DEMONTIS: A trip down memory lane inside a real-life word factory

A look back as the Toronto Sun prepares to celebrate its 50th year of publishing

Article content

There’s an old saying in the old newspaper world that says if you cut an old newspaper veteran, they would bleed ink.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Many will find this saying somewhat dated in this hyper-stimulated world of social media and instant e-newscasts we live in today, but ask a true journalist what this means and you know they’re going to smile.

Newspapers are not so much an industry onto themselves, but tangible proof of what life is truly all about.

A newspaper is the bedrock for those who report and deliver life events that take place in one’s own backyard — be it down the street or on a global scale.

Newspapers are home to the driven, the dedicated, the daydreamers and the storytellers, where adrenaline junkies live and breathe the soot and smell of life’s realities — be it through powerful printing presses or in a small device in their hands.

Newspapers are home to the artists and the visionaries, and those who want to hold accountable those who hold the reins of power.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

And if there’s something surreal about it all, well — there is. Newspapers are receptacles for living history.

That’s what life was — and still is — for the Toronto Sun newspaper, a cheeky upstart with sass and attitude that rose from the proverbial ashes of the venerable Toronto Telegram to take its rightful place on the Canadian newspaper landscape.

And come this Monday, Nov. 1, this ubiquitous, legendary newspaper will be celebrating its 50th anniversary — a half-century of churning out thousands upon thousands of stories of the ordinary to the extraordinary, stories of triumph and grief, of heartache and adventure, of love and passion. And each one finding its place in history, and in our lives.

I had a front-row seat when I joined the Sun back in the late summer of 1976 on a sweltering August day, when I forced myself to put aside my intense shyness and plunge feet-first into what initially felt like a runaway merry-go-round.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

From the get-go, I felt I had joined a circus — they called it a word factory — and every day was an adventure of drinking in the actions of the giants of the media industry as they held court and wrote their stories.

And what stories!

Peter Worthington, then a reporter for the Toronto Telegram, witnessing the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of police headquarters in Dallas, Tx. on Nov. 24, 1963
Peter Worthington, then a reporter for the Toronto Telegram, witnessing the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of police headquarters in Dallas, Tx. on Nov. 24, 1963

From the multi-levels of seasoned editors to the reporters and photographers, down to the person who answered the phones on the city desk — it was bedlam covering not only the city, but the world.

Everyone had a starring role in this critically acclaimed, real-life series. Like the day someone needed to get the pope on the phone ASAP — and the darling of the switchboard, the late-great Mrs. K, had the spiritual leader of the Christian world on the line in no time to chat with one of our editors.

There was so much intensity and emotion in the newsroom — like the editor who once jumped on his desk one night and urged reporters to “write! Damn it, write!” while a fearless, take-no-prisoners attitude permeated everywhere.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The Toronto Sun never did sit on its laurels, but there was always a sense of tightly wound hysteria, with all hands on deck when critical stories were breaking.

Everyone was pressed into service, regardless of your standing. And there were thousands of stories to be covered: From 12 people held hostage in a bank just up the street from our newsroom, to having one of Canada’s most terrifying serial killers come in for a chat with one of our columnists before being arrested months later, to several prime ministers popping in for a tour.

One prime minister had an absolute dislike for founding editor, the late Peter Worthington, to the point he sent the RCMP to have Peter arrested for disclosing information from the Official Secrets Act.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Whatever —  the CBC had already disclosed the information a few days earlier, but Pierre Elliott Trudeau (who truly couldn’t stand the Sun, nor Peter) moved to have our Fearless Leader arrested.

It was insane — in moments a grim group of RCMP agents starting crawling around the newsroom looking while reporters were proudly sported “Free Peter Worthington” T-shirts, while Peter himself went about his business, more annoyed than anything else.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

I watched one RCMP officer approach the late, great columnist Bob MacDonald’s desk, with the soulful-looking Bob carefully watching on.

“You can go through my desk all ya want,” drawled Bob, adding “but make sure you put everything back where you found it.”

Bob’s desk was a three-feet-deep nightmare of notes and papers. The officer backed away. Meanwhile, Bob had the papers he was searching for right there in a drawer.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Of course, Peter Worthington — one of the founders of the paper — has a tangible moment in history, when, back in 1963, he was standing a few short feet away from Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot and killed John F. Kennedy, when a stranger leapt forward and shot Oswald in the stomach.

Oswald’s blood sprayed across Worthington’s pristine white shirt, and he managed to file a first-person account in the Telly well before the competition was even there.

Ed Asner, star of the Lou Grant Show, gets some writing pointers from Peter Worthington during a visit to the Toronto Sun newsroom in 1979
Ed Asner, star of the Lou Grant Show, gets some writing pointers from Peter Worthington during a visit to the Toronto Sun newsroom in 1979 Toronto Sun files

There’s so much more. It’s hard to cram five decades of amazing newspaper adventures into one column, from the death of the People’s Princess to the tragedy of 9/11 to the visits from the Pope, and the winnings of the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays (we’d like to add Maple Leafs, but that’s like wishing on a star) as well as the historic concert that drew the giants of rock ’n’ roll after SARS — there is so much to share!

So I’ll be sharing my observations from this wondrous word factory for the next little while at least, to give you a sense of what it’s like to bleed ink and smell the presses in the air when the newspaper comes to life every day.

    Advertisement

    Story continues below

    Comments

    Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

    Share:

    Share on facebook
    Facebook
    Share on twitter
    Twitter
    Share on pinterest
    Pinterest
    Share on linkedin
    LinkedIn
    On Key

    Related Posts

    On AIR

    Russtrat world