Today marks my tenth anniversary of becoming editor of The Interim, Canada’s life and family newspaper. I have a column about it in the August issue.
The column is a reflection on being at the helm of “Canada’s life and family newspaper” — it was “Canada’s pro-life, pro-family newspaper” when I came — and the culture we cover. A few other thoughts that didn’t make the dead tree version of the column.
One of the first things I did as editor was can columnist Michael Coren. I found his Interim contributions to too closely resemble those he wrote for the Sun newspaper chain. I soon found out that our readers either didn’t care or didn’t notice. Just because I read the major dailies did not mean that our readers did. A few years later I brought Coren back — and he graciously agreed to return to our pages — first to write a series on literary figures (Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Ronald Knox) and eventually are a regular columnist.
I also got rid of the regional columnists in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Ottawa and British Columbia — although we retain our Queen’s Park columnist because the majority of our readers are in Ontario. Our roster of bylined columnists has turned over quite a bit throughout the past decade and will probably continue to do so, as we work to find the right mix of voices to inform and entertain our readers — or different groups of readers. Rick McGinnis is one of the best entertainment writers period, but I understand that not every reader is going to appreciate the topics he covers because most Interim subscribers probably don’t watch many HBO and Showtime programs, although I think our internet readers do. My point was to find a quality writer with something to say about the media that wasn’t being said elsewhere and that went beyond “isn’t that biased” and “this is crap.”
Joe Campbell is a humour writer which some people find inappropriate for the pages of a paper that deals with moral decay, but he made the case quite convincingly that we have to laugh to maintain our sanity. Some pieces are more overtly pro-life and pro-family, others less so. My desire is that he makes readers smile and think and considering that he causes me to do those things, he is doing his job.
Not every story in the paper is going to be read or enjoyed by every reader. Understanding that fact has helped make The Interim better. My hope is that every issue has enough material — hard news, in-depth analysis, engaging columns, interesting features — to warrant people paying $40 a year for the paper, but just as subscribers to Time or the National Post certainly do not read every word of those publications, The Interim does not need to please or excite everyone on every page. Indeed, it would be difficult to do so. My other working assumption is that Interim readers do not mind reading. We have had suggestions to limit the word count on stories because people do not like to read much. People in general might not, but people who subscribe to papers do. If a story is too long they can skip it or, more likely, scan it and move on. That’s all right. My philosophy is that stories should be as long as they need to be to sufficiently cover the material they hope to cover. This isn’t USA Today: we do not need to cram an important story into 500 words alongside an infographic.
My hope for The Interim is that each issue of the paper will be the best it has ever offered. We often come up short, but I follow the philosophy of former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser who wanted to pitch a perfect game every time it was his turn to pitch; when he allowed a hit or a walk, the rest of the game would be perfect. Surely it is no coincidence that he holds the Major League record for most consecutive scoreless innings. When The Interim comes up short, we try to make sure as much of the paper is as perfect as possible and the next outing will be even better. That is the best route to making a great paper.
I did not grow up wanting to be the editor of The Interim or even a newspaper editor. I went to journalism school hoping to eventually write about politics and perhaps if I was particularly fortunate, someday a regular column. (I get to do both with this paper. The best thing about being editor is assigning stories and taking the topics that most interest me; I get all the politics stories and first dibs for book reviews.) After graduating from J-school, I did a lot of freelance news and column writing, for daily newspapers and religious publications, including with The Interim (whose editorial advisory board I joined in 1998). I thought I was writing for religious papers and magazines and The Interim because it provided me some meagre but regular cheques for writing between those occasional big daily paper columns that paid 3-5 times more and had a certain prestige: “look, mom, I’m in the (fill in the blank).” One day I was writing a guest column for the Hamilton Spectator on Paul Martin’s latest budget when I realized that those guest columns about politics were effectively subsidizing my writing on more important topics — the topics covered by The Interim.
On August 8, 2001, I was hired to become co-interim editor, to replace an editor who was just getting the July issue to bed. Over the next four months, we worked to get a new paper out every three weeks instead of the usual monthly schedule. Trial by fire. My employers like the work we did, and by the end of the year, I was named editor-in-chief. There were a lot of long nights — 36-48 hour marathons in which the editorial team and production manager, Dave Bolton (who is still doing our layout), worked to get the paper out in a more timely manner. Since August 2001, we have hit every one of our deadlines except one. We were supposed to get the September 12, 2001, but we did not feel like staying up all night September 11 to get the paper out. We needed to go home to be with our families and hug our kids. We went to press September 13.
It has been a priviledge to editor Canada’s life and family newspaper — to be responsible for the pro-life and as I explain in the August issue, hope to do so for a long time.