A terrible week for journalism - Michael's essay
A man named Val Sears, a newspaperman, died the other day, peacefully at age 88. For most of those 88 years, he was just that, a newspaperman. To anybody under the age of forty, the name might not mean much. But to those of us who knew him, worked with him, the name meant byline magic.
He belonged to a long-ago style of journalism which has all but disappeared. He flourished in the pre-digital time of typewriters, teletype machines, rewrite desks, fierce competition between newspapers, limitless expense accounts; an era when being young and a newspaper reporter was all the world and all the gaudy, lurid fun in it. It was also a time when newspapers, fat with classified and display advertising, set record profits year after year.
In the early seventies at The Toronto Star, Sears was the newspaperman we all wanted to be. The more ambitious of us would steal from him, not hìs actual words of course, but his style, his approach to any story, his mordant sense of humour. He was a feature writer who travelled the world writing about the good and the evil he saw, but mostly about the essential absurdity of the human condition.
He covered parliaments and wars, movie stars and prime ministers, and saw with devastating clarity what human beings are capable of in moments of great stress and great joy. His tool box contained a profound understanding of irony, a scalding sense of humour and an absolute mastery of the English language.
In chopping 65 of its journalists, Postmedia announced that the Edmonton Journal would merge with the Edmonton Sun and the Calgary Herald with the Calgary Sun. At the same time, The Toronto Star announced the closing of its state of the art printing plant north west of the city. The turmoil is not confined to big cities; community newspapers are dying. The Guelph Mercury announced this week it will stop publishing a print edition; 26 employees were laid off. In British Columbia, the Nanaimo Daily News was closing after 141 years. In the United States, there are only two papers left with a circulation of more than 500,000 a day, both in New York - The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
I doubt that even Val Sears, with all his talents could have saved The Day. But it was the kind of paper on which he would have thrived -- gloriously.