End of an era: Shocking amount of great talent leaves The Globe and Mail

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By Dan Westell

When J-Source published on May 31 the list of 64 Globe employees who are taking the most recent buyout, it forced me to recognize that my history with the paper was coming to a close.

I left in 1995 for what eventually tuned into a browner pasture at the National Post, but the newsroom where I grew up was the Globe’s in the 1980s. With the buyout, a core group of my contemporaries is leaving.

The list reads like a managing editor’s dream team. Decades of experience – each – with some award winners but more importantly, journalists with a sense of perspective and balance that I have come to believe is a key attribute of a good news organization.

I scan the list, and many of the editorial names resonate. Tim Appleby, friend, foreign desker turned cop reporter, hardball commitment to getting the terrible crime stories right; Simon Avery, a sharp tech reporter when I knew him at the Financial Post, pre-National Post, in about ’97; John Barber, acerbic, hugely knowledgeable and literate Toronto columnist before Marcus Gee.


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I’m only at the Bs, and only the editorial department, with 33 more names in advertising, customer service and marketing, finance, IT and digital and ops  taking their leave (including at least two respected journalists listed under advertising: Wally Immen and  Bev Smith).

Many of these people would have retired in the near future anyhow; the paper took in a large draft of rookies in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, and that group is reaching the age when retirement looks like a good option. If the company is going to provide an incentive, why not?

It’s the number, and the deluge of simultaneous exits, that produces a sense of a generation passing. I know it was no golden age, despite what my memory chooses to retain, but it was perhaps silver.

In the 1980s Globe newsroom, many of us were punks, young journos with attitude, reporting aggressively, working long hours, agitating for the guild, partying at the old Spadina Hotel (“a sewer with chairs,” former Queen’s Park bureau chief Murray Campbell memorably said) and playing a kind of slow pitch on summer Saturday mornings.

Some parts of the newsroom were a close-knit community – Mellowville, the name for the hub of the city reporters who were at war with their hard-driving editor; the business reporters and editors who were rocking corporate Canada, and making the paper millions in ad revenue; the deskers who worked the late shifts, whose judgment, knowledge, wit and camaraderie infused the paper every day.

Although it’s long gone, the sense of excitement generated by the pursuit and capture of some stories in those days was like a drug. We were high on journalism. 

I don’t know what the buyout means for the paper. It’s become way too common – the National Post, Toronto Star, Pacific Newspaper Group, and the list goes on. It can’t do any good to lose the number and quality of people on the Globe list, but the media owners are desperate to find a way to make money in a digital world, and cutting costs – although not a viable long-term strategy – might provide the breathing room to find a formula for profit.

And maybe something good will come as a result of the retirement program announced by publisher Phillip Crawley. Maybe there’s another generation of punks just waiting to fill those seats.

I have a list of candidates in mind from Ryerson (where I teach part time), and I’m sure there are many more from Carleton, Guelph-Humber, Concordia, Regina, King’s College, Western, UBC and all the other schools that are turning out great producers, editors, multi-tasking online people, feature writers, photographers and investigators.

Dan Westell worked at the Globe from 1979 to 1995, and at the Financial Post till it was taken over by the National Post in 1998. He was de-jobbed by the Post organization in 1999. He is an instructor at Ryerson's School of Journalism.

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