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The Toronto Star and Other Perils, by Mike Strobel

Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.

Mike Strobel works for the Toronto Sun—those who doubt his commitment to the cause need only check his buttcheek, which has the paper’s logo tattooed to it. (It’s on the right cheek, of course. “It’s the Sun, after all,” he joked at the time.) Strobel’s been the paper’s editor-in-chief and its managing editor, but it’s selected editions of his column, which has run in the Sun for the better part of a decade, that make up his new book, Bad Girls and Other Perils. Bad Girls, which thankfully is more about Toronto than it is about “bad girls,” is a worthy collection of Strobel’s writing—sometimes funny, sometimes corny, sometimes affecting, and always punchy. In his first and surely last article for Torontoist, Strobel writes about the newspaper wars of not-so-old, and how Torontoist is ruining everything, maybe. As a show of good faith, we have left the length of his paragraphs untouched.

Please don’t tell my masters at the Sun that I’m doing this. is an enemy. A web boogeyman. I’m pretty sure they’d see it that way. Or at least they’d say, “if you’re not my friend, you’re my enemy.”
But, what the hell, I have a book to plug, a collection of columns called Bad Girls And Other Perils. The publisher, Dundurn, says I ought to expand the market beyond Sun readers.
So, I consort with the enemy.

Since you’re reading this online, I assume you get what I mean. The pundits insist we mainstream media are terrified of and its ilk.
Come to think of it, they say, and company are getting to be the mainstream media.
I dunno. I’m just a newspaper hack. I know the Sun has 1,039,500 readers per week. And I know my column gets 1.3 million views a year online alone, but far more in-paper.
Those don’t sound like Grim Reaper numbers.
What do newspapers, Mark Twain, Gordon Lightfoot, Paris Hilton, and William Hung have in common? Exaggerated deaths.
We’re not dead, or even doomed. We’ve just had major cosmetic surgery. A newspaper nowadays is the sum of its parts. But it’s still a newspaper. It has many platforms, such as Including good ol’ newsprint. Check any Tim Hortons.
But back to enemies. I miss ‘em.
Used to be, this town’s newspapers waged constant war. The Sun and Star, especially. The Globe pretended to be above the fray. The Post came out slugging, then proved to have a glass jaw.
But Sun versus Star? Beautiful. Exhilarating. Drinks all ‘round if you scooped the buggers.
Here’s one little illustration, revealed, I think, for the first time.
Remember Ben Johnson? Bulky black guy? Really, really fast?
Remember how he disappeared after the drug test in Seoul? Every media outlet in the world was chasing Ben. Well, we found him… hiding north of Toronto. Legendary sports editor George Gross interviewed him.
A no-brainer for front page. This happened to be my first day as managing editor of the Toronto Sun, though I had diddly to do with the scoop.
In those war-torn days, the Star sent a spy to our press docks each night to check the early papers. If we had anything juicy, the yobs at 1 Yonge could catch up for their later editions.
So, that night, we put out a mock paper. No mention of Ben Johnson. The spy saw it, shrugged and left. The presses screeched to a halt and we slapped on the real plates.
“I’m Innocent!” Ben proclaimed on page 1. “You bastards,” they stormed at the Star.
Quite a scoop. Yippee. Ben Johnson lied to us first.
But a scoop nonetheless. That’s how it was. We fought to the death over every tip and photo and any story that moved. We swiped sources, snuck into enemy newsrooms to borrow photos, sweated bullets until the other guy’s paper arrived. Scoop or be scooped.
The sounds of battle echo in our newsroom…and the bloodlust for a story lingers.
But the internet has spoiled Toronto’s great newspaper wars. The Big Smoke’s media are so fragmented, so numerous, so diverse, we don’t even know where to aim our cannons.
Often it’s at guys sitting at keyboards in their mother’s basement.
Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So here I am, typing away.
I’ll be right up, mom.
Mike Strobel is a Toronto Sun staff columnist. His mission? To find the funny in politics, sports, showbiz, and daily life. Usually, anyway. Sometimes his columns make you weep or rage. Strobel is a thirty-year veteran of newspaper wars in three cities, including fourteen years as managing editor or editor-in-chief of the Sun. His up-front column was launched in 2001 and runs at least four times a week.


  • http://undefined GraphicMatt

    Is this supposed to be read like a poem? Some of the lines are too long.

  • Dry Brain

    See also: Joe Fiorito.
    Why is it that old newspaper guys also write give every sentence its own paragraph? It creates this absurd sense of melodrama. It’s comical. I know it was done that way when you were starting out guys, but you’re allowed to write normally nowadays.

  • http://undefined xtremesniper

    I find the Sun annoying to read because of the impossibly elementary school level of writing. This article is no exception.
    “Is this supposed to be read like a poem?”
    Yeah, honestly. I don’t even know.

  • rek

    Yesterday’s news, tomorrow!

  • http://undefined Julie

    Paragraph length = reflection of readers’ attention span?
    KIDDING! Couldn’t resist jumping in.

  • tapesonthefloor


  • http://undefined mike strobel

    The paragraphs that poets like Joe and I use are newspaper style. Looks good — normal even — on a regular column, not so much over the width of a computer screen. You know, newspapers. Those big, wrinkly, comfy, tactile, fact-filled, non-anonymous, non-profane things with which one starts bonfires. I hope this comment is more to your taste, stylistically. Cheers. Strobel.

  • http://undefined Dry Brain

    I still think it reads weird in the paper, Mike. Take this:
    “But the internet has spoiled Toronto’s great newspaper wars. The Big Smoke’s media are so fragmented, so numerous, so diverse, we don’t even know where to aim our cannons.
    Often it’s at guys sitting at keyboards in their mother’s basement.
    Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So here I am, typing away.
    I’ll be right up, mom.”
    My opinion is that should all be one graf, except for the last line, which indeed should be given its own line to give it a bit more punch.

  • http://undefined The Explosively Talented Christopher Bird

    I’m sorry, but I can’t believe this comment is from Mike Strobel because everybody knows Sun writers must always enclose any response to reader commentary in parentheses.

  • http://undefined fergus30

    The sun is a rag and the basement joke is old.

  • http://undefined Brendan

    This isn’t a newspaper. Perhaps you should have constructed your ‘column’ to suit this medium.

  • http://undefined mike strobel

    Dry Brain (If I may call you that.) Politely, I disagree. Logic says simplicity makes for easier reading. That includes simpler paragraphs. Reading should never be a chore, should never get in the way of what the writer is trying to say. Ask Hemingway (And, NO, I’m NOT comparing myself to Hemingway!) A big, grey mass of type makes me want to start drinking again. Each to his own.

  • http://undefined Andrew Wencer

    It kinda seems like Torontoist is looking for controversy where there isn’t one. Your teaser made it sound like Strobel was going to be writing about The Star in some defamatory, frothing way, like “STAR BAD! SUN GOOD! DOWN WITH PINKOS!” – when it’s nothing of the sort. Frankly, the stuff about the paragraphs is more provocative than the truth as well. Take it as what it is, a dude promoting his book. Criticizing his style? That’s cheap, and unfounded.
    I’d be more interested if you guys “tricked” (why that word, anyway?) Sue-Ann Levy into writing something. This left wing pinko would be more than happy to cast the first stone at that freakshow. Strobel’s done nothing to deserve anyone’s scorn here. Old or not, the jokes here are far more tongue-in-cheek than anything else in The Sun, so don’t take it seriously.

  • http://undefined deadrobot

    Old Guard.
    For their lack.
    Of job.

  • http://undefined Dry Brain

    You may call me that.
    You know you’re espousing a web-like philosophy, right? (Short, simple sentences, brief paragraphs, etc.) Anyway, throwing 27 paragraph breaks into a 570-word piece doesn’t make the writing simpler, it just makes it read with a jarring abruptness. It may work if you’re reporting on a car accident and need to clearly delineate different quotes and facts, but an opinion piece needn’t follow this sort of pattern.
    And if we want to talk about Hemingway, peruse this excerpt from “The Old Man and the Sea”–especially the non-dialogue paragraph lengths:

  • http://undefined GraphicMatt

    Hey commenters, if I wanted to read pithy, mean-spirited commentary I’d pick up a copy of the… oh.

  • qviri

    I liked the “fact-filled” part.

  • http://undefined mike strobel

    True, Hemingway’s paras were often longer than mine (I’m NOT comparing), but they were unusually tight for a novelist. To Have And Have Not and Snows of Kilimanjaro come to mind though, from memory, I can’t swear to those. Even so, stark simplicity was his trademark. All those lovely, declarative sentences. Now, please excuse me, Dry Brain. I must
    exit to
    and thus
    job security.

  • Stells Bells

    Jesus. What a circle wank.

  • http://undefined Nathan

    Do people in the industry still use the term “scoop”?

  • http://undefined mattalexto

    At the risk of contributing something worthwhile:
    I say let the internet have the ‘scoops’. Magazines never tried to be as current as newspapers, so newspapers shouldn’t try to be as current as blogs. What newspapers can be though is better researched, more informative, more graphically appealing (what are the dimensions of a Toronto Sun spread? Lots of room to play there).
    When everybody gets the same news instantly the ones that rise above the rest are the ones that do something different with the information.

  • Amanda Buckiewicz

    Really? You’re picking on the paragraph length? Come on, guys, let’s not be so petty.
    I’m a journalist, and we so often wonder out loud what the ‘biz’ was like before the internet came in. When you had to actually use the phone book to track someone down, when you had to actually hit the streets to find out the scoop instead of relying on newswires and twitter to deliver you the stories. And yes, when the news came out in the morning, and there wasn’t a constant gush of information flying out at you.
    Now we have 24 hours news channels struggling to come up with content to fill the airwaves. My god, yesterday I saw a news story about “Twittens” come up three times within an hour on one of the nets.
    In some ways, the internet has changed the business for good, in some ways, it’s much worse. But that’s the beauty of it – it’s always changing, much like the world it’s documenting. Welcome to our little corner of the basement, Mike.