After a 40-year career, I’m saying goodbye to newspapers
Toronto Star sports reporter Curtis Rush reflects on his career after taking buyout.
By Curtis Rush
When I took my first newspaper job, Gerald Ford was the U.S. president and Pierre Trudeau was the Canadian prime minister.
It was 1976 and “All the President’s Men” made heroes out of Woodward and Bernstein.
Forty years later, I have outlasted six presidents and nine prime ministers and a few old typewriters still lying around in the Toronto Star newsroom.
So I’ve been persistent, if nothing else. And I show up to work every day. I want my obituary to read: “He was the Cal Ripken of the newspaper business.”
At the end of April, I am taking an early retirement package. I am 63 and the Star is going in a new direction with the promising launch of its tablet, Star Touch.
I’m like a lot of journalists. I’ve had a solid career, but I’ve never won a national newspaper award. I have won Toronto Star internal “Holy Joe” awards and I do have a broomball award plaque that hangs prominently on my wall from 1976.
I didn’t go to a war zone and never put my life on the line. But early in my career, pugnacious New York Yankee manager Billy Martin once threatened to throw me out of the Yankee clubhouse, and high-strung Los Angeles Kings coach Ron Stewart once reduced me to a quivering mess.
I do, however, feel proud of what I consider two significant achievements: showing up almost every day, and being one of the most versatile journalists at the Toronto Star.
I once reported for my night copy-editor shift in sports after undergoing a knee operation earlier in the day. The sports editor at the time begged me to come in because we were going to be short-staffed. My knee was heavily bandaged. He would pay for a cab.
Out of a sense of duty, I took a test drive and found I could move my bandaged right leg from the gas pedal to the brake pedal with relative ease, so I drove in from Oakville.
I have been a copy editor in several departments, a news editor, an online news writer, general assignment reporter, video reporter, video editor, photographer, crime reporter and sports writer.
There isn’t one corner of the sprawling newsroom that doesn’t have my footprint.
I was a copy editor for most of my career. As an introvert, I could work with words and didn’t have to talk to people.
However, in 1998 or 1999, I challenged myself to see if I could be a big-league reporter and interview people as I had done when I started out.
I pushed for freelance work to cover curling and tennis. It opened up an exciting world for me, covering the 2000 Brier in Ottawa, the 2000 French Open in Paris and the 2001 U.S. Open in New York.
But in 2010, the roof fell in.
The Star eliminated a whole layer of copy editors and I got a layoff notice. It was devastating.
Yet, because of my writing experience, I had bumping rights and I became a full-fledged reporter.
By hanging ’em up as a sports writer, I have written my own storybook ending.
As a football player at Western, I was drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos and had a short CFL tryout in 1975.
In 2013, I was hired by then sports editor Jon Filson to cover the Toronto Argonauts both home and away, allowing me to live out my journalism dreams at the end of my career at the Star.
As I go out, I am thinking of the Toronto Star legends I followed in covering the CFL, including Jim Proudfoot, Milt Dunnell and Rick Matsumoto.
Of course, I could become a punch line in retirement too.
I’m reminded of a cartoon that makes me laugh as I ride off into the sunset.
“What do you do?” a chicken asks of another. “I’m a writer,” the second chicken responds.
“No, tweets mostly. Someday I want to write the great American tweet.”
I can’t see myself just tweeting for the rest of my life. I feel young enough to continue writing in some form or other.
Ernest Hemingway once said that “retirement” is the ugliest word in the language. He may have been right.
It’s been a difficult decision for me. I spent hours going back and forth on taking a buyout.
In the end, the timing just seemed right.
Forty years after Woodward and Bernstein made journalism hip and cool when I entered the business, I’m going out to this year’s Best Picture “Spotlight,” which made a new round of heroes at the Boston Globe.
How incredible to have two of the most iconic movies ever made bookend my newspapering career.
When I started in 1981, Star stories were written and edited on paper. People smoked in the newsroom. We had proofreaders and typesetters. Reporters sometimes had hours to craft their stories, and editors took time to “read in” to the day’s story file. We were an afternoon daily and about to transition to mornings.
The biggest cultural and technological shift has occurred in the past 10 years. With Twitter, every minute is a deadline as reporters hold tape recorders with one hand during scrums and tweet out real-time quotes on their mobiles devices with the other. When they return to the newsroom, they source photos, write their own headlines, subheads and captions and then write the story.
A new frontier is opening up as reporters adopt Alternative Story Formats for the mobile audience. We’re not throwing out the inverted pyramid and narrative style. We are just embracing new ways of story telling, whether they involve Q&As, listicles, video clips, simply photos or graphics and timelines. Reporting, photography and graphic design are merging like never before.
In retirement, I’ll probably read more than I write. As a writer, I found myself so immersed in my subject that I didn’t read as much as I wanted.
I think I will enjoy reading about the news industry the most. I want to see how this story turns out. Right now, it’s a suspense thriller that I just can’t put down.
Curtis Rush, 63, retires in April from a 40-year newspaper career, the last 35 of which were spent editing and writing at the Toronto Star. You can follow him on Twitter @curtisgrush.