I've found the quickest way to bore my young colleagues (and the majority of them are all young, as in 20- and barely-30-somethings) is to tell them about the "olden days" of Canadian newspapers, the world in which I grew up.
Gather around, kiddies, while I tell ye a story about the times when the type was hot lead and rewrite was only a call away from a phone booth ...
My parents, step-parents, and later, my husband and in-laws, all were involved in some aspect of Canadian media. My earliest memories as a child recall visiting the newsroom of the now-defunct Toronto Telegram, where my mother was a reporter, my father a news editor, my future step-father was a famous foreign correspondent, and my future step-mother worked on "the rim" -- the now comically outdated desk where the articles were "mocked up" on sheets of paper, with wax pencils, before being sent on to the "composing room," an equally vanished department where unionized teams of men laid out the articles in individual lead letters. Sometimes they would give a couple of these letters to my brother and me to play with. Then everything went to the massive printing press, housed in the same building (after which my parents drove me home atop their dinosaur).
That whole world now seems like something out of Mad Men:
The Tely newsroom, circa 1960s. The man in the foreground is my father, the late Max Crittenden. He is editing copy by hand -- an article that has been typed by a reporter on a manual typewriter, with duplicates made from carbon sheets. (Fun fact, kids: CC on your emails stands for "carbon copy"). Note the ash trays on every desk. And why does Dad have two telephones you might wonder? Because that's how you had two lines!
My childhood spanned the end of that era, through the launch of the Toronto Sun, (of which my step-father -- and now HuffPost contributor! -- Peter Worthington, was a founder), and eventually into the computer generation. The original Sun building was located in an old warehouse on King Street West, ominously named "The Eclipse" building. I was nine or 10 when the Sun started: as with the old Tely, few places were more fun to a kid than a newsroom. The adults -- many not entirely sober, even in the middle of the day -- gave you a lot of slack. They didn't mind if you bashed away at empty typewriters, watched the wire stories mysteriously appear on the old teletype machines (like player pianos, the printer keys moved as if by the fingers of ghosts), or rode up and down in the ancient lurching elevator, punching the clunky black buttons.
So imagine how funny -- how evocative! -- it is for me now to find myself in a warehouse only a few blocks away from the Eclipse building, in a start-up newsroom with its own lurching elevator.
Oh yes, it's way sleeker than my memory of that first Sun newsroom. Most of the clothing factories have left the King and Spadina area, and customers now swirl pasta and sip Chardonnay in the spaces where the cheap Mad Men suits were once manufactured. Our newsroom, as some Globe wags have noted, looks more like a trendy advertising agency. There are modernist sofas, edgy exposed wood beams, write-on walls, and Orwellian TV monitors everywhere playing silenced loops of AOL programming. We also have a fabulous Yuppie coffee maker (the kind that grinds its own beans -- big difference from the watery brown goo that was shot out of automatic dispensers in newsrooms of yore).
But -- and can I say this without sounding corny? -- the spirit of this young HuffPost feels very much the same. Those of you who have ever been lucky enough to be part of a start-up have experienced the energy, the long hours, the excitement, the fear, the sense of mission and purpose, and maybe above all, the team bonding that takes place in such an environment. I remember those early Tely-cum-Sun employees as a fun, happy bunch (and as my mother has often pointed out, few people make better company than a band of reporters, especially after-hours). Every time I walk in to the Huffpost offices, I feel that same esprit de corps. And unlike the photo above, it ain't just a bunch of white guys in skinny ties and rolled up shirtsleeves. People might sometimes bitch -- but they wouldn't want to work anywhere else.
HP Canada's newsroom, May 23, 2012: from left to right, Senior News Editor Brodie Fenlon, summer intern Meredith Gillies, and Lifestyle's Managing Editor Lisa Yeung.
So sure, our articles might now be called "blogs," and our sections "verticals," our columns "rails," our letters-to-the-editor "comments" and the front page the "home page." The digital Huffpost empire is growing so rapidly and internationally (old school: we've launched foreign editions) that it may be safe to call it the most innovative media company currently operating in the world.
In the end, our success will all come down to the same old thing: our ability to get the news more quickly to you than anyone else; great human interest stories; informed and original opinions; a wide selection of topics, from politics to lifestyle to business to travel.
What was true for paper is true for pixels. Maybe the big, and real, difference between the two, however, is what we now call "community" -- or what was once known as "readership." The first is infinitely better -- vaster, more inclusive, and more democratic. When Arianna launched the mothership site in 1995, she revolutionized the way we interact with our news and opinion sources. Yes, other sites had "commenters" -- similar to the old letters pages -- but Arianna made the relationship way more personal. Suddenly you could comment on anything from a celebrity's wardrobe malfunction to the war in Iraq. And her philosophy was always to encourage the reader to become even more involved: Tell me about yourself. Tell me what you want to read. And most famously, to anyone she felt had something to say -- young or old, left or right, famous or not famous -- "Why don't you blog for us?"
It's that spirit of inclusiveness that I've tried to replicate in my bailiwick here -- the blog and opinion rails (or what my team -- the amazing duo of Blogs Editor Angelina Chapin and Assistant Blogs Editor Devon Murphy -- call "Blog Town"). We're proud that you'll find Conrad Black sharing space with Elizabeth May, or David Suzuki with bloggers from Ethical Oil, or the leaders and representatives from all the political parties taking the opportunity to get their views directly to their readers. We also love the new "Change My Mind" debate feature, in which opposites go head-to-head over any given issue, and you the reader can decide who you thought was the most persuasive.
We now have some 800 contributors -- with new ones added each day. We are grateful for every single one of them. Together they have built a virtual town square of civilized debate, in which all are welcome to participate. (Come to think of it, why aren't you blogging for us? If you have something to say, contact me at: Danielle.Crittenden@huffingtonpost.com.)
It is -- and has been -- a most exciting ride for us all here. I'm honoured to be a part of Team Canada.
Happy First Birthday, colleagues, contributors, and readers. Thank you for joining us in this adventure. And please bring your friends!
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