A little bit of thunder : the strange inner life of the Kingston Whig-Standard|
by Doug Fetherling
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by Allan Levine
WE LIVE at a time when nearly all the newspapers in Canada are owned by large and impersonal corporations such as Southam and Thomson, which routinely place financial considerations ahead of editorial quality. Until recently the Kingston Whig-Standard remained unaffected by this phenomenon. But much to the displeasure of many journalists and writers, including Douglas Fetherling, author of A Little Bit of Thunder: The Strange Inner Life of the Kingston Whig-Standard (Stoddart, 386 pages, $24.95 cloth), the newspaper was sold to Southam three years ago by the publisher, Michael Davies.
The Davies family had owned the newspaper since 1926, when the Liberal Daily Whig was amalgamated with the Conservative Kingston Standard by Davies`s grandfather Rupert, a colourful character and confidant of the Liberal prime minister Mackenzie King. As an astute newspaperman, Rupert Davies, who was made a senator in 1942, passed on to his sons (including the novelist Robertson Davies) a highly successful and respected business. But from an economic standpoint, absorption by one of the corporate chains, which had started gobbling up newspapers as early as the 1940s, was inevitable. With the sale of the Whig-Standard in 1990, the finest independent newspaper in Canada, in Fetherling`s view, was transformed into just another, if slightly above-average, chain newspaper in which quality writing was sacrificed in the name of the bottom tine.
As the literary editor of the WhigStandard during this tumultuous period, Fetherling, a prolific poet and writer, was in a good position to assess these dramatic changes. In fact, his entire chronicle of the WhigStandard`s saga is possibly the best book on the history of a Canadian newspaper to be published in some time. For the most part, it is a fascinatingly anecdotal as well as analytical account of journalistic fervour, business, and gossip.
It was, not surprisingly, the people who worked at the Whig-Standard, especially Michael Davies (who adopted what Fetherling approvingly refers to as a handsOff, 19th-century liberal capitalist approach) and Neil Reynolds, the eccentric, liberalminded, and apparently brilliant editor, who made the newspaper so unique. During its golden era, it was a daily journal whose investigative stories and influential editorials reached readers beyond the small cities and towns of Eastern Ontario, stirring up, as Fetherling puts it, "a little bit of thunder."