Strobel & Garnett Living In Denial

Talk about touching a nerve.  Antonia Zerbisias’ recent Toronto Star column about the sad decline of The Toronto Sun has inspired two rebuttals from Sun staffers.  One can be seen exclusively online and the other appeared in today’s Toronto Sun.
 
Last night, newly installed editor-in-chief Glenn Garnett (who replaced Jim Jennings, his highly respected predecessor, who resigned last fall and is now back at The Globe & Mail) took it upon himself to defend his newspaper.  (Look for “Hey, that smells like…”.)
 
He begins by noting the famously wrong predictions that both Charles Templeton and Pierre Burton made about The Toronto Sun’s chances for survival when it began publishing in late 1971.  (“[T]hey gave us six months to live.”)  Then, he rather lamely attempts to prove that the paper is doing just fine.  (“What about that NADbank [Newspaper Audience Databank] report which came out a couple weeks ago, showing we had the fastest growing weekday readership? The dandy ABC [Audit Bureau of Circulations] circulation report last fall?”)
 
As Jim Jennings, himself, noted in an email published on The Toronto Sun Family Blog, “You can argue, if you go back to using the NADBank numbers that Garnett selected [for an earlier column he wrote on the subject], that overall readership of the Toronto Sun is off 30-plus percent since Quebecor took over. Paid circulation is off significantly over the period as well.”  That doesn’t sound like something worth cheering about.
 
Garnett only does address one aspect of Antonia’s column.  (By the way, he never does mention her name.  Curious, that.)  That would be the 97.1 million dollar loss Quebecor earned through its “media subsidiary” in its “most recent quarter”, “compared with a $58.4 million profit last year.”.  (Quotes are Antonia’s.)  He notes, “…the Star failed to report that Quebecor Media took a one-time writedown of debt during that quarter. A standard business practice the Star’s media columnist didn’t bother to tell her readers about. The Sun’s bottom line? That would be in the black.”
 
For this website, the profitability of The Toronto Sun has never been an issue.  I’ve never once said the paper isn’t making money.  What has been argued is the galling lack of accountability and credibility.  Blatantly inaccurate information has gotten into the paper without being corrected.  (Click here for some examples.)  When you try pointing this out (as I’ve done through emails and pieces on this site), very rarely is this addressed in both the print and online versions of the tabloid.  (The official Sun website still doesn’t have a Corrections section.)  And now, without a Readership Editor to look after these matters personally, this situation continues to get worse.
 
The only good point Garnett makes on his blog is how The Toronto Star has seen better days, as well.  (Indeed, just before Christmas, for instance, the paper heartlessly laid off some of its workers.  (Hopefully, they’ve all landed on their feet again.)  This website criticized Antonia Zerbisias for not addressing the matter at the time.  (Disappointingly, she had just left for vacation.)  In fact, she still hasn’t commented on it.)  But when Garnett does that, he’s changing the subject.  Never addressed in his piece are the shocking number of employees who have either “retired”, been forced out or have simply quit out of frustration.  As John Cosway noted on The Toronto Sun Family Blog, roughly 100 newsroom workers have left the building during the Quebecor era.  (At its peak, The Sun employed 200.  Click here to see a staggering list of most of the missing.)
 
Also disgusting are the lack of proper farewells and tributes to those no longer with The Sun.  While there have been notable exceptions (Douglas Fisher comes to mind), readers are usually never properly informed of staff changes.  In fact, how many eagle-eyed Sun loyalists noticed there wasn’t an S&M (Sex & Money) section in Monday’s paper?  Valerie Gibson, the ageless Intimacies and advice columnist, wrote the Sex portion of that entertaining and informative page.  She was fired last week after 23 years of loyal service.  How come Mr. Garnett never addressed that on his blog?
 
Meanwhile, in today’s paper, Mike Strobel lets off some steam about Antonia’s column, as well.  (Unlike Garnett, he does mention her name.)  He quotes George Gross, the legendary, inaugural sports editor (now Corporate Sports Editor) as saying the following about it:  “Did you see this crap? I think it’s even libellous.”  Sure, George.  We all wait with bated breath for that forthcoming lawsuit.
 
Strobel seems to delight in calling Antonia a “skunk” which seems an incredibly childish way of responding to her devastating column.  Also, just like Garnett, he explains away Quebecor’s last quarter losses.  (“[She] forgets to mention the word ‘write-down,’ a common business practice.”)  Is that line a talking point now?
 
Then, he starts taking shots at The Star, referring to it as “an accountant’s kind of newspaper”.  So, how does he explain the number of ex-Sun staffers working there?  Let’s see, there’s John Sakamoto, Derek Tse, Linda Barnard, Bob Bishop, Andrew Wallace (I’m sure I’m leaving out many others).  Is it really wise to snap at a newspaper that employs a number of your former colleagues?
 
Strobel calls The Star “bloated and mushy”.  So, having just 12 reporters (“six general assignment reporters, three bureau reporters and three police reporters”, according to Zerbisias’ estimated breakdown) in The Toronto Sun newsroom is a better idea?  (“That’s not a big city newspaper newsroom. That’s not even a TV newsroom,” says The Star’s media columnist.)  I can’t think of a single person (with the exception of Quebecor’s bigwigs and spokesman) who has gone out of their way to defend this state of affairs.  In fact, when Antonia asked Glenn Garnett about it for her column, he simply replied, “I can’t comment on staffing complement numbers.”  Gee, I wonder why.
 
To Strobel’s credit, though, he notes the exits of former Sun staffers like Bill Brioux, Al Cairns and Val Gibson.  (“We have lost some good people lately…”)  He also points out, “I don’t agree with half the decisions made around here. Never have.”  (He doesn’t elaborate.)  “Hell, not even when I made them, as editor-in-chief or managing editor of this paper for a dozen years.”  Whatever that means.  Then again, earlier in the piece, he did confess, “I am a dumb general news columnist…”.
 
He then rattles off a short list of writers still associated with the paper, still dedicated to putting it out everyday.  (Interesting how Rachel Marsden, Salim Mansur and Michael Coren weren’t mentioned by name.)  It’s clear there are still some very capable people working for this troubled newspaper, judging by that list of surnames.  But how much longer will they put up with all of Quebecor’s nonsense?  The growing number of people jumping off this sinking ship is not a positive indication of ultimate survival. 
 
And it should be noted that Antonia Zerbisias isn’t the only one who has written about this.  John Cosway has been highly critical of Quebecor on The Toronto Sun Family Blog.  My good friend, Fading To Black, has written disapprovingly about what’s been happening.  (FTB was the one who broke the story about Alison Downie being fired from her Readership Editor position.)  And, of course, this website has done its part in covering the story, as well.  (The Writings Of Dennis Earl received insightful and much appreciated emails from Bill Brioux, Jim Slotek and Lydia Lovric, all exclusives.  Plus, there have been numerous commentaries.)  Also, a growing number of ex-employees of The Sun chain have either posted comments on TSF or allowed their emails to be published on Cosway’s blog.  Today, it was Linda Barnard’s turn.  Her opening line – “I’m beginning to think the Grim Reaper has pitched a tent in the atrium at the Sun.” – says it all. 
 
You have to feel for Mike Strobel and Glenn Garnett, two longtime newspapermen who live for their jobs and are stuck in a no-win situation.  No matter how hard they try to defend the paper they love, deep down they must realize that living in denial about all the carnage around them is not helping matters.  One wonders how long they, and their colleagues, will stick it out.
 
There are two lines in Strobel’s column that stand out.  “A newspaper is more than a business. It lives and breathes, through its writers and its readers.”  The question remains:  how much air is left in The Toronto Sun’s lungs?
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
3:47 p.m.
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Published in: on April 4, 2007 at 3:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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