot Hardey and Jerry Pickard and MPPs Rick Nicholls, Pat Hoy and Andy Watson.

There have also been a long list of mayors that have provided me with news tips over the years including current mayor Randy Hope and the late Garnet Newkirk, Bill Erickson, Doug Allin and Margaret Archibald.

The job has allowed me to travel to destinations near and far and write about them in my weekly travel column.

Incidentally, I have been asked to continue to turn out a weekly travel column – at least that will allow me to keep my fingers in the paper business.

I know retirement won`t come easy, but because of the advanced technology required in today`s newsroom it`s necessary for me to move on and allow the younger, techy generation to take over.

For instance, the new generation reporter-photographers today cover events in the field, take photographs and immediately place them online for the world to see.

That`s beyond my limited scope of turning on and off my computer each day. I could almost see the writing on the wall when the computer replaced my trusty, old typewriter and digital cameras took the place of my large, old graphflex camera.

In the early days we had company cars to whiz about Kent County (today it`s known as Chatham-Kent) and we spent much of the day in the field gathering news.

Today, news comes to the newsroom in a variety of forms ranging from prepared media releases and photos and a good portion of the work is now conducted over the telephone.

The world has changed dramatically in the past half century and although I can still easily churn out front page articles daily, it’s the technology that has forced me to the sidelines.

I have thoroughly enjoyed keeping Chatham-Kent residents informed of news happenings on a daily basis for more than a half century and will definitely miss coming to work daily. I hope readers have been better informed as a result of my writings.

Retirement will allow me to spend more time with my children – daughter Tammy Lynn Michaud and her husband Ken and Todd Boughner and his wife Nicole, along with my grandchildren – Connor and Sarah Michaud and Clair, Martin, Lydia and Anderson Boughner.

My late wife, Diane, and I were married for 43 years before she died of cancer, robbing her of the opportunity to watch her grandchildren grow up.

Thanks to my readers, employers and newsroom colleagues who have put up with this sometimes grumpy, old man – and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s to each and all.

Perhaps our paths will cross again in the future.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Sun Media sells four Ontario weeklies

Sun Media has sold four Ontario weeklies to Maple Key Media, which says "We are excited to bring these papers back under local ownership."

Positive news from Quebecor, for a change. Merry Christmas to staff at the Haliburton Echo, Minden Times, Bancroft This Week and Barry's Bay This Week.

TSF readers have been saying if Quebecor has little interest in community newspapers, it should sell the newspapers rather than close them. 

More Sun Media sales to come? Stay tuned.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Marilynn Figueroa exits 333

Marilynn Figueroa, as Hugh Wesley noted in a Facebook posting, knows where all of the bodies are buried after three-plus decades in Sun executive offices at 333.

Marilynn walked out of the Toronto Sun on Friday as yet another vet leaving the tabloid. A farewell gathering is being planned for January.

Behind every Sun boss in the early decades of the Sun, there was an efficient, personable secretary. Women like Trudy Eagan, Lynn Carpenter, Annemarie Cimowsky. Marilynn Figueroa.

Saying farewell:

Moria MacDonald, former Toronto Sun education columnist:
"Marilynn was my first stop in my first summer job at the paper. She took one look at me and said, "Never wear white when you're working at this place." 

"Marilyn, the 'fixer' above all fixers, a paragon of patience and discretion, thoughtfulness too. She helped make the trains run on time. A class act."

Les Pyette, former Toronto Sun city editor/publisher and CEO:
"Retiring?" asks Les, who worked with Marilynn for 14 years in Toronto and Calgary.

"I think she is leaving after 33 years," he says. "Quite a record, quite a gal. Marilynn always had your back, a first-class pal." 

Don Hawkes, former Toronto Sun associate editor:
"Can't believe Marilynn is packing it in," says Don Hawkes. "She has to be the longest-running good looker in history. Say hi to her for me. I'm off my feet temporarily, or I'd do it myself."

Ian Robertson, another former Toronto Sun vet:
"I don't know what the Sun will do without 'the rock.'

"No matter how busy Marilynn was, she always accommodated staff, no matter what job they did," says Ian. "Efficient, helpful and kind aptly describes her.

"I recall Marilynn when I first joined the Sun through 25 years until my retirement last January - always bustling with work, with gentle reminders to get my delayed expense accounts in, forever getting them put through, helping us all out when company accountants started billing for all long-distance calls on our company BlackBerries, without bothering to confirm if they were business or personal.

"Some, like me, never made personal long-distance calls from work (I have a Bell calling card, which is only fair - wise and you never lose track, trying to recall who you called a month or two ago). Marilynn straightened the bean-counters out fast.

"Could it be she reminded them of their promise - in writing to us all - when the cell phone plan began, to bill staff only for personal long-distance calls? Must have rocked the budget; one ad staffer got a 50-cent demand. She'll be missed."

John Downing, former Toronto Sun editor in an FB posting:
"Marilynn had this competent calm even if Les or Peter or Mike or some impostor stayed crazy longer than the daily five minutes. 

"When the accountants or HR or the business office or some puffed up official from the 'outside; delivered the latest incomprehensible manoeuvre against common sense, she cut through the BS and saved the day, and your feelings. 

"Marilynn was more captain of the ship than the admirals who took the salutes."

Lew Fournier, former veteran Toronto Sun copy desker, from FB:
"A CEO of a major engineering firm once told me: I can take off for six months and no one misses me; my secretary takes off for a day and the whole place falls apart.

Marilynn's holidays were a time of dread around the Sun; her return was occasion for joy. I can't count the number of times she helped me and other staff members, all with a great smile and an ability to let all the crap around her roll off her shoulders. 

"I love you, Marilynn."

Trudy Eagan, Toronto Sun secretary to 6th floor executive: 
"Marilynn has been a key member of the Sun family for many years and has contributed a great deal to ensuring editorial ran smoothly (or as much as that is possible) during these years. 

"She will be missed by many. Thanks Marilynn. Here's to the next chapter. Knowing you kept Pyette and Strobel (amongst others) in line qualifies you for most anything Ciao Bella."

John Cosway, former Toronto Sun vet:
"Secretaries were the unsung heroes during the glory years of the Toronto Sun, so much so that management (Doug) introduced Secretaries Day when all were wined, dined and pampered. 

"Marilynn's 30-plus years of dedication to the inner workings at 333 were no doubt filled with enough stories for a book. Hopefully, Marilynn, you are leaving on your own terms and this is not another squeeze play. 

"And darn, Marilynn, you are departing just as I was learning to spell your first name with two ns. Enjoy your post-Sun years.

To add your comments, email

More comments about Marilynn and her departure can be read in the Toronto Sun Family's Facebook group.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Sylvia Train, former Toronto Sun gadabout, dies

Updated Dec. 17 re Ron Base
Sylvia Train, the Toronto Sun Family's former queen of the social circle set for three decades, has died.  

Sylvia's age remains a mystery, but her skills in getting the who's who of the entertainment and social crowd to talk on record for her Sun columns are well-known.

She died Thursday at Wellesley Central Place in Toronto, almost 20 years to the day she said farewell to 333 and her readers. Sylvia, who had Alzheimer's, had resided at Wellesley Central Place for 9 1/2 years.

Jim Slotek's heart-felt farewell in the Sun:

Fellow colleagues from the day remember the human dynamo as someone who  charmed everyone on the A lists and in the Sun newsroom.  

A fitting home base for Sylvia during her Sun years was a condo in one of the new buildings on Lake Ontario down by the Humber River.

Memories of the former ballet teacher, theatre producer, talent agent, restaurateur and widely-read Toronto Sun columnist can be sent to

Ron Base, former Toronto Sun entertainent writer 
"Sylvia was the delightful wallflower at the orgy. A great and loyal friend, we worked at the Sun together, attended New York openings together, tried to launch a Hollywood game to rival Trivial Pursuit together, laughed together and occasionally held each other up when the going got rough. 

"She helped to repair a marriage (at least for a time) and when she dated Leafs owner Harold Ballard, she made sure my wife and I got the best seats at concerts at the Gardens. 

"She had style, wit and flare. When Sylvia entered the room, you knew things were going to liven up. The room is much darker today. 

"Loved you old friend ..."

Hugh Wesley, former Toronto Sun photo chief (FB)
"Just found out Sylvia Train has passed from this earthly venue. She was quite a down to earth woman and so well-connected to the hurly burly wacky entertainment biz in Toronto (See George Anthony fb) 

"Whenever you had an assignment with her and celebs, if you were smart, all you had to do was hang on to her coat tails. So little in stature and with so many stories. I think she was Harold Ballard's squeeze before Yolanda. 

"And speaking of Harold Ballard ... Rob Ford."

Les Pyette:
"So sorry to hear about Sylvia, a grand old gal who certainly contributed a lot to the success of the Toronto Sun. We shared many a lunch/dinner in the 70s. She taught me proper manners and opened many important doors for a struggling young city editor."

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Christmas 2013 Sun Media layoffs

Updated Dec. 7, 2013
If it is Christmas time, it is pink slip time at Sun Media.

TSF received the following posting today:

Publisher Mark Holmes from Northumberland Today let go this morning after 33 years with Sun Media. Along with one Classifieds person. Darren Murphy back at the helm but operating out of Peterborough... another bleak Christmas for Sun Media employees. 

Update: 200 more jobs cut, including about 50 in editorial.

A union press release says "Although plans may change, the downsizing (in Ontario) was expected to affect the Toronto Sun, London Free Press, Belleville Intelligencer, Chatham Daily News, Sarnia Observer, Stratford Beacon-Herald, Brantford Expositor, Owen Sound Sun-Times, St. Catharines Standard and the Niagara Falls Review."

Putting names and faces to the latest cutbacks from TSF readers and other sources:

Toronto Sun
"Thane Burnett, Lisa Lisle (Online boss), (the National Ent editor). Also 3 jobs on endangered list in Editorial, Figgy is leaving and national marketing group canned."

Ottawa Sun
"Five also cut from the Ottawa Sun: Randy Hayley, Drew McAnulty, Robert Moore, Donna Udechukwu and Sandra Wells."

Belleville, Trenton
"Belleville Intelligencer losing 2 from editorial. No names yet. The layoff here also includes The Trentonian and The Community Press, the two weeklies that fall under our Quinte umbrella. Rumours abound that management will kill the sports department, with all remaining reporters working out of a common pool and taking assignments as they come. Supposed to be meeting soon to discuss details and buyout packages that might be available to those considering leaving. As it stands today, the 2 lowest people on the overall seniority list would be hit."

Niagara Region - Niagara Falls, Welland, St. Catharines, Thorold
"Three in Niagara Falls (reporter, sports editor, managing editor); one in Welland (reporter); two in St. Catharines (reporter, photographer); the only Thorold News reporter; the magazine division is shuttered. The editorial department of the Niagara Falls Review is being moved to St.Catharines to be overseen by the St. Catharines Standard managing editor. The editor in chief of the Review, who hasn't been at that paper in months as he travels the province training employees on how to get by from the last set of cuts, is being moved into an as yet unknown position. No doubt he'll help the company figure out how to get by with even fewer employees." 

"Corey Smith, Matt Day, Corey Larocque at the Niagara Falls Review. Dave Johnson at The Tribune and one non-editorial person there, too. Jeff Blay at Thorold News. Jeff Bolichowski and Julie Jocsak at St. Catharines Standard. Review editorial merged into St. Catharines. Thorold News to become part of the Standard somehow. Still three publishers in Niagara."

"Looks like steps are being taken to move to just one paper for the Niagara region. Remaining staff from the Niagara Falls Review are moving into the new offices of the St. Catharines Standard. Looks like the Review lost three people, including ME — and former longtime reporter – Corey Larocque. Standard is losing 3 - photog Julie Jocsak, reporter Jeff Bolichowski and Jeff Blay, who reported for the weekly Thorold News. Tribune is losing veteran Dave Johnson, and I hear one other. I'd be nervous in Welland that they are next to shutter the office and move into St. Catharines. Yet another dark day for journalism in the Sun Media family."

"For the record, Welland also lost a valuable reporter when Dave Johnson, a longtime member of The Tribune newsroom was let go."

"In Chatham, according to social media chatter, reporter Vicki Gough and sales rep Chris Summerfield." 

"At least one gone from Brantford, reporter Hugo Rodrigues." 

Northern Ontario - Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Timmins
"In Northern Ontario, Sudbury Star 4, Sault 3, North Bay 1, Timmins 1 (not replacing a reporter) What about SUN TV? Any cuts?" 

St. Thomas, Stratford
"Mark Butterwick, former longtime city editor at the St. Thomas Times-Journal, started when the newspaper was part of a small SW Ontario group owned by the Dingman family, then under ownership of Thomson, Bowes and the Sun/Quebecor. Mark in recent years stepped over to be a local sports reporter. Laura Cudworth, reporter, Stratford Beacon-Herald."