Friday, June 16, 2006

The dog that didn’t bark

I am somewhat confused by the unadulterated praise for the late Ken Thomson, citing his (a) business acumen (b) philanthropy (c) common touch (d) love of art (e) love of dogs, in particular walking his own among the common folk of Rosedale (and seeing to the scooping personally).

Not that any of this tribute is untrue or undeserved, but where are the oft-told tales of the legendary parsimony at Thomson Newspapers, the bits of grit around which the pearl necklace of the Thomson empire was built?

Where are the anecdotes related by reporters who had worked on Thomson papers, poured into the credulous ears of journalism students such as myself? Anecdotes such as reporters being required to turn in a dry ballpoint pen before being issued another. Black humour (no pun intended) along the lines of: if Thomson managers could figure out how to use both sides of a piece of toilet paper, it would be company policy.

Perhaps over the past decade or so Thomson has been eclipsed by Conrad Black as the gold standard of malevolent media ownership, allowing Thomson Newspapers’ bean-counting to fade into the mists of memory. And to be sure, having to beg a supply clerk for a 25-cent Bic hardly compares to being described by your owner thus: “My experience with journalists authorises me to record that a very large number of them are ignorant, lazy, opinionated, intellectually dishonest and inadequately supervised.” (My favourite epigram about Conrad Black has always been former Saturday Night editor John Fraser’s observation that “If Conrad Black didn’t exist, journalists would have to invent him in order to have someone to be fearful of.”)

But for there to be almost no mention of the penny-pinching at Thomson? Odd.

Reading Thomson’s obits, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the initial flurry of obituaries after Richard Nixon’s death in 1994, which highlighted his achievements after leaving the White House in 1974, and the regard in which he was held at his death. Within days there was a bit of a push back from boomer journalists and commentators along the lines of, “Er, sorry to spoil the wake, but didn’t this man try to subvert the constitution, and resign in disgrace after the House Judiciary Committee recommended that he be impeached?”

I wonder if there will be any similar correctives offered on Thomson. Only time will tell.


Brian Lemon said...

I remember Sir Kenneth bringing his grandkids to receptions for the free food.

David A. Giles said...


Check out Les MacPherson's column in yesterday's Saskatoon StarPhoenix on the exact issue you raise:

"I speak here from personal experience. I worked for the Prince Albert Daily Herald for a few years back in the 1970s, when it was part of the Thomson newspaper chain. This was the meanest, cheapest organization I've ever known."

Anonymous said...

acid tongue may i be, but being a penny pincher is worth more to the community in the long run than a blantly cut throat pin stripe bay fuck not giving back to his neigbhourhood. thanks joan!

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