Sherbrooke Daily Record

Basic journalism in twenty pages or less

Reporters and editors learned their craft largely on the job in the days before journalism schools, and small newspapers like the Record were the main training grounds. Country correspondents working out of their homes Correspondents' handbook Reporters' handbook tended to concentrate mostly on social events, and often felt they didn't have the expertise to cover harder news events, like fires and major accidents. So in 1960, I wrote a 16-page handbook (left) for their guidance. It was produced by the paper's job-printing department, and sent out to all correspondents. It included sections on newspaper terms, timeliness, information required, style, preparing copy and editing. In 1962, news editor GERRY McDUFF and I collaborated on a similar handbook for reporters (right). It had 20 pages, and in addition to much of the basic journalistic information in the correspondents booklet, included sections on libel, the courts, and the Canadian Press, Canada's co-operative news agency. At the back, there was a bibliography of the latest journalism textbooks. The purpose of both handbooks was to improve both the quantity and quality of regional coverage, and maintain consistency.

After two years, it was time to move on to something better

The reporting staff in the Sherbrooke newsroom was small: usually four people, sometimes five, occasionally three. And there was always a high turnover. By the 1960's, new reporters were not expected to stay more than a maximum of two years before moving on to better jobs. Those that showed promise were encouraged; those that did not were advised, as gently as possible, to find another line of work.

Dozens of reporters worked at the Record during the years I also worked there. Here are the names of many of them, in rough chronological order starting in 1953:

Arnold Baron, Larry Moore, Carol Witty, Warren Spafford, Betty Bradshaw, Elaine Smith, Gerald McDuff, Pat Bougie, Dan Caron, Paul Whitelaw, Irwin Block, Jim Davies, Doug Whatley, Claude Lebrecque, Jim McAllister, Nick Powell, Norman Webster, Alison Schoenfeld, Karl Kramer, Sandra Pickford, Malcolm Reid, David Webster, Barbara Stevenson, Paul Waters, Ted Beaudoin, Mike Daigneault, Claude Adams, Dennis Finlay, Peter Verral, Dick Nutbrown, John McCaghey, David Allnutt, Len Ryan, Margaret Smith.

The newsroom wasn't unionized, there was no overtime or pension plan, reporters' pay was low and hours long. Mostly the reporters were energetic young men and women (many even in their late teens) with a talent for writing. They were eager to learn and we tried to turn all of this into a virtue by running the newsroom as a kind of school as well as a professional organization.

I and other senior newspeople used our contacts on larger papers and with news agencies to move reporters onwards and upwards when we thought they were ready. A few months after I left the Record in 1968, the Montreal Gazette hired away the paper's entire four-man reporting staff and the news editor. The recruiting was done by the Gazette's city editor, MIKE DAIGNEAULT, himself a former Record reporter.

Cash prize for month's best reporting

The handbook was one tool in this whole process; another was a Story of the Month competition started in the mid-1960's. A prize of $10 cash went to the winner, as announced in a mimeographed newsletter I wrote and had distributed throughout the plant. Here's a typical one:

The award goes to Dick Nutbrown, who tore himself away from the middle of an NHL game on TV one frigid Saturday night (Dec. 16) to cover the fire at the Philip Carey plant in Lennoxville. His material, gathered throughout the weekend, appeared on the front page Dec. 18 complete in almost every respect. Dick should share some of the award with Dennis Finlay who telephoned ye editor that same Saturday night and volunteered to help cover, even though he knew Dick had already been assigned to the fire. But go he did, and came up with a readable side-bar for Monday's paper, in addition to helping with overall coverage. Tip of the pencil, too, to Paul Waters and photographers Doug Gerrish and Stan Loughheed, who worked Sunday with Dick and Dennis to get both pictures and stories to the Canadian Press, where they made both the national Photofax and wire news networks.

HONORABLE MENTIONS GO TO: Peter Verral for fast work on getting reaction from John Turner, registrar-general, on the news of (Prime Minister Lester) Pearson's resignation Dec. 14. Peter had been covering Turner at the U of Sherbrooke, found out about Pearson's resignation, and chased Turner back to the Social Club, where he buttonholed him at lunch for publishable comment. We were able to get Turner's comment to the Toronto Telegram by 2 p.m and a little while later to CP Montreal, where it went out national. Peter's story appeared on Page 1 of The Record Dec. 15.

Dennis Finlay, who carrying on in the best journalistic tradition, slogged through several inches of asphalt to cover the story of a tanker truck smashing into a house in Richmond, Page 1, Dec. 5, pouring 6700 gallons of gooey stuff all over the place. A small cheer, too, for Peter Verral's flight boots, borrowed for the occasion, which were discovered to be a total loss after their trip through the pitch.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Peter's two-part story, break page, Dec. 13 on the disco mini-boom in Sherbrooke; and Dick Nutbrown's two-part story, Page 3, Dec. 4 on the organization of a MENSA group in the ET for extra bright people, and the possibility of special seminars for gifted children. A SPECIAL CHEER for Marg Smith, who because of Mrs. Willard's illness, has been juggling at least 3 jobs for several weeks.


Home Page | History of The Record | Covering the County Fairs
Glenn Gould Comes to Town | The Editors | Those Were the Days
A First in Canada | The Strike of '62 | 60th Anniversary in 1957
Trudeaumania Hits the City | Montreal's Expo 67 | Nightstaff: a poem
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Page created Spring 1999. Last updated Apr. 8, 2006