The ties you forge with fellow survivors of a disaster last a lifetime.
The Town Crier was far from a disaster — let me clarify that.
Its demise is the true disaster. Perhaps that’s why I keep in touch with so many of my former colleagues from the Town Crier Group of Newspapers — a paper that announced its closure Tuesday after 34 years of informing citizens of midtown Toronto.
My former colleagues and I are unified by putting up with a parent company’s (let’s face it) poor decisions that led to the publication’s end.
To recap, I first joined the staff on a temporary basis on Sept. 10, 2007 as a copy editor. My interview, scheduled a week before my first day, was probably the most bizarre I have ever had. Editor-in-chief Eric McMillan asked me about my experience with construction trade paper the Daily Commercial News and my work with Toronto.com.
After a few words, he switched to my Canadian University Press experience, and he shared his past at running for president of CUP back in the ’70s. Not more than a minute later he asked when could I start.
So began four and a half years of some of the most memorable times in my journalism career.
Initially under the tutelage of managing editor Dan Hoddinott, I worked on the 10 Town Crier papers (Bloor West, Bloor-Bay, Forest Hill, Leaside-Rosedale, Bayview Mills, North Toronto, Midtown, North York, Beach-South Riverdale and Riverdale-East York). The Bloor West Journal had just been absorbed by Multicom Media, and was slowly being turned into the Bloor West Town Crier. All of the papers had a press run of at least 18,000 albeit on a monthly publication schedule.
McMillan asked me to stay on another week. By the end of another week, I was full time.
Hoddinott’s mother became sick, and for three issues: Beach-South Riverdale, Riverdale-East York and Bloor West, then production manager Karen Glynne and I worked together to produce the papers. That reminded me of my days with New College’s student newspaper The Window.
Layout, production, copy editing were my game initially but like any job in journalism these days, your load increases exponentially.
I began reporting. Hoddinott liked my writing, so I gravitated towards kids and family features. Like the seasons, the masthead changes. Out went Hoddinott and in came Gordon Cameron.
When sports editor Carmine Bonanno left, a huge hole remained. Cameron and McMillan asked me to fill that void, and I did so with great gusto.
It’s daunting at first, establishing connections with 66 schools across the city, but with hard work it was accomplished.
I love that feeling of reaching out to the community, getting to know the faces therein. The Town Crier used to hold an Athlete of the Year awards ceremony. In my first year of hosting it, I managed to get Olympic snowboarder Michael Lambert to chat with the kids. During year two, I brought UFC athlete Sean Pierson in.
It was those moments, where a newspaper got involved with its audience, that made me feel alive. My job as sports editor was more than just a guy sitting at a computer and taking the chainsaw to reporters’ works.
I was out there reporting too. I was getting to know the people in the community and I was contributing to their lives. I took three Toronto District School Board students down to the Air Canada Centre for a sports feature. I’ll never forget the look on their faces when they stood on the hardwood.
Being immersed in the community gave me the knowledge and more importantly the confidence to talk openly, in print, about the issues facing midtowners. My column, The Game Fixer, won me a Columnist of the Year award in 2011 from the Ontario Community Newspapers Association.
Unfortunately, financial issues within the paper’s parent company led me to seek employment elsewhere. I was racking up debt because the company was behind two paycheques.
Still, that didn’t make me lose my passion for the job. I managed to grab one-on-one interviews with then Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, mayor Rob Ford and scored a phone chat with Canadian acting legend Art Hindle that lasted a good hour.
There is a need for community news. I realize this now more than ever after working at the national level. In a city as diverse as Toronto, there needs to be a niche publication digging for the news in every neighbourhood, to hold even the lowest level of government accountable for their transgressions. And most importantly to give the people of said communities a voice.
I learned a tremendous amount about journalism from editors Dan Hoddinott, Eric McMillan and Gordon Cameron. For that I am grateful to them. And the friendships forged with colleagues are another great experience from working at the Town Crier.
Town Criers, Vaughan Today and Toronto Today, you will be missed, not only by me but many others: