National Post

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September 18, 2001

Saying goodbye to the people who made the Post, as it was

Christie Blatchford
National Post

What a difference a day makes: The same sort of resilience I so admired in the Americans I met on the streets of New York just 48 hours ago I felt in myself yesterday, and despised.

The National Post as all of us, reader and writer alike, knew and loved it for almost the last three years is no more. A hundred and thirty people, many from what we call the editorial side (meaning in the main those who wrote or edited for the paper), five sections and Saturday Night magazine are gone.

These people were our friends, our colleagues and our co-believers.

We will miss them almost beyond bearing, and the newspaper will miss their distinctive touches -- Marv Zivitz's steady hand on everything from the smallest style points to bigger ethical questions (and his notes, so sober they always made me smile); Chris Eby's nose for the guts of a story, improbably good in one so young, and his unerring ability to ask the right questions and get the best from every interview; the experience of Rod McQueen, the legendary business columnist; Siobhan Roberts for the quality of her thoughtful, and unexpected, observations and her ability to track down the picayune details of anything (including, last week, the head of the Tall Buildings Association); James Cudmore, another bright young monster reporter; darling John Chipman, an editor as decent as he is gorgeous who seemed perpetually to be going out for a run or coming back from one; in Vancouver, Trude Huebner, a wonderful, generous researcher; the entire Toronto crew and three of my own dear friends, and former long-time colleagues at the Toronto Sun, Scotty Burnside from sports, Jamie Wallace and Don Wanagas from Toronto City Hall.

That isn't, alas, the half of them. There are too many to mention, which is the only reason I do not. I beg their forgiveness.

To those of us in the field, there seemed little rhyme or reason to those who were given their walking papers. It is always this way with layoffs in a non-unionized shop: Absent the order imposed by seniority, which has always struck me a useless and arbitrary tool in these decisions, you wonder, why him? Why her? Why not him? Why not me?

The thing of it is, everyone was so graceful.

Our friends have babies (Wallace alone must have 27 children; how did he find time to work?), mortgages, bills; Jane Christmas has just bought a new house. Their measure was in their reaction. For all the hurt and anger and surprise (and the layoff is like cancer; we always think to ourselves, "Oh surely not me"), they were to a man grateful they had the chance to work at the Post.

Rod McQueen's remarks to our bosses, Ken Whyte and Martin Newland, was typical: Thank you, he said. I was proud to work here. Beautiful Mitch Raphael, who wrote some of the best and quirkiest stories in our most quirky and magnificent and now lamented arts-and-life section, spared not a second's thought for himself. His friends, he said, always needled him about the Post's ideology and politics, but they always read it, and he knew they envied him. Chippy was shaken but tried to be brave. Burnside, whom I have seen in many incarnations over the years but never as happy as he was writing hockey for us, still managed to pull himself together enough to organize drinks for last night.

These people made the Post, as it was.

What falls to the rest of us is to make the new one.

We can second-guess the individual decisions taken by the new Post owners, CanWest Global and the Asper family, and we will; that is the prerogative of those in the trenches. What I don't believe we can quarrel with is that there was a need to staunch the losses which, despite a readership remarkably loyal for such a young newspaper, the Post continues to suffer. Profit, least of all in this place, ought not to be considered a dirty word. If the only way to build a great paper is to ask its shareholders to lose money forever, it is no wonder there are so damned few around.

Somehow, either we grew too fast or too big for our britches. Or the dream got a little away from us.

In the first e-mail I got from a reader about this subject yesterday, he suggested that we survivors were "too good for what your newspaper will become" and urged us to go elsewhere. It was a nice thing to say, but the truth of it is, for myself anyway, I am not at all sure yet that I am ready to toss in the towel. The alternatives are not so grand as to be irresistible; that our paper is doomed to mediocrity is not at all certain; the mediocrity of many of the others is well-established.

Dare we ask the reader to bear with us? I haven't a clue if we have that right. I know only that as a reader myself, I hope today to find that for all of those marvellous people we have lost, and will miss every day, we are still the best read in the country.

It's pitiful: Just last week, seeing New Yorkers with their sad pictures of lost husbands and brothers and wives outside the Armoury in midtown Manhattan, I squirmed at the size and scope of their collective hope, and now I am indulging in it myself. You never want to quit on love too soon; that's the bloody thing.

Christie Blatchford can be contacted at cblatchford@nationalpost.com

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