BUSINESS

A SMILE WITH A HARDENED EDGE

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 9 1998
BUSINESS

A SMILE WITH A HARDENED EDGE

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 9 1998

A SMILE WITH A HARDENED EDGE

BUSINESS

When The Toronto Ster tightened its belt in 1995, publisher John Honderich, declined a bonus of $122,000 to which he was entitled. Under the circumstances, he said, it would be inappropriate to accept. Still, his promotion from editor-in-chief seven months previously had given him an $83,000 raise, so he still came out ahead. To both admirers and critics, that marks a typical trait for the 52-year-old Honderich. “Even when he seems to lose,” says one longtime acquaintance, “he wins.”

That almost always seems true. As publisher—and member of a family that holds a 14.6-per-cent interest in Torstar—Honderich is one of the most powerful people in Canadian journalism. With his trademark bow tie, perpetual smile and lantern jaw, he is also one of its most recognizable. Despite a paycheque last year of $556,000 in salary

and bonuses, Honderich lives modestly in the Summerhill area of downtown Toronto. He is now separated from his wife, writer Katherine Govier; the couple has two teenage children—son Robin Christian, and daughter Emily Rose.

In his professional life, few others move as effortlessly and often between the worlds of everyday journalism and moneymaking as Honderich. Insiders at the Star believe he played a key role in last week’s move on Sun Media. “Nothing happens here that John does not have a hand in,” says one reporter. Unlike other major newspapers, the Star has not had an editor-in-chief since Honderich vacated the position. Honderich takes part in all major editorial decisions—as well as such aspects as meeting with advertisers. “John has made the Star a far more friendly place to advertisers than it used to be,” says Ann

Boden, president of the McKim Media Group division of BBDO in Toronto.

While such multiple roles are frowned on in journalism, Honderich escapes much criticism partly because of his background as a reporter. After receiving a law degree from the University of Toronto, he worked as a copyboy at the Ottawa Citizen in 1973. He joined the Star in 1976 and, over the years, worked as Ottawa bureau chief, Washington correspondent and in a variety of other jobs before becoming editor-in-chief in 1988. “John,” says broadcaster Pamela Wallin, a longtime friend, “is a terrific journalist. He would be a great boss at any newspaper under any circumstances.”

Colleagues caution that under his easy smile lies a competitive soul. As he said in an interview earlier this year: “No one should make the mistake of thinking the Star will not protect its turf. We know how to defend ourselves.” As Torstar showed last week, the best defence is still a good offence.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH