Meet Bill Torgis, the Beaverbrook of the high-school world. He rose to success on youth, hard work and lack of experience
TYCOON AT 25
Meet Bill Torgis, the Beaverbrook of the high-school world. He rose to success on youth, hard work and lack of experience
AT AGE 25 William Henry Torgis is often asked to tell groups of high-school students how to be a success in business. In spite of his youth William Henry can tell them.
Only six years ago he himself sat in high-school auditoriums and listened to visiting speakers tell how to get ahead in the world. Today he’s proprietor of a publishing property he says he would not sell for $100,000. It’s the flourishing Canadian High News with a circulation of about 25,000.
High News is a weekly for high-school students. It has three editions—Toronto, Ontario and Montreal—and runs to 20 pages an issue. It goes to 44 schools in the Toronto urban district, to 77 Ontario schools outside Toronto and to 25 in Montreal. The paper has just appointed a fulltime Vancouver representative and interest is increasing in the Maritimes and on the prairies. Torgis hopes to make it the national high-school publication.
The paper, quoting William Henry, is “of youth^ for youth and by youth.” Price is two cents. One cent for High News, one cent for the school handling the paper.*-
News is provided by over 400 correspondents. Usual fee is a by-line to their stories, but feature writers and reporters covering special assignments are paid space rates. Ninety per cent of their material has to be rewritten. Torgis sadly admits his correspondents inflict at least manslaughter on the English vernacular.
Advice to the Puppy Lovelorn
THERE ARE, of course, features. “Cupid Counsel,” an advice column by Mary Lou Dilworth, Toronto Oakwood Collegiate pretty, outscores Dorothy Dix with High News addicts. For instance, “Almost Flawless” writes:
“Dear Mary Lou: I have a problem which I would like to hear your opinion of (Tsk, tsk; ending a sentence with a preposition).
“I am a 17-year-old and attend a Toronto collegiate. I know I am nice-looking, with long, wavy, blond hair and a figure that has been compared to Betty Grable’s. In school I am very popular with all the girls, participate in every sport and am no dumbbell when it comes to school work. But, Mary Lou—no one ever asks me out! It isrtH. anything so simple as halitosis, so I would like to see your comment on the matter.”
To which Miss Dilworth replied: “M’friendly, I’m afraid your personality is sadly deficient. What you make up for in looks, you lack in interest. Human beings are very self-centred, but the ones who are popular keep their self-interest in the background and devote all their efforts toward making other people fed important—” and yards more of same.
There is a column of collegiate humor operated by a sprite known as “Pookie.” There is an editorial column from the pen of Torgis himself. Banner line on the editorial page is the sentence: “The deetiny of the nation, at any given time, depends upon the opinions of its young men and young Women under five-and-twenty.” Torgis isn’t certain who said this, or the circumstances under which tira oration was made, but be believes it.
The paper, which has the approval of the Toronto and Montreal Boards of Education, also carries a vocational guidance department, and a letters-tothe-editor column, which resounds to the clash of student opinion on such topics as racial discrimination, religion and education — particularly homework.
“Personality Profile” offers a weekly biography of an outstanding Canadian entertainer; “Date Data” tells what’s to be seen and done around town. Subject of constantly ranking interest, of course, is sports.
All these features are designed to lure readers—and advertisers. High News is packed with ads—national, department store, specialty shops and shows.
How did High News get
It’s been mostly William Henry Torgis and his ideas. William Henry is a tall . young person with an engaging face and slightly surprised expression. Hé keeps many of his editorial documents in a reconverted china cabinet and smokes plump cigars.
When he was five he had scarlet fever and for four yearn was a semi-invalid. He was in school only part time, though he held his level in classes.
Where other youngsters burned their energy playing ball and hockey, William Henry had to forewear sports, though he can now take a bit of tennis and badminton. He turned his attention to making an honest dollar. At 10 he was making radio sets and selling them for 75 cents apiece. When the peanut tube replaced the galena crystal, he went into the manufacture of tie racks, telephone pads and other knickknacks,
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I hat way lu* made pocket money all (litway up from Alexander Muir 1’uhlie Sc hool into Parkdale Collegiate in Toronto. In Parkdale, still denied the perspiring pleasures of foothall, he became the dance hand leader, taught other teen-agers to heat jive out of a piano. With these activities he made a useful $30 a week.
Young Torgis started to work for (.anadian High News in September, 1911. He was hired at $12.50 a week to sell advertising. For three weeks, he didn’t.
High News, when William Henry 1 orgis joined its organization, was the property of four Toronto collegiate graduates, Lloyd llodgkinson, Carl Thuro, Ben Holdsworth and Boh McMichael.
I he sheet was not particularly prosperous. Neither, in his first venture in competitive selling, was William Henry 'I orgis. After the three weeks his first ad ran only two inches deep.
He Becomes a Publisher
But the early rebuffs merely made him grit his even and highly polished teeth and increase his efforts. A frank, boyish appearance, pleasant approach, an ability to speak his piece directly and in good English broke down resistance. He began to sell ads.
But not enough of them to bring a flush of health to the wan cheeks of High News. The enthusiasm with which the publishers had greeted the first copies to come off the presses in 1940 had flickered almost as low as their income. People even phoned the City Hall in Toronto and complained about the paper cluttering up the streets. High News was given away in those days.
'I orgis took over from his dejected colleagues in 1913. For $500 cash they were only too glad to turn over $3,000 in debts and what was left of High News.
I'°r a while Torgis ran the whole thing himself. His first move was to tell tlu‘ company that printed the paper they could he sure the printing hill would he covered by advertising each week. Some weeks it was as close as an hour to press time before enough ads were sold to throw the lever on another edition of High News.
Torgis sold the paper instead of giving it. away. He convinced adverI isers it was a good high-crowd medium. He wrapped papers, wrote editorials, sold ads and held his breath when High News came close to disaster.
The Hard Work Formula
1 orgis tried to enlist and couldn’t.
!• rom the outside he looked fine hut a medical hoard didn’t like his history.
Today High News is thriving. The old uncertainty is gone. Torgis is an established businessman. He has married Helen Marjorie Deall, his “steady” at Parkdale Collegiate. They have one son, horn in March. He has a four-room apartment and all hills paid to date. Presently he hopes to buy a new car. Just how much he takes out of the High News till he won’t say. Most of the profits have to he plowed back.
“Hard work, that’s what made this paper a success,” says Torgis. He thinks a refusal to take “no” for an answer, resourcefulness and selling ability have helped him and are useful to any young fellow starting out.
His own selling technique is now based on letters. He rarely makes personal calls. When he is selling an advertising contract he writes a letter.
He spends hours on it even though it may he only half a page in length.
“1 feel that in a letter you have the floor for the length of time the prospect is reading and if you make the letter good enough he will read it. If you’re sitting there talking to him he can interrupt with questions hut the letter tells its story completely and at once,” says Torgis.
He recently sold a $7,000 advertising contract to a Toronto firm by letter. Another reason he prefers to use the mails is that businessmen might not have the proper respect for Publisher Torgis when they see boyish-looking Bill Torgis.
When he got the paper on its feet Torgis started to build up a permanent staff, all young, all inexperienced. Now he has 17 employees, none with a background of reporting or newspaper administration. Neither had Torgis. His mind is untrammeled by conventional concepts of the proper way to run a paper.
Fie evolves his own edicts, such as fobidding staffers to use the first person, singular. Nobody on High News says, “I got an ad.” It is always, “We got an ad.” Or, “Now we’ll maybe get a filing cabinet.” Or words to that effect. Egotism, on High News, is not encouraged.
The paper’s initial proclamation, in 1940,read:
“We believe in democracy.”
“We believe in Canada.”
“We believe in ourselves, the younger generation.”
At the same time, Torgis willingly admits he prefers to hire young persons who have some of their rosy optimism removed by a year or so of business life. Kids fresh from school, he has found, are a hit too apt to be fresh kids until somebody tells them about the facts of business life.
But his editorial, radio and administrative section leaders are all under his own age. Alan Hassel, 21, is managing editor and supervisor of the Toronto edition; Bev Weaver, 23, takes care of the Ontario edition; Joe Duffin, only 19, manages the Montreal office. Circulation manager is 23-year-old Alan Smith; Murray Mark, 22, handles advertising, and Wes Cox, 24, is radio director.
“1 don’t want anyone on the paper older than I am. As I grow older we will raise the age limit for employees, hut we always want to keep the viewpoint youthful,” he says.
Of course, when Bill Torgis gets on in years, say around 35, he will have to make a decision about the age limit.
“I hope by that time we will have a couple of other publications and I can retire from High News and turn it over to a younger editorial board,” he says.
On the Air, Too
The paper puts three radio shows on the air: “High Variety,” a one-hour program on Saturdays; “High News Reel,” Monday to Friday at 5.45, and “High News Hit Parade,” at 5.15.
High Variety is something described as a “fun show.” There is a guiding master of ceremonies; otherwise the program is entirely teen-age. “High News Reel” is a straight news service to students. “High News Hit Parade” salutes a youth centre somewhere in the Toronto area, and plays favorite records for the youngsters.
High News, Torgis believes, has expedited assignment to students of a larger share in the government of their schools. Teen-agers, he is sure, are capable of managing their own affairs to a reasonable extent, subjec't to some degree of mature guidance. They want responsibility, the right to make their own decisions.
The youthful publisher believes he has a torch to bear. Toronto highschool boys, polled for their ideas on reducing juvenile delinquency, gave him one lead. The boys felt the best way to keep youngsters out of trouble was to persuade parents to take more interest in their offspring. They said, in fact, they would like to be given a place in their own homes. Their inference was that tlie Canadian home, in their experience, had become more of a hotel and tourist house than the focal point of mutual family interest. Torgis’ paper brings the kids’ doings to the parents’ attention in print.
So what, William Henry? Politics?
“No! I don’t want to feel I’m tied down. I think I can do more with High News.”
William Henry Torgis’ self-avowed mission in life is to prove youth is not an annoying, though fortunately transitory ailment, hut a condition of mind and body well worth preserving.
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