I wrote a budget story in the late 1990s, as the city council beat reporter for the daily Peterborough Examiner where I misplaced a decimal and increased property taxes by a factor of ten. Brian Horton, the city treasurer, called to congratulate me, saying while taxpayers had been threatening to burn down City Hall, once he explained it was the newspaper's error, the rather large actual tax increase being foisted on ratepayers by council didn't look half so bad.
Horton said I had done the near impossible; made council look good as they raised taxes because it wasn't really going to be as bad as I said it was.
Ed Arnold, my managing editor, however, wasn't impressed. My only defence in mitigating the error was I had asked two night editors to double check my numbers on deadline with their calculators, too, and they reached the same result, none of which impressed Arnold, who thought the lot of us were innumerate or had been careless or both.
Ed retired in January after almost 27 years at the helm, making him the longest-serving managing editor at a daily newspaper in Canada. Ed had no tolerance for BS. None. If you wrote landfill, he'd say call it a dump, it's a garbage dump.
If council or school board had a closed-door meeting, even if permissible under Ontario's Municipal Act or Education Act, to discuss personnel, property or legal issues, he'd say don't write a euphemism like "in-camera" or "caucus" meeting. Tell readers it was a meeting where the public was barred from hearing the substantive and real discussion, getting instead only the rubber-stamped motion approved later in open session. Never forget, Ed would say, city councillors and school board trustees work for the public; they're their employer, not the other way around.
I did two stints at the Peterborough Examiner – the first as a young reporter, arriving when I was 27 in 1985, and staying until 1989, working the court and police beat. One of my first court stories was about a pit bull police had shot in the head at close range. The bullet bounced off the dog's head and it survived. The officer was charged for the circumstances in which he discharged his firearm. I wrote a 60-inch story for the next day's paper after the first day of the trial. "How long a story would you have written if the dog had died?" Ed asked dryly. Point taken.
I returned seven years later as a mid-career reporter for a second stint from 1997 to 1999, covering Peterborough city and county councils. Two reporter friends, Jack Marchen, a "Peterborough boy" from "East City," who was a solid veteran court and police reporter himself, as well as an avid angler and hunter, still had the desk in the newsroom directly across from me, while Phil Tyson, a Canadian from Montreal, but one who had grown up in Texas and covered death penalty cases in Virginia before moving back to Canada in 1988, still had the desk beside me, as I got my old desk back.
Last December, Steve Ladurantaye, a former Peterborough Examiner reporter and city editor, who is now a reporter at the Globe and Mail, wrote in his blog: "Ed Arnold is retiring. It's a big deal – there are few editors in Canada who ran their papers for as long as he did. He gave an unimaginable number of young journalists their start. In an industry that is rapidly shedding talent, it's a significant loss."
The best piece of advice Arnold ever gave him, Ladurantaye said, was to tell him: "Everyone you see out there is as talented as you. But a lot of them are bitter, and a lot of them are lazy. The only thing that separates you from them is your attitude, so don't change it."