NEWSROOM MEMORIES: Timothy Renshaw, managing editor

Positions at the paper: Reporter, restaurant reviewer, managing editor

Years at the North Shore News: 1985-2000

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Current position: Managing editor at Business in Vancouver

Editor’s dispatch from the 1990s North Shore News movable feast. Warning to readers with food allergies and sensitive stomachs: some items on offer could prove difficult to digest.

Appetizers, entrees and daily specials include fashion-forward Sunshine Girls, thick-skinned columnists, dour press council decisions and raw censorship debates. For some, there might also be a few just deserts.

In short, that North Shore News movable feast on most days was a robust and spicy meal.

The editorial kitchen was therefore similar to other commercial kitchens preparing dishes for a diverse audience: hot, oft-times chaotic, air thick with the danger of egos being bruised from unpasteurized diner feedback.

Not a place for the faint of heart. Nor likely would it have been a place permitted to remain uncensored were it somehow to be airlifted into the social media age.

Consider, for example, the aforementioned Sunshine Girl feature. Its origins predated my editorial watch, but it really began to offend the easily offended in the 1990s.

Maybe they were upset that not all of the girls featured were from the North Shore. Truth be told: some were from out of town! And some were, shall we say, less inhibited than the girl next door.

The News by then was becoming a lightning rod for local and regional controversy on several fronts, so the writing was on the wall for the Sunshine Girl feature. Even the addition of a Sunshine Boy could not save it.

Best, perhaps, that it was sent packing by the forces of enlightenment. Hymns from their community newspaper choir book preached neighbourhood harmony and cohesion.

No argument there.

Harmony and cohesion are far less taxing on editorial kitchen blood pressure. But ensuring that Anti-Saloon Leaguers and other self-righteous meddlers don’t outlaw debate over difficult issues requires more than harmony and cohesion. A bit of bare-knuckle boxing, for starters.

So there was more than cheeky Sunshine in News pages back then.

The paper employed at various times during the 1990s a stable of columnists who kept readers plugged into that debate and aware of how easily lost their hard-won freedom of expression can be.

Stable stalwarts included Greenpeace original and environmental activist Bob Hunter; author, longtime daily newspaper columnist and former member of Parliament Paul St. Pierre; former provincial court judge Les Bewley; radio hot-liner Gary Bannerman; independent MLA David Mitchell; right-of-centre feminist Ilana Mercer; eloquent Vancouver Sun columnist Trevor Lautens; News eminence grise Noel Wright; and, of course, Doug Collins.

Wright, it should be noted here, was integral to the development of the North Shore News’ persona. The former public relations man, photographer, linguist and senior intelligence officer with the British occupation forces in post-war Germany was big on debunking views held by those not much interested in thinking for themselves.

But, of course, the conductor at the head of this controversial choir of edgy opinion spinners was News founder Peter Speck.

No room in this space to discuss the complexities of working for Mr. Speck. Let’s just say that, for him, running a community newspaper was as much about fighting bad bills and hounding tax-happy governments from office as it was about making money.

That made things uncomfortable for editorial kitchen staff; especially for an editor who was also working a restaurant beat that included reviews of local hospital food and digesting threats of legal action over dining reviews that were not always four-star approvals.

It also generated a string of press council hearings targeting the News and later a costly human rights tribunal that drained company financial resources and divided opinions within and without the newspaper.

The newspaper’s readership became a large part of the movable feast here. It put its money where its newspaper’s mouth was by contributing roughly $200,000 in volunteer donations to help fund the three-year fight against the tribunal’s attempts to criminalize opinion.

That will likely never be duplicated here or anywhere else in this age of under-thinking, over-reacting and information degradation.

Nor will the run of drama, debate, vitriol, vilification and adulation that was directed at the North Shore News in the 1990s.

It was a rich and raucous meal.

I’m still digesting it. ◆

This story was included in our 50th Anniversary Issue, published Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. Click here for more stories from this special edition of the North Shore News.

 

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