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.
Torontoist.com 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 Torontoist.com and its ilk.
Come to think of it, they say, Torontoist.com 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 torontosun.com. 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.