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Toronto Sun Rises at 40 as Newspapers Fade

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Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the birth of the Toronto Sun, and yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the last edition of the 95-year-old Toronto Telegram.

For those of us who started the Sun, it was important that there be no gap in the closing of one venerable newspaper, and the start of a cheeky tabloid -- with only the Sunday (Oct. 31, 1971) available for full time production of a new newspaper.

It worked. The first 48-page Sun came with a lot of advertisers wanting to be in the first edition, but not so many keen on being in the second edition.

Of 1,200 Telegram employees suddenly out of a job, some 62 came with the Sun. Others found jobs at the new Montreal Express which started after the Sun, and soon folded. More unemployed newspaper folk.

At the time there was mourning at the demise of the Tely. It was considered remarkable that the Tely lasted as long as it did -- three newspapers in one city was rare. The liberal Toronto Star was more in tune with the country than the conservative Tely, especially with Trudeaumania sweeping Canada.

Anyway, the Sun succeeded. Over the past 40 years it has become something of an institution in Toronto -- beloved by some, despised by others, but always competitive, periodically incestuous, often irritatingly cheerful, occasionally naughty, and ever determined to be itself and to hell with what critics think.

The Sun has endured five different owners -- each one paying more for the paper than the previous owner. The Sun Media chain is the largest in the country. Yet the Sun still kicks shins -- the CBC has always been a favourite target, but these days more than ever, especially when the CBC refuses to release details of how it spends the billion dollars it gets from the taxpayer and is accountable to no one.

With print journalism under siege these days, many wonder if there's a future in newspapers. The Internet, Facebook and email have changed the impact of hard news. Today, a breaking story is old news by the time it's published in a newspaper. New methods have to be devised to attract readers.

It was sort of that way when the Tely went under, with TV supposedly threatening print journalism. The Sun inadvertently caught the wave, and adapted to TV -- short stories, self-deprecatory, personalized, candid, admitting errors, involving readers in what we were doing, standing up for the little guy. That sort of thing.

The Sun has changed over 40 years, but some things remain constant -- like answers to letters, even though letters are longer now than then. A mistake, I think.

Economizing has reduced the Sun staff closer to what it was when we started. But there's no escaping that the first duty of a newspaper is to survive, and to survive it has to make money. Who (except the CBC) can argue with that?

Most of us at the Sun like one another. We seem to have few bullies or out-of-control egos among middle management -- in itself an oddity in newspapers

Personally, I think the fuss made about day-oners has been overdone. Anecdotes about the "good old days" are inevitable, but what isn't realized is that 10 or 20 years down the road, the "good old days" are now, being lived by this generation for tall tales by the next generation of newspaper people -- God and the economy willing!