Black and Whyte and read

When Derek Burney was Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. he liked to tell a joke to American audiences. It went like this. A man on a wharf in the Maritimes notices some lobsters in a pail. It looks to him as if they could easily climb out and escape. He asks the lobster boat owner, “Shouldn’t the pail be covered?” “Oh no,” came the reply. “Those are Canadian lobsters. If one of them gets near the top, the rest of them will pull him back down.”

We do love to tear down any one of our number who becomes successful, don’t we? Americans get their pleasure from redemption. They admire sinners who find a way back. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Swaggart come to mind.

I am not one of those Canadians who dislikes successful people whether out of envy, spite or just plain bad habit. Take the rise of Ken Whyte at Rogers Media. As far as I’m concerned his trajectory is a rocket to be celebrated. In addition to the major magazines already under his scrutiny (Macleans, Chatelaine and Canadian Business), he has just been handed responsibility for all the company’s French-language consumer titles as well: Loulou, Chatelaine, L’actualite and Hello! This puts him among the top rank of Canadian media bosses of all time.

I first met Ken when Conrad Black bought The Financial Post in 1998 thereby adding a few ink-stained wretches such as myself to National Post just in time for the launch. As editor of this brazen new national paper, Ken’s philosophy was: “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” Everyone in the newsroom felt his leadership and battled to write stories worthy of page one.

Of course, Ken Whyte could also drive everyone crazy. At some point each Friday, when editors and writers were finalizing pieces for the Saturday paper, Ken would throw everything overboard and assign a dozen new topics. His editorial instincts were always right.

In my case, I was the beneficiary of some plum assignments. And there were numerous occasions where his personal intervention helped me get stories into the paper that other editors feared or set lawyers fretting.

When I left National Post in 2001, I told Ken he would be the greatest journalist of his generation. Nice to see my prediction coming to pass.

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