"You're going to pay me how much !?"
Eight pounds, three shillings a week, with the promise of a raise on my birthday.
Happy to take it. Seemed a lot at the time. A warm pint of Mitchell's best bitter beer was two shillings.
I was just 17.
Left school at 16 ... decided working on that farm was actual work ... so signed on as apprentice reporter at our brilliantly-named local weekly newspaper in the seaside town of Morecambe.
From then 'til now.
Newspapers, newspapers, newspapers.
More fun than a man should have.
With better people than anyone could hope to call colleagues, bosses, employees, friends.
They taught me a lot.
Starting with Mr. Mosey.
Mr. Mosey the Editor made me clean and polish his big glass ashtray. Two drags of a full-strength Senior Service cigarette followed by doubled-over coughing and then:
“Michael … cough-retch-cough ... you’ve mis-spelled grammar. It’s grammar not grammer with an E. Do you know why you misspelled grammar? Because you’re not as clever as you think you are. Get that tar scrubbed off my ashtray. And don’t look at me like that. It’s an imposition. It’ll make you check your spelling.”
He gave me my first byline. I was 18. Bylines were not automatic, they were earned. I keep that piece of hot metal as a good luck charm. Picked it up right out of the metal form after the press had run.
My mum, god bless her, still has that page in her scrapbook.
Mr. Mosey gave this advice when I left the North for London. Maybe he should have said it earlier. Here it is:
Yep. A know-it-all '60s teenager at The Visitor. Here's a joke our millenials might miss: An old girlfriend dumped me because of my obsession with the Monkees. I thought she was joking. And then I saw her face.
But I'm burying the lede. Something that once would have got me a date with a dirty ashtray.
So here's the lede:
I'm leaving the Star,
Leaving daily journalism.
It's been 49 years and it's time to see what's left to do in the rest of the world.
Been a long time since I flashed one of these:
... been a long time since Fleet Street was actually on Fleet Street ... reporting news during the week and Saturdays covering Millwall FC, the dockers' team, with the most feared fans in England. The chant remains: "Nobody likes us and we don't care" ...
... been a long time since a Freddie Laker Airlines holiday in Toronto in 1975. Popped into the Print Room, that dark bar with a sticky carpet at One Yonge, to meet a friend of a friend. Next thing you know old Jed’s a millionaire and I'm working up on the 5th floor for three vacation-cover shifts.
The Star offered me a job.
... been a long time since the Star checked my references.
Whatever those concerning personal habits were (and I still don't know) ... Hello Canada!
Finishing a shift at 11 pm, found out what it was like to be a reporter for the Star … a fire in the Saint John, N.B., town jail. "A dozen dead!"
A passion to get the news.
Even if it meant renting a Lear jet.
To get to a prison fire in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Where the guards made frantic phone calls.
Trying to find the key.
While teens caught joy-riding were with the drunks sleeping it off in their cells.
And so many young men died.
Star bylines were smaller than the Visitor's.
Fast forward again, to the Montreal Gazette. The first referendum on Quebec independence. Canada won handily … but the 2nd referendum was a squeaker.
The long flight across the Prairies to the Journal, in Edmonton. Two winters hitting minus 40 plugging in the car’s block heater and hearing “oh it’s a dry cold …”
Underdogs at The Province, the feisty tabloid in the shadow of the Sun, a status that made us all get up an hour earlier and go to bed an hour later than those bums.
Next stop Chicago. 8 years of big cars, big buildings, big sports, big crime, big politics, big corruption, big news, big people. The person above was the biggest. Until this guy came along ...
New York City and the fizz and pop of tabloid craziness.
Where I hated Donald Trump before you did. I have stories.
... back to Chicago and then ...
... full circle back to Toronto.
More than a few great stories, more than a few great pages.
For me personally, nothing topped Roya Shams.
The thrill of flying to Kandahar to help smuggle her out.
To a new life in Canada.
A reminder that journalism can't save everyone.
But if it can save one person ... it's worth everything.
Just look at Roya now! Giving back as a volunteer. Women of this newsroom (you know who you are) loved Roya and steadied her in her new country.
That scared but brave unilingual Dari-speaking teenage refugee is 22. As a 3rd year Ottawa U student, Roya remains grateful to the Star.
Advice? Nothing new. Hasn't changed. As much as you can, avoid the people giving you their version of the news from a podium.
Nothing new. Ecclesiastes. Can't beat it. King James version of course.
See that old man? Nothing new. He could work at thestar.com today. I.F. Stone. Investigative reporter. Don't know him? Check him out. Never went near a podium in his life.
Stone's words are Star words: “The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you’re going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins.”
That was the Rob Ford story Stone was talking about.
Me? I'll stay until June to complete the early part of the Star transformation ... and after that I will be doing much more of the kind of work above. First stop Turkey. More details later.
For you in this newsroom, the next two years are going to be challenging ...
big changes coming ...
all good and all necessary ...
and exciting ...
and fabulous ...
and if you stick to our long-held values, the values that got the paper another Hillman prize, that got the paper all those NNA nominations in areas we have always cared about ...
if you stick to our long-held values and embrace the new, you have a real shot at transforming the Star to a further brilliant and lasting success.
I'll be in the newsroom for a couple more months ... and I'll be saying this a lot: thank you ! good luck!