Dalton McGuinty's surprise resignation and prorogation of the Ontario legislature left newsrooms nationwide scrambling. So how did the Toronto Star manage to pull together six comprehensive pages of coverage in a matter of hours? The Star's news editor, Jonathan P. Kuehlein, shares the story here in J-Source.

Dalton McGuinty's surprise resignation and prorogation of the Ontario legislature left newsrooms nationwide scrambling. So how did the Toronto Star manage to pull together six comprehensive pages of coverage in a matter of hours? The Star's news editor, Jonathan P. Kuehlein, shares the story here in J-Source.

The premier of Ontario doesn’t resign at 6:20 p.m. on a Monday.

Sure, Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal minority government had been under fire for weeks for enacting a freeze on teachers’ salaries. He’d also been feeling the heat for delaying the release of documents related to the province’s cancellation of gas-fired power plants in Mississauga and Oakville, but the media conference he’d announced had to be for something else.

Is Energy Minister Chris Bentley stepping down? Time to rally the troops? What else could it be?

It was just after 5 p.m. on October 15th when we got word in the Toronto Star newsroom via our Queen’s Park bureau that McGuinty had called for an open caucus meeting for just after suppertime. Star reporters Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson were already on Twitter, as were many media contemporaries, but it seemed nobody knew what prompted the premier’s presser.

It was a fair guess that whatever it was going to be was likely to merit a spot on the Star’s front page, so we adjusted the page plan that had been put in place following our 3 p.m. news meeting and tried to stay focused on the things we could control.

For a little bit more than an hour, I had the same conversation over and over again — with Star Editor Michael Cooke, Managing Editor Jane Davenport, the A1 editor that night, Roman Pawlyshyn, production editor Brad Needham and several others.

The conversations all ended with the same phrase (not always from me): “It won’t be McGuinty. The premier of Ontario doesn’t resign at 6:20 p.m. on a Monday.”

All the same, Davenport suggested if it is the end of the road for the long-time Ontario Liberal leader, we should be prepared to clear everything else off A1 and plan to go big.

At 5:57 p.m., Benzie tweeted a quote from Bentley saying he wouldn’t be quitting.

At 6:03 p.m., Benzie tweeted that several seats at the meeting were marked as reserved for McGuinty’s family.

Based on this information, we began to look harder at content of the newspaper and I suggested to Needham that we hold off building any news pages near the front of our A section.

Several TV networks went live at 6:20 p.m. to Queen’s Park as McGuinty began his newser. As soon as he started unfurling the list of his government’s accomplishments, I knew we were in trouble. Within minutes, we learned that not only was he resigning as premier, he had prorogued the legislature.

Apparently no one told him the premier of Ontario doesn’t resign at 6:20 p.m. on a Monday.

Before his announcement was even finished, the newsroom was abuzz. Everyone knew the next five hours would be hectic and hard, but we had many key people still in the building willing to grind it out and breaking news is when many of us are at our best.

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Canada Editor Mary Vallis was in for the long haul, as were National deskers Scott Howarth and Kenyon Wallace. Veteran Politics Editor Colin MacKenzie was just getting off a plane from Boston, but he’d be there in minutes.

Benzie, Ferguson and reporter Carys Mills were already hard at work, gathering reaction at Queen’s Park. We knew our A1 story would be coming from them, along with a quick look at the top contenders to become the next premier.

Queen’s Park columnist Martin Regg Cohn was also a lock for A1. He’d help put this whole situation into perspective for our readers.

Two more of our top political columnists, Tim Harper and Thomas Walkom, also planned to weigh in and Astrid Lange in the Star’s library was already piecing together a timeline of McGuinty’s career.

Two general assignment reporters were tasked with pulling together reaction stories: Amy Dempsey on Toronto-area politicians’ responses and Alex Consiglio on labour reaction.

Doing a bit of quick math, Davenport and I figured we were looking at a minimum of five pages of coverage, including all of A1. Some of the stories that had been planned for prime play in the A section were shifted around to other pages, some were moved to other sections and the less time-sensitive ones were held for later in the week.

At 6:45 p.m., we called a late news meeting for 7:30 p.m. where we could get a final count on McGuinty pages and set some deadlines. Production was stepped up in all other departments to clear the decks. Knowing the amount of work ahead, we let our Vaughan Press Centre know we were going to push our deadlines back by 30 minutes to 11:30 p.m.

The 7:30 meeting pretty much locked in the rundown, with the addition of McGuinty’s speech, a story from early in the day about Bentley under fire in legislature and a small “what now?” box for A1.

Editorial page editor Andrew Phillips returned to the office and informed us he’d be re-filing the main editorial, Vallis outlined our extensive online coverage, our photo department began amassing the best photos from McGuinty’s long political career and I re-slotted the paper and mapped out page deadlines to try to prevent a logjam later in the night. We added one more page of McGuinty coverage, bringing our total to a rather substantial six.

After the meeting, Page Desk Manager Rick Laiken created the attic shapes for the timeline on A4 and A6 and quotes for A8, A10 and A12 resulting in a very cohesive-looking package under the banner “McGuinty resigns.”

Design Editor Nuri Ducassi, Pawlyshyn and I began the redesign of A1. The main head, “Shocking exit,” came easily and Ducassi pushed for a full-width photo of a rather stern-looking premier, giving this huge story an even greater sense of drama. We split the main story and Cohn column below the fold with our “what now?” box and throws to rest of our coverage inside. We also added some key throw space at top and bottom of the page to highlight other areas of interest in the paper — notably stories that got bumped off A1.

By 8:25 p.m., we got our first story, on the candidates to replace McGuinty, filed, edited and ready to be fit and finished on the page — just in time for his media conference, attended by Benzie, Ferguson, Mills and staff photographer Rick Madonik.

The hard-working night production staff on the Star’s page and flex editing desks had put their heads down as we passed 9 p.m., but we were in pretty good shape.

Page desker Amit Shilton was busily juggling three of our six McGuinty pages and headline master and editing whiz Jon Ohayon was pitching in all over the place to help polish all of our pages till they sparkled. Between 9:20 and 10:40 p.m., the rest of our stories, columns and photos came in at well-timed intervals and the paper quickly took shape.

As we hit the home stretch and I realized we’d make deadline with a comprehensive edition we could all be proud of, I found myself reflecting on working in the media on nights when news breaks and how it really all scores on a sliding scale.

When you’ve somehow survived one of the hastiest remakes of the past decade — after Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday — it’s easy to forgive McGuinty for not knowing the rules.

Jonathan P. Kuehlein is the Toronto Star’s News Editor. He has worked for daily newspapers across Ontario for more than 16 years as a reporter, photographer, editor, designer and department manager.