PRESS

A new lineup

Changes raise questions at The Globe and Mail

BARRY CAME February 13 1989
PRESS

A new lineup

Changes raise questions at The Globe and Mail

BARRY CAME February 13 1989

A new lineup

Changes raise questions at The Globe and Mail

PRESS

It was planned as a gracious farewell, a gesture in keeping with all of the best traditions of Toronto’s venerable Globe and Mail newspaper. Staff members gathered on a Saturday night at a mansion in the city’s posh Rosedale district, invited there by the paper’s new editor-in-chief, William

Thorsell, ostensibly to say goodbye to departing editor Norman Webster. Many present said later that they had expected Webster to pass the torch politely to his successor but, in an eloquent, sometimes emotional, address, he confirmed the widespread rumors that he had, in fact, been forced out of the editor’s chair by publisher Roy Megarry. And, far from expressing confidence in the Globe's new editorial management, he added that he felt a “profound sense of disquiet” about the future of the daily that describes itself as Canada’s national newspaper. The shocks did not end there. Geoffrey Stevens, the Globe’s managing editor and Webster’s longtime deputy, told the assembly that he too had been relieved of his position.

Webster’s candid remarks shattered the genteel pretence that the Globe’s senior management had maintained since Jan. 5, when a

notice pinned to the newsroom bulletin board announced the end of Webster’s 5V2-year tenure as editor. At the time, Megarry said that Webster was stepping down to take a yearlong sabbatical and that he would return to the newspaper to write a foreign affairs column. The announcement stunned many Globe staff

members, even though reports of a growing rift between the 47-year-old editor and Megarry, who turns 52 this week, had persisted for months. Reports of Stevens’s dismissal, and Webster’s speech at the Saturday night gathering, raised concerns among Globe employees that further firings might be in store—and that the purging of senior editorial members signalled an impending change in the newspaper’s overall style and direction. There was speculation that Megarry might want the Globe to move more heavily into business reporting and away from the political coverage and investigative reporting that have been among the Globe’s traditional areas of strength. Megarry did not return repeated calls from Maclean ’s.

The new lineup that was disclosed on the following Monday morning did little to quell the apprehensions. Thorsell acknowledged that he

had asked Stevens, a veteran of 24 years with the Globe, to step down as managing editor and return to an unspecified senior writing position. Stevens has said that he will take a vacation and consider his future. Thorsell also announced that Timothy Pritchard would replace Stevens as managing editor. Moving into Pritchard’s former position as editor of the newspaper’s “Report on Business” section is business columnist Peter Cook. Both Pritchard and Cook are regarded within the newspaper as political conservatives, as is Thorsell himself. Globe insiders said that the three new men were far more in tune with Megarry’s own views than either of the two departing executives.

In contrast to the reaction following Megarry’s dismissal of Webster, neither Webster nor Stevens made any attempt to disguise their feelings about the changes. Webster, in a frank

comment that the Globe published, declared, “This is an appalling, shabby and stupid way to treat the best managing editor in the country.” Stevens told Maclean’s that he was “shocked and surprised” when Thorsell told him that Pritchard was replacing him. Stevens added that Megarry had personally assured him early in January that his job was secure. In a brief, handwritten statement Stevens issued as he was cleaning out his desk, he cautioned Globe staff members to be prepared for more changes. “This firing is only the second shoe,” Stevens wrote, “and Roy Megarry has as many in his closet as Brian Mulroney.”

Many other members of the Globe's staff seem to agree, although few were willing to say so publicly. Heading the list of those whose jobs were believed to be in jeopardy were columnist and social activist June Callwoood and deputy managing editor Shirley Sharzer. Insiders also speculated that other changes might be in store for columnists Thomas Walkom, Michael Valpy, Stevie Cameron and Jeffrey Simpson. Valpy, who writes a column on Toronto municipal affairs, acknowledged the rumors, but said that he had been assured that his column would continue. Valpy said that, in the future, the scope of his column would likely be widened to deal with urban affairs on a national basis. Simpson, too, confirmed that he had been invited to take up a new position as associate editor but had declined. “I told Bill [Thorseil] I was flattered,” Simpson said, “but I had no interest whatsoever.”

The changes may also signal a shift in the editorial direction of one of Canada’s most respected dailies. Said Senator Richard Doyle, a former Globe editor-in-chief: “I’m always uneasy when there is sudden change and obvious distress among the staff as there appears to be at the moment. I might be more concerned if I could perceive a shift in emphasis, where for instance The Wall Street Journal was the model rather than The New York Times. ”

Megarry’s ultimate strategy in getting rid of Webster and Stevens, with their impeccable credentials, may indeed be to move the Globe towards a heavier concentration on business and financial affairs. Although Megarry was not available for comment, it is widely known that the Northern Ireland-born publisher disapproves of the amount of space that the Globe currently devotes to local Toronto and regional Ontario affairs, sports and entertainment. Last fall, he outlined his ideas for a reorganization of the Globés editorial department in a confidential three-page memo sent to Webster. In that document, he stressed the central importance of the “Report on Business” section in the Globés future. He even specified such physical details as mandating that the business editor’s office be equal in dimensions to that of the managing editor.

In the opinion of some insiders, it was Webster’s lack of enthusiasm for Megarry’s proposed reorganization that sealed his fate. Relations between the publisher and his senior editors had been deteriorating ever since Stevens hired reporter Barbara Yaffe last year to run the Globés Vancouver bureau. When Megarry vetoed the hiring, Yaffe launched a $ 1.2million lawsuit against the paper for breach of contract. Megarry was incensed and told Webster last summer that he wanted to fire Stevens. Webster responded by telling Megarry that if Stevens went, he would go too. As one staff member close to the principal figures remarked, on condition of anonymity: “That was the beginning of the end. The Yaffe affair poisoned the well. From then on, it was only a matter of time.”

In view of subsequent events at the Globe, there was a certain irony in the fact that Megarry, Webster and Stevens were scheduled to appear this week in St. John’s, Nfld., at the preliminary stages of Yaffe’s lawsuit. The three were not planning to fly down together.

BARRY CAME