Sunday, May 25, 2014

Strike! Part II: The Demise of a “Rattling Good Paper”

In 1912, my great uncle Loring Christie wrote a letter to his parents, describing a political convention he had attended in Chicago.  Before launching into his description, he said:

You would get some ideas of it from the paper I sent. And looking over the copies of the Montreal Star that accumulated during my absence I find they had a very good story of it - and further they had very well informed, intelligent & shrewd editorial comment on the situation as it developed. (A rattling good paper that, by the way - it excites the admiration of many of my friends here.)

Sixty-six years later, the Montreal Star was still going strong and I was one of its teenage readers.  It arrived at our door in the late afternoon.  I liked to lay it out on the living room floor and flip through it when I got home from school.  The other Montreal paper, the Montreal Gazette, appeared at our door in the morning.  It actually belonged to Champlain CEGEP’s library, but was sent to our house so that Mom could bring it with her to work.  If I got up early enough, I could flip through that one before she left.

Then, in 1978, the Montreal Star pressmen went on strike.  I missed my afternoon paper, but (probably like most of Montreal) I shrugged and read the Gazette instead.  The strike was settled eight months later, and my afternoon paper returned.  But the Star had a problem; they had to get their readers back.  So, in direct competition to the Gazette, they started a morning edition.  Now I had two papers to flip through in the morning.  The Gazette retaliated with an afternoon edition.  Now I had two papers to flip through in the afternoon too.

It was an all-out turf war, a time of glorious superfluity.  For the few months that it lasted, Montreal readers were wooed by the word.  I barely knew what to do with all this print at my fingertips, this inundation of information.  I was like a present-day teenager that spends too much time on the internet.  My homework called me, but I had four newspapers to read.  

As with any age of excess, it couldn’t last.  The frenzied suitors that courted their Montrealers had limited resources, and the strike-damaged Montreal Star had been weak from the start.  Something had to give, and the Star folded in 1979.  The Gazette has been going strong ever since. 


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