I never paid much attention to the Toronto Star. When I was growing up, we subscribed to the Globe and Mail. Such habits acquired while young tend to remain in later life. But reading John Honderich’s memoir, Above the Fold, makes up for my void on this topic. Honderich was, of course, a foreign correspondent, editor, publisher, and an owner of the Star, so his life story is a fascinating read. The fact that he died earlier this year, after completing this work, makes everything all the more poignant.
The family story begins near Kitchener, Ont., with his Mennonite forbears and moves along to his father, Beland (Bee) Honderich. Bee was both a driving force in John’s life and the newsroom, as well as a curmudgeonly old cuss. There were crucial times when John came up for more substantial roles that Bee actually voted against his son’s promotions. That must have hurt.
While John’s eventual rise to the top was pre-ordained, he paid his dues in the field. As correspondent in Washington, D.C., for example, when the Air Florida plane crashed into the bridge over the Potomac River in 1982, John was one of the first reporters on the scene. As a result, he was able to describe a rescue that no other journalist saw. After all, storytelling is what newspapering is all about.
There was one area where John mistakenly followed Bee’s lead. Just as Bee put the paper first before family, so did John. His marriage to author Katherine Govier ended in divorce but not before John took to copying her father’s bowtie habit. That’s where John’s ever-present bowtie was born.
Honderich also reveals gritty details about the internal feuds he had with Torstar executives such as Rob Prichard and David Galloway, always defending editorial interests against the drive for profits and return on investment. In the end, Honderich was terminated by the bean-counters after ten years as publisher and twenty-eight years on staff. However, he enjoyed redemption because he able to shepherd ownership of the paper into the hands of businessman Jordan Bitove who is just as keen as John was in supporting editorial content. Bravo to both!