Ten years ago today we launched the first edition of the National Post newspaper and its then-ambtious nationalpost.com site. I was its Executive Editor, working for Editor-in-Chief Ken Whyte (now publisher and editor of Maclean's), publisher Don Babick (now interim publisher of the Toronto Star) and proprietor Conrad Black (now writing columns while serving a jail term related to financial wrongdoing).
Whether you are a friend or foe of the Post, it is inarguable that Canadian media were made better by its arrival. The Post was not a breath of fresh air but a new oxygen supply to Canadian journalism, and even its most bitter rivals should thank it for either regenerating their moribund newsrooms or improving their resources to perform at a higher level.
I connected with the project more than a year earlier while editing The Hamilton Spectator, mainly due to geography. Whyte, then editor of Saturday Night magazine but clearly the anointed leader of the project, needed a newsroom with access to wires and pagination software and Hamilton's was the closest to Toronto. He brought along Michael Cooke (then editor of The Province in Vancouver, now editor of the Chicago Sun-Times), Brian Kappler (then national editor, now editorial page editor of The Montreal Gazette) and Carl Neustaedter (then design chief of The Ottawa Citizen, now a top designer at the Globe and Mail). We were joined eventually by my successor at Southam News, Giles Gherson (who went on to be editor of the Star and the Edmonton Journal and now is a top Ontario public servant) and a few others. A couple of Spectator colleagues helped us with some of the grunt work of pagination, and I became increasingly brought along because I knew the chain's newsrooms (which were going to be vital in contributing content) and had a good Rolodex in Canadian media.
By April of 1998 I was into it full time. By then we had prototyped two full editions, both bearing Times Canada as the title. We'd played around and tested The National (associated too much with CBC), The Sentinel and The Reporter. As I was being hired the Post was making a play for Ed Greenspon, then the Ottawa Bureau Chief (and eventually the editor) of the Globe and Mail, but when that fell through, Ken enlisted Martin Newland from the Daily Telegraph as Deputy Editor (who later returned to England to be editor of that paper and now has launched The National in Abu Dhabi).
We plucked dozens of great journalists here and abroad for the team, paid them competitively, and made them work feverishly. The scale of the enterprise grew from an anticipated staff of 35 to 40, to one of 60, then 80, then 100, then (when the big deal was done in July to trade newspapers and cash for the Financial Post newspaper, which would anchor the business coverage), upwards of 200. The budget grew along with it.
I kept a diary for about six months before and three months after the launch, and it'll likely go to my grave. But when I look back on those days there was an exceptional sense of journalistic mission. Sure, there were miscues and nearly-missed deadlines and many laughers of journalistic pursuits that were goofy mistakes, but there were also breathtaking columns, stories, packages and pictures, and a Web site that made the first real attempt in this country at connecting with a new audience.
Newland and I looked over the atrium that first day and realized that likely nothing would be good as that first day. But the Post has done some extraordinary things since that day, certainly since I left to return to Hamilton and since Newland and Whyte and others left, and to this day it fights well above its weight class. It has been challenged in making a profit, but that day will come.
The news approach has been ferocious, the editorial tone conservative, and the overall impact positive on our journalism and its ambition. It deserves a happy birthday.