Press

If one of them-Star or Gazette-has to go, it won’t be quietly

ROBERT MILLER March 21 1977
Press

If one of them-Star or Gazette-has to go, it won’t be quietly

ROBERT MILLER March 21 1977

If one of them-Star or Gazette-has to go, it won’t be quietly

Press

At a time when most anglophone institutions in Quebec are keeping their heads down, if not running for cover, the two English-language newspapers in Montreal are suddenly making more noise than they have in years. Aware that they’re sitting on the Canadian story of the decade and worried that perhaps the town may not prove big enough for both of them, the morning Gazette and the evening Star are in the midst of an old-fashioned shootout. Both have new senior management in their newsrooms, each is raiding the other’s staff for talent and neither is asking or giving any quarter—all this despite the fact that they are controlled by rival chains that have reached uneasy truces in other Canadian cities.

On the face of it, the battle for Englishlanguage readers in Montreal looks like a mismatch. The Montreal Star has a higher circulation, a bigger staff and a bigger news budget than The Gazette. The Star (circulation: 160,000 Monday-to-Friday,

212,000 Saturdays) is also considerably slicker than The Gazette (120,000 Monday through Saturday). Furthermore, it has the immense benefit of access to such quality foreign news services as The New York Times, the Los A ngeles TimesWashington Post syndicate, the London Observer and the London Daily Telegraph. The Gazette, on the other hand, must make do with straight wire-service copy, fleshed out by its parent group’s paper-thin Southam News Service and the weak Chicago Daily News syndicate.

Both Southam Press Ltd., owners of The Gazette, and FP Publications, of the Star, are rich organizations, a fact that helps explain the costly bullets the pape have been firing at each other. Gazette publisher Ross Munro, 60, says his mandate, when he arrived in Montreal 14 months ago from the Edmonton Journal, was “to make The Gazette as good a newspaper as possible.” After sizing up the Montreal market and attending night school to polish his rusty French, Munro went on a hiring binge. He reached all the way to The Toronto Star for an editor—veteran all-rounder Mark Harrison, 52, who had done virtually every job but bundle the papers onto trucks during his 28 years with Canada’s biggest newspaper. Originally skeptical about moving to Montreal (his French is less than superb), Harrison says his mind was made up by the November 15 provincial election, which saw the Parti Québécois sweep to power. “I felt like Errol Flynn, in that scene from They Died With Their Boots On,” Harrison said

after his appointment was announced. “You know, when the adjutant went into Custer’s tent, told him the Sioux had attacked and asked what were the orders. ‘We ride,’ Flynn said, ‘toward the sound of the guns.’ ”

Instead of riding into battle in defense of national unity, though, Harrison has been riding against the Star. One of his first moves was to lure Geoffrey Stevenson, 33, to be his managing editor. Stevenson, an assistant managing editor at The Toronto Sfarwho had been detached from his regular Saturday editorship to plan a possible Sunday edition, had grown weary of producing newspapers that nobody but his superiors ever saw, and jumped at the offer. Harrison raided The Montreal Star for his new city editor, hiring Star assistant managing editor Don Foley, who is so bilingual that Munro says he “speaks English with a French accent.” The Gazette then picked off Hubert Bauch from the Toronto Globe

and Mail for its Quebec City bureau, appointed veteran political writer Richard Daignault Sr. as its Quebec bureau chief and named ex-Montreal Star staffer Mike Gouthreau photo editor. Says Harrison: “I still need an Ottawa bureau chief.” He also needs more home newsroom talent, and concedes that, at the moment, The Gazette is a long way from being the “good newspaper” he has been assigned to produce.

Harrison’s task will not be made any easier by the rejuvenation across town. The Montreal Star, too, has undergone reorganization. It has a new publisher, William Goodson, who moved up from the president’s chair to succeed chairman Derek Price. Editor-in-chief Frank Walker, who a decade ago went out and hired the best francophone reporters he could find and therefore gave the Star a huge advantage over The Gazette, meantime has restructured his newsroom.

Responsibility for the paper’s contents has been handed to new managing editor Raymond Heard, 40. Heard, a South African, was hired from the London Observer, where he was assistant editor. But Heard was no stranger to the Star, or Montreal. From 1964 until 1973 he’d been the Star’s Washington bureau chief and had spent the three previous years working for the paper in Montreal. A Harvard graduate, Heard is a no-nonsense professional— “Our role here is to explain, analyze and project the news... We are consciously setting out to explain to the anglophone community what is going on in French Canada.”

Like Harrison, Heard has been reaching out for new staffers wherever he can find them. He has hired editorial writer Irwin Block from The Gazette and assigned him to Quebec. Glen Allen, a former Gazette and Maclean ’s reporter, has been hired as a feature writer. Heard has also hired former Gazette city editor Jim Peters away from Maclean’s and appointed him an assistant managing editor.

There is a general feeling that, sooner or later, one of the papers will emerge a clear winner in Montreal’s English-language marketplace, with possible grave consequences for the loser. Some observers suggest that in the long run Southam and FP will reach an accommodation in Montreal, perhaps like the one they reached in Vancouver where FP’s afternoon Sun shares a building with Southam’s morning Province. For the moment, though, as Munro puts it: “It’s premature even to consider such a thing [a Vancouver-type deal] here.” ROBERT MILLER