Saturday, September 21, 2013

That's All Folks (for now)

Loyal readers of my column in the Calgary Sun (all six of you) may have noticed I’ve been missing in action for the past two weekend papers.

About ten days ago I got a call from my editor. It is never good news when your editor calls you. Sometimes it’s not good news about your editor – in my almost 17 years at the Calgary Sun I have outlived at least six editors by my count.

In this case, it was about the dreaded cutbacks the newspaper industry has been going through since about forever. Newspapers everywhere are convinced they can cut their way to prosperity. I lost my last editor to staffing cutbacks.

“You’re one of our more popular columns,” my editor told me, “and I know I’ll get letters, but I’ve been told to cut back on freelancers.”

The funny thing is that even though I have appeared weekly in the Calgary Sun every Saturday since 1997 in almost 900 columns, I have never had a written contract or agreement with them. I declined to sign their standard freelancer agreement on several occasions since it was one of those “here’s your smallish cheque – we now own everything you create” type legal documents. I was told there were only two of us in the whole Sun chain who got away with declining to sign over all rights in our columns.

Still, the Calgary Sun was always very good to me. My editors were all nice and supportive people. They let me write about anything I liked and never censored me. Mostly, I never heard from them. I just sent in my columns and they were printed. If I haven’t said thanks to them, let me say it now – thanks.

They didn’t even mind that I was from Toronto – a fact I never hid but never really emphasized either.

They even let me be me – a tolerant small “l” liberal. And the oddest thing happened – I discovered that Calgary is full of like-minded people who don’t always fit the perception of some of the noisier Sun-reading Calgarians seen in the rest of Canada. Ezra – I’m looking at you. 

And no - my departure wasn't about my politics, which I don't think anyone at The Sun took any notice of, in spite a couple of dedicated right-wing basement bloggers who felt my mere presence at the Calgary Sun was an affront to right wing nut jobs everywhere.

Even though being a columnist has never been my day job, it does become habit forming. Before the Calgary Sun I wrote a weekly column for the Toronto Sun, the London Free Press and The National Post going back to 1993. 

I have to say I’ve enjoyed not writing to deadline the last couple of weeks, but I’ve missed it too.

I’m also pleased that I’ve already had another paper express an interest in picking up my column. We’ll see how that goes.

Plus there’s this blog, Twitter and an unfinished novel or two. I'll post some of my favourite columns on this blog and maybe even assemble them into a book. My last collection of columns published in book (and e-book) form was in 2005, so I have some catching up to do.

Anyway – thanks to my readers and the Calgary Sun for a great run. You guys are great.