…And though the news was rather sad, Well I just had to laugh…

Dear Toronto Star,

This is long overdue but please cancel my subscription. Today. Yes, to a lot of friends, I should have done this long ago but old habits are hard to break. Mine goes back over 50 years when I used to deliver ‘The Toronto Daily Star’, as it was, in the old neighborhood. It was my last route (shout out to Clinton Young) after delivering The Telegram and then The Globe & Mail. (Thank you for waking me up every morning at 6 a.m. Dave Harris, wherever you are). Long before labor laws bequeathed the task of delivering newspapers from Dickensian waifs to Russians in Toyota Camrys, 12-year olds were encouraged to wander around their neighbourhoods after school and in the wee hours of the morning dropping off a family’s primary source of local and international information. This was the 60s and local TV news was always sort of half ass and the CBC was way better on radio. For better action we tuned into the nightly pyre that was Buffalo and, following that, Walter Cronkite. Alev asholom Irv Weinstein. But I digress.

Not only did I deliver the paper, I read it from cover to cover (well, most of the time) leaning a little on the sports section because I had been exposed to great jock writing through the work of Scott Young’s boy’s novels Scrubs On Skates and Boy On Defense which led me to his work in The Telegram which was usually very humane and forgiving of the life of a Toronto Maple Leaf or an Argonaut. At the Star there was Frankie Orr, Rick Matsumoto and Milt Dunnell, the grand old man who was later in life brought out of retirement in his 70s because the section missed his voice. Milt was a friend of a close family friend and he contributed to a university paper, the last I ever wrote, on newspaper coverage of the 1958 Grey Cup. I got an A. At 21 I was the sports editor of then thrice weekly The Varsity at the University of Toronto and I always found myself at Varsity Blues games with Al Ryan from The Star who was always respectful through his straggle of beard. I always read guys with whom I sat. There’s zero coverage of university sports these days because its all about professionals now. Sad.

In the entertainment section The Star boasted Glyde Gilmour and Bill Littler and Sid Adilman and Peter Goddard, the latter who became something of a rival when I became a rock critic at The Toronto Sun in the late 70s. And there was the local colour of Gary Lautens and, well, a lot of ink-stained wretches who knew what they were doing. For a long time. Yes and Hemingway was an alumnus.

Then there were the photographers of my day. Boris Spremo and Dickie Loek and Graham Bezant to name a few. Guys I respected because I started my career as a photographer/reporter at The Toronto Sun. They were in Phnom Penh or with Trudeau in Cairo while I was “covering” Miss Nude Ontario Pageants in Niagara Falls. Or shooting Sunshine Girls. I have a lingering case of PTSD. The T doesn’t stand for Traumatic. Hey now….

And the thing was, when you worked at The Sun, you always looked up to The Star. Always. “One Yonge” had the manpower and resources to crush all of us, although crushing The Globe & Mail wasn’t that hard. With all due respect. Always read Allan Abel in Globe sports however. Read there recently that it was one Caitlyn Jenner that won the gold in decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Games. Sorry, pretty sure that was one Bruce Jenner in the photo. You can’t rewrite history assholes.

When The Star raided the Sun newsroom in the late 70s it was debilitating for a time. The money was better, it was a union shop. Benefits, blah, blah, blah.

In the 80s, after leaving The Sun, I filed a weekly byline at The Star as a freelance columnist in StarWeek, the TV insert. I had a shitload of fun for four years and bringing my copy in every week was a treat. Cathy Dunphy, I owe you a lunch wherever you are. I was also enjoined by the Travel section to report on hot ski resorts and given all kinds of discounts by the agencies to get me there. So thankful for those times.

I have history with you, all of it good, and it was a knee jerk reaction to pick up a subscription after I moved into my post-marriage apartment over a decade ago. I wanted to be that guy in the slightly ratty, terrycloth bathrobe gripping a coffee while quietly perusing the paper before my day descended into its usual Faustian inferno.

Yeah, but that schedule didn’t work. What ended up happening was that I would take a week’s worth to the local Starbucks on a Saturday morning and parse through the pile looking for articles that would spark my interest. Sadly, as the years went by there were fewer and fewer. People I worked with years ago were dropping off the page. Good people like politico Carol Goar who I went back with to my first job at the late, not so lamented Ottawa Today.

For years, when any of my friends learned I read The Star they would scold me for contributing to an “anti-semitic rag”. There’s no doubt that the editorial tone has more than a whiff of anti-Zionism, going back to the days when Marty Goodman ran the show, himself a bit of a self-hating Jew. I wasn’t going to argue too much. I am one of those guys that believes us Jews need a little good natured baiting to gird our loins, strengthen community resolve and reset the perimeters. Thankfully, anti-semitism is catching on with the kids these days so The Star’s relatively tepid screeds on the Editorial page from apologists like Rick Salutin seem positively pro-annexation.

For me the problem with your paper today is much larger than that. It appears you have no idea what you are doing, who your readers are and why you even exist. It’s painful to witness as you package out the generation who sat at the hem of the greats who manned the newsroom in those said glory years.

It appears you’re going big on social justice platforms in the news section while the death of print advertising is killing your sports and entertainment sandboxes. You seem way too soft on our wonderfully ethically challenged Prime Minister but extremely hard-driving when it comes to issues of race and minority issues. You feel there is a whole new generation out there who can’t wait to read about the struggles of Transgender Physically Challenged Indigenous theatre groups. These are intersections that are just not near this geezer’s Olde Curiosity Shoppe.

As an example, you ran a cover story in the heat of the George Floyd moment, above the fold I might add, that was billed as first hand witness to the systemic racism coursing through veins of our fair city. In actuality it was two young Black men of no particular hardship whining about nothing. The first led with a complaint that his high school teachers only gave him the grades he “deserved”. OMG, call Willem Dafoe, we got ourselves a sequel to Mississippi Burning!! Please. This kid then goes on to say someone in university had the audacity to ask him if they could touch his hair. I kid you not. The bulk of the other guy’s complaints revolve around the manner in which he was bounced out of a hotel when his credit card air-balled. I have to say that most hotels are colour blind when offering exit strategies to those who can’t pay to stay. This scofflaw might want to go to Hollywood and sell his own sad story as Green Book – Turndown Service. Entertaining myself here.

Not only is this junior high school level journalism but I wouldn’t want to be identified as one of the teachers in question because it is kind of implied that the teacher, his or herself, was racist. Nothing could be further from the truth in my opinion. Ultimately you were carelessly pandering to an audience that has neither the interest nor the money to buy your paper. Pathetic.

Due to the pandemic – and I just can’t read about that anymore and that’s no fault of yours, (well, maybe a little) there are no unquarantined sports to report on. Quarantined sports are just grown men chasing balls and pucks in an arena of politicized angst. I don’t enjoy being bombarded with BLM sloganeering on the backs and fronts of the Toronto Raptors newly “woke” uniforms. I watch sports as a distraction, not to watch guys kneeling for no particular effect. Again, the jerseys aren’t your fault but maybe you could look at the issue with a critical eye. The non-stop lowlight reel that is sports television has killed jock journalism as much as your lack of courage has. Your section should be put out of its misery. Put Damien Cox on the Editorial page for the old Leaf fans and leave it at that. We know the score. The fans lose every time.

Ditto for the Entertainment section. The recent buyout of my old friend, bandmate and film critic Petey Howell plus Benny Rayner (rock) and Tony Wong (TV) left the section with the one and only Vinay Menon as the anchor tenant. Menon, simply put, might be the worst writer I have ever encountered in newsprint. This is not a personal attack. He seems like a decent guy and when I have pointed out his level of incompetence to him directly (his email address was, at one time, at the bottom of his scribbles) his response was to write off my criticism as the ramblings of a failure. Possibly. Nonetheless, there is no rhyme or reason to his existence in the paper that boasts the aforementioned writers in its archive.

Worse, he feels a compulsion to frame every point with allegedly comedic metaphors that are apropos of absolutely nothing. In a riveting column on the merits of Burger King’s introduction of bite-sized deep fried clumps of Kraft Dinner he wrote of his planned pandemic eight-pack, “The only way that will happen now is if I start sleeping atop a giant waffle press.” And he goes on from there into graphic detail. Brutal. I’m not going to get into his unique ability to butcher the language with “the only way that will happen now”. Makes me a little tense so to speak.

In a recent essay about a US congressional candidate named K.W. Miller, who raised some eyebrows when he identified Beyonce as a member of the Illuminati, Menon shovelled loads of his inimitable nonsense on a conspiracy theory actually worth discussing. Without getting off his fat KD’d ass to get this Miller on the phone, he simply wrote off the Florida conservative as a “kooky weirdo”. Mysterious and spooky, altogether ooky…

Of course there was another dead end simile in there, “…all this is coming from an aspiring congressman. That’s like hearing an aspiring AA exec extol the virtues of Jack Daniels.” What the fuck is an AA exec?

By the way, what is a Toronto entertainment columnist doing opining about US politics? A year ago, and this is off piste, you published an editorial telling, not asking, The Cleveland Indians to change their name. Is this any of your business in a city with all kinds of issues of greater interest to your readers? I could go on but getting back to Menon, in the end I do understand why he survived the recent bloodletting. Toronto’s demographics have changed mightily and The Star is trying to warm to the surging South Asian community. I get the diversity mandate. But that still doesn’t excuse his paycheque. I might get into trouble for this but I imagined the editor who hired him must have deduced that: a) Russell Peters is funny b) Russell Peters is South Asian c) Vinay Menon is also South Asian and, therefore, d) Vinay Menon must be funny.

Sorry, no. Now Menon is free to write whatever he wants. Apparently there is nary an editor at One Yonge who takes the time to call Menon and say, from time to time, “What is this crap?” a courtesy afforded me several times in my career. He can practice his brand of pajama punctuation for as long as he’s on the planet. Just not behind a paywall which my cash is scaling.

Some residual scorn is reserved for one Emma Teitel who, like Menon, feels that Star readers deserve nothing more than what she can conjure up during her morning ablutions.

I put forth as an example a recent column, over half a page to boot, regurgitating a long past Royal controversy over an alleged high social crime committed by Meghan Markle at Princess Eugenie’s wedding. It was rumored that she took the opportunity to announce that she was pregnant, thereby taking the whole simcha away from the bride and groom. None of this was confirmed but even the suggestion confirms what kind of narcissistic trash Markle might be. Again I digress because Teitel, the voice of the young and the gay, actually came out in favor of such a transgression because “it’s hard to believe that a surprise pregnancy announcement a la the kind Markle allegedly made in 2018 would ruffle feathers. In the COVID era, any good news is welcome news, anytime, anywhere.”

Yes, it would piss off the bridal party, you classless idiot. And that was way back in 2018 so what does it have to do with COVID? The mind boggles. I could go on but it would be more appropriate if the column was published under the title “Emteitelment”. Entertaining myself there. Again.

I’m not interested in what Teitel has to say about virtually anything. I’m not her reader and again, an editor on ‘the desk’ might take pause to wonder why this shit gets printed. You’re having enough trouble with the regularly scheduled spelling mistakes like “anit-vaxxing”. But I imagine Teitel is cheap and, being ultimately harmless, therefore unaccountable. However I no longer believe I have to pay for her musings. Neither do I have to pay for unvetted essays from local activists about the need to make space for Black artists. This is not news.

You seem to have the misguided notion that a writer’s feelings are more important than the facts. Maybe this started with the posturing of Michelle Landsberg who was a fixture for so many years and perhaps a pioneer on the social justice front. Very much left of everyone but a good writer and committed to whatever she was championing. It earned her the Order of Canada and perhaps deservedly so. Her crusades were built on solid research and whether you agreed or not, she always had a point.

Now, however, the opposite is true. There are no hard stances in your paper because you’re afraid you might offend what’s left of your readership or the building will be cancelled by the social media undead. There is still some good reporting going on, most of it regarding the misuse of government coffers. Sadly, taxpayer abuse now is the rule rather than the exception thanks to our entitled PM. We have been beaten into submission on so many levels it really doesn’t matter what you report. That’s not your fault.

Do we really have to read from Teitel, Marty Cohn and the nasty piece of work known as Heather Malice, er Mallick, that we should all be wearing masks? I think one of them advocated mask wear everywhere outside the house. These are stances that scold, not inform. You sound like shills for the government. This is a perfect example of zero oversight on the editorial desk. And can someone not come up with a contrary opinion once in a while? Like how about at least buying a story that examines the role of the Gates Foundation in all this? How about some actual food for thought as opposed to empty calories?

As for the destruction of public monuments – you are too soft on that – and the simmering unrest in the streets I borrow from the late great Howard Cosell who said, after the horrible American spring of 1968, “Maybe there is such an absence of intellect and sensitivity in the United States that only violence is understandable and acceptable.” Nobody in your masthead would approve such a comment today if applied locally because of the fear of alienating the mob. The National Post recently had to apologize for Rex Murphy but Murphy is still there, thankfully.

With the sale, recently contested, of The Star for pennies against what must be a mountain of debt, the future of the paper doesn’t look good. Decades ago, local studies determined that the first casualty in the newspaper wars would be The Star because it took up the big fat middle in the market that has now disappeared to retirement communities way outside the GTA. A recent article in the New York Times documented the carnage done to Canadian newsrooms when the Chatham Asset Management hedge fund took over your rivals at Postmedia. Thirty papers gone, 1600 staff cut. Not pretty. Print advertising in newspapers has dropped 62% in the last decade. Newspaper circulation in 2018 was the lowest since 1940. Both stats come from Pew Research which I picked up in a recent editorial from Seattle Times reprinted in the Post. Days go by between sightings something that resembled a paid display in your woeful Business section. Nobody is going to the movies and nobody’s advertising moves so why pay a film critic like Petey? The logic is solid, the result is displeasing.

Yet why are we subjected to the Menons and the Mallicks when space could have been better utilized, for example, by some kind of immediate reaction to the recent announcement (two measly inches in your Arts roundup section) that the CBC, in the future, would hire up to half its executives from the ranks of the racial minorities, physically challenged and sexually alternative. I think that would be worth some kind of, wait for it, analysis since it is public money that is paying for this level of legislated diversity. Adilman would have been on it before it happened. I used to work for Sid when he ran the Canadian bureau for Variety. I got paid a dime an inch but I did get to go to New York and do some typing on the old manuals off 6th Avenue and was greeted warmly by Syd Silverman. All those years ago. God bless you Syd. And Sid.

I’m saying that there comes a tipping point in the wholesale deconstruction of a newsroom when efficiencies turn into deficiencies. Where a newspaper cannot rightly claim to cover, with any kind of confidence, the city with which it identifies. A great newspaper is bigger than the sum of its parts. It has a pulse and an immediacy and a trust that gives its reader a clear dashboard through which his or her hometown can be seen right down to the high school sports and pothole reports.

Enough. What I will miss or, more correctly, who I will miss is the last old schooler left in the building – Rosie DiManno, who dances effortlessly between sports and Page Two like a prima ballerina. However, I notice she has had her wings clipped in the new correct climate. Sadly, her career is well into Act Four anyway and I don’t want to be around when she turns out the lights. Mary Ormsby and I once won a chili cook-off in Oakville and she still contributes in a good way and I will miss her too.

I will also miss the Sunday paper and the relatively painless New York Times supplement (a whole other shitshow) complete with enough crosswords to last the week. I might sneak out and buy the odd copy because I prefer to write than type the crossword clues.

If I had a solution to your problems it would be to charge all the columnists for their space. Posit them in a special advertorial section and give them a cut of any advertiser that specifically asks for adjacent space. For any writer worth their laptop, their presence in the The Star should be just part of their larger influencer imprint on several different social media platforms which, if reflective of a unique talent and are managed properly, can yield a decent income from books, speaking engagements, podcasts etc. By paying these people you are just encouraging their apathy.

That’s about it for me. For full disclosure I am keeping a three-day weekly subscription to the National Post, founded years ago by Izzy Asper to keep the conservative voice alive with special attention paid to the Hebrews who identify as such. The Post itself is operating virtually ad free and their newsgathering is perfunctory. At best it’s a posse of right-thinking columnists riding shotgun on the acid wagon train trip the world has become. Yeah, I read Murphy and Barbara Kay, Steve Simmons and Jordan Peterson when he kicks in. Conrad Black is a brain with which we should always reckon.

But for the most part, I read The Post in the hopes that reports of Christie Blatchford’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The best way to sign off this entry is by way of Blatchford’s daily greeting to me when I would stagger into The Sun newsroom from a night of debauchery to a desk across the aisle from hers. “Where ya been Gross, whacking off?” she would bark, flexing her finely honed reporter’s instincts.

Jonathan Gross
Former Pop Prophet











1 comment

  1. Robert Sarner Reply
    August 10, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    Write on, Jon. A wonderful tour de force.

    Hope somebody among the Star’s top brass — and many others — read your piece.

    If they were smart, they ask you to write a regular column for them.

    Warm regards,
    Robert

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