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(Posted 3 p.m., March 3)
The history of the Orléans Star part 3; the ’90s

By Mike Beasley
The Orléans Star

(This is the third in a series of articles celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Orléans Star. This article covers the period during which Michael Curran was the editor of the paper, otherwise known as the Golden Years of The Orléans Star.)

In this, our third chapter in the history of The Orléans Star we will examine how the paper grew into one of the most successful publications in the Ottawa area.

In Part 2 we learned that in the late 1980s the paper’s editor James McArthur hired two aspiring journalists, Fred Sherwin (current owner of The Orléans Star) and Michael Curran (co-owner and publisher of the Ottawa Business Journal).

Orléans Star staff picture circa 1995. Michael Curran is pictured second from the right in the front row, while Fred Sherwin is in the second row far left. Former publisher Derek Walter is in the centre of the bottom row. FILE PHOTO

In 1988, Curran was enrolled in the journalism program at Carleton University and approached McArthur with the hopes of landing a job with a newspaper.

“I still remember the day that I went into to see James and inquire about a job with the paper,” Curran recalls. “I was young with no real reporting experience but passionate about becoming a writer and getting into the business so I guess that’s what impressed him.”

Back then everybody who worked for the paper crossed paths in one way or another during the work week.

It wasn’t a big news room with about four or five people working on editorial content and production but Curran remembers that it was a great way for him to learn his future trade and hone his skills as a newspaper man.

“We had a good-natured crew that worked hard to make The Star a viable publication. Fred was an exceptional columnist back then and was the same character that he is today,” Curran explained.

The newspaper capitalized on the fact that it covered two different municipalities, as well as regional issues which meant that there was a wealth of news.

There were two municipal governments, two police forces and tons of explosive growth in terms of new schools, shopping centres and economic development.

“It was the time of pre-amalgamation and Orléans was one of the fastest growing communities in Canada, news in the area was happening every day and we did a great job of covering it. I have a lot of great memories from working at The Star,” Curran says.

He worked at the paper while going to university and eventually took over as editor after the departure of Paul Zaleski in April 1993. A year later, Gordon Brewerton left the paper to serve as publisher of the West Island Chronicle in Montreal. He was replaced by Ron Kilpatrick.

Curran has fond memories of his tenure at The Star.

“It was the good old days when every-body did everything,” laughs Curran. “I would assign work, write stories and even take photos if needed, today’s technology of desk top publishing and Photoshop was still in the future, everything was very pretty rudimentary back then.”

In the mid-90s The Star went through a phase when ownership wanted to increase the advertising ratio in the paper to the detriment of the editorial content.

This new equation really limited creativity and photo content in the paper which The Star had always taken pride in. It also led to Curran’s eventual departure in November 1995 when he and then advertising manager Caroline Andrews launched a competing paper called The Weekly Journal.

“I was concerned with the lack of editorial material and corporate control. I felt that I needed to run my own paper and have total control of the business from advertising to print content,” says Curran.

Curran captained The Weekly Journal for about two years when Transcontinental, which had just purchased The Star, made an offer that he and the rest of the owners couldn’t refused.

Besides the monetary considerations, Transcontinental agreed to retain Andrews as publisher of the two papers and Curran as editor.

It meant that Val Xavier, who had been with The Star for nearly seven years, first as a sales rep and more recently as the publisher since December 1995, was shown the door.

When Curran assumed the role of editor of both papers he made sure to keep Sherwin on as his assistant responsible for The Star. It had only been two months since Sherwin took over the reigns as editor of The Star at Xavier’s behest.

“The paper had undergone some issues with the previous editor and she asked me if I could turn things around,” recalls Sherwin. “So I brought (James) MacArthur back to help me redesign and relaunch the paper. And we locked ourselves in the office all weekend and did just that.

When Transcontinental bought The Weekly Journal a couple of months late and got rid of Val it was a total surprise, and quite frankly a major disappointment.”

Mike stayed on as editor for a year before leaving to become the publisher of the Ottawa Business Journal.

“(Starting the Weekly Journal) was the best thing I could have done. I learned every facet of the business, plus I had the pleasure of working with quality people that were motivated and serious about producing a great paper. That was the foundation to our success,” says Curran.

After he left The Star in November 1995, the paper had a series of editors starting with Regina Behnk. She was succeeded by Tina Costanza in July 1996, who was succeeded by Heather Jamieson just two months later.
Jamieson held the position for nine months before she stepped down and was replaced by Mike Aiken.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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