Volume 12 Week 5

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(Posted 1 p.m., March 17)
The history of the Orléans Star pt. 4 — Evolution

By Mike Beasley
The Orléans Star

This is the last in a four-part series on the history of the Orléans Star from its inception in 1986 to the present day.

Part three looked at the years from 1993, when Michael Curran was appointed editor, to 1997 when the paper’s new owner Transcontinental, purchased the Weekly Journal.

In this final part of the series we will look at the impact Fred Sherwin had on The Orléans Star from 1997 to 2001 when he left to launch the highly successful website, OrleansOnline.ca, and eventually bought The Star from Transcontinental in 2016.

Sherwin began working at The Star as a freelance columnist in October 1989 at the age of 28 after a serendipitous meeting with then-editor James MacArthur.

“I had just returned from Montréal where I was a staff photographer with the Montreal Daily News and I ran into James, who I knew from previous exploits, in a bar on Elgin Street. He told me he had just been hired at The Star and I asked him if he needed a photographer. He said ‘No’, so I told him that I had done some writing and he suggested I try my hand at writing a column,” recalls Sherwin.

“My first column was a tongue-in-cheek piece on the evils of Hallowe’en and why it should be abolished. I think we got seven or eight letters to the editor from people who were very upset that I would suggest such a thing and the column stuck.”

Over time, Sherwin became the paper’s senior writer, producing several award-winning special projects, including a three-part series on student drug and alcohol use in Orléans in 1991 that placed second in the special projects category at the Ontario Community Newspaper Awards.

Sherwin worked under a series of editors, including Michael Curran, until October 1997, when then-publisher Val Xavier came to him with an offer he couldn’t resist.

“A guy named Mike Aiken was the editor at the time and it wasn’t working out. A number of mistakes were made in the paper and Val was at her wit’s end,” says Sherwin. “She asked me if I would be willing to take over as editor and try to turn the paper around. The first thing I did was call James (MacArthur) and the two of us locked ourselves in the office for the next two days and completely redesigned the paper.”

After publishing about four successful editions, word came down from the head office in Montreal that Transcontinental had purchased the Weekly Journal which set a series of moves in motion. The biggest was a condition of sale that enabled Curran to assume the role of editor and Caroline Andrews to remain as publisher. The latter meant that Xavier was shown the door.

“Val was an excellent publisher and an even better person. Caroline’s only interest was to keep the bean-counters in Montréal happy,” says Sherwin who had a totally opposite opinion of Curran.

“Mike was awesome. He still is. Our number one priority was to maintain the journalistic integrity of the two papers despite the bean-counters. So he looked after the Weekly Journal and I took care of The Star. It was a perfect partnership, but unfortunately all good things eventually come to an end.”

Curran remained at the paper until 1998 when he left to take over as publisher of the Ottawa Business Journal. He was replaced by David Sali, who left in 1999 to work at the Ottawa Sun as a copy editor.

“When David left, I took over as the managing editor of both The Star and the Weekly Journal on the one condition that I had complete autonomy on positioning the ads and editorial content,” says Sherwin.

For the next 18 months, the arrangement worked out extremely well. In his first year as managing editor, Sherwin received the OCNA Better Newspaper Award for Best Editorial. A year later, the paper received a trio of awards for Sports Story of the Year, Best Arts Story, and Special Investigative Series of the Year for a five-part series the staff did on the accessibility of violent video games to minors which was picked up by the National Post and resulted in the video games rating system in Ontario.

Four months later, he was unceremoniously let go by Andrews after a heated exchange over the direction of the paper.

“Head office wanted to take the production of the paper out of my hands and place it into the hands of someone who didn’t have a clue. I vehemently disagreed and she fired me,” recalls Sherwin.

Six months later, he launched the website OrleansOnline.ca with $100 and a camera.

After 12 months the website was averaging 2,000 visits per month. Today, OrleansOnline.ca attracts over 70,000 visits per month. In 2007, Sherwin was inducted into the Algonquin College Media Hall of Fame.

Despite the success he has enjoyed since he left the Orléans Star, Sherwin says his departure marked the beginning of the paper’s decline.

“I truly believe that the paper took a downhill slide after I left. You can’t serve two masters. You can’t be an advertisting vehicle first and foremost and serve the community second. Your sole purpose is to support the community by writing about the people and events that make it special. If you focus on the content, if you focus on the product, the advertising will come.”

It’s a philosophy that Sherwin has stuck to since buying the newspaper last November, and will continue to stick to in the future.

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

 

Visit www.orleansonline.ca's main page

 

 

   

 


Posted Jan. 12



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