Special Report

Spectator to Lose Veteran Journalists

The departure of many veteran journalists will deprive the Spectator of experience and institutional memory, but open the opportunity to take the publication in a new direction.

By Joey Coleman
Published November 27, 2010

As the Hamilton Spectator enters its 165th year, the institution we've all come to know will undergo major changes in its editorial department as many veteran journalists take a generous buy-out.

Sources within the Spectator have told me that over a dozen journalists have taken the offer and will be leaving early in the new year.

Among those confirmed to be leaving is popular Streetbeat columnist Paul Wilson.

The losses are significant because those leaving have the greatest institutional memories and are the best connected to the local community.

Personally, Paul Wilson is the reason I touch the entertainment section three times a week. His was the first byline I learned to recognize as a child. Many of his articles from the late 1980s and early '90s form my first memories of reading the newspaper.

OpenFile to Launch Hamilton Edition

The losses could be compounded by the entry of arrival of another publication in Hamilton this January.

OpenFile will be launching their Hamilton edition shortly and the publication will be investing significant money in hiring local freelance journalists to cover community level stories. (Visit openfile.ca to see what they are all about.)

While OpenFile does not represent immediate direct competition to the Spectator, their online coverage of special events is often real-time and, within Toronto, beats the more established mainstream publications.

CHCH Underwent Similar Exodus

CHCH underwent a similar mass exodus in December of 2008 when ownership changed to Channel Zero and veteran personalities such as Dan McLean and Connie Smith were let go in favour of hiring lower-cost young reporters.

The lost of local knowledge and experience was obvious as the new talent came from outside of Hamilton and were unable to fully understand the unique culture of Hamilton. After two years, the "new" talent has settled into the city and have started breaking stories on a more frequent basis.

Nick Dixon (@CHCHNewsGuyNick) and Brittany Gogo (@BrittanyGoGo) are two reporters at the station who have fully embraced Twitter as a means of distributing news and connecting with the community.

With news increasing being split between real-time information and long-view analysis, CHCH has positioned itself strongly in the real-time news category.

Challenge and Opportunity

This brings us back to the Spectator and the challenge it faces with such a large departure of talent at a critical time.

CHCH could afford to lose some viewers during its restructuring, but the Spectator cannot. The Spectator's revenue model requires subscribers to continue their subscriptions.

High-quality written journalism is expensive to produce and the Spectator is one of the last outlets producing it in Hamilton. This is why the risks for the Spectator are much higher than they were for CHCH - but the opportunity is greater as well.

The Spectator will have to go on what passes for a hiring spree in today's journalism. The opportunity exists for the paper to hire a strong batch of journalists who can attract new readers to the publication.

It may appear self-serving, but I believe the paper needs to hire Hamiltonians with a strong belief in the digital future of what was once called the newspaper but really should be called a news-gathering and -analyzing organization.

New Direction

The Spectator is a long-standing institution in the city. This is not the first time that writers have retired at the paper.

Every institution needs to revitalize itself from time to time. While the newspaper has redesigned its layout numerous times in the past decade, it has not properly revitalized its direction or content.

I often hear people refer to the Spectator as "yesterday's news, tomorrow" and for those of us who are connected in the community, this is often too true.

The new editor-in-chief, Paul Berton, has an opportunity few editors in an unionized environment receive: he gets to re-mold the Spectator's newsroom and set the direction of the paper for the next 25 years.

The question is: what direction will he and publisher Dana Robbins take the paper?

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.

44 Comments

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By Matt Demers (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 17:30:05

As a Hamiltonian studying journalism at Ryerson, I'm kind of saddened to see Paul go. You cannot buy quality.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 17:31:36

Thanks for posting this news, Joey.

The loss of over a dozen veteran journalists from the Hamilton Spectator seems to cut the core of that institution. This is much more significant than the restructuring at CHCH-TV. While Dan McLean and Connie Smith were indeed veteran broadcasters, they were essentially news readers. The Hamilton Spectator, on the other hand, is losing much of its "original thought" production. Paul Wilson, among others, will be missed. It will be interesting though to see how the new hires impact upon the direction of the organization and the presentation of its news and views.

One also wonders whether this restructuring is a harbinger for the end of the print version of The Hamilton Spectator in the not too distant future.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2010-11-27 16:35:59

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 17:33:05

Wow. These will be trying times for our only newspaper. OpenFile is a fantastic source of news and info, compounded with what we already have in Hamilton via various online news/info publications, the Spec has their work cut out for them.

I would love to see them find the money to hire some top notch journalists and become a true centrepiece of 21st Century urban discussion and ideas in Hamilton. Perhaps now is a great time for them to realize that their future lies in the demographic that is not subscribing to their product. Find out why the young generation isn't interested in the Spec and fix it.

I fear, however, that they will simply go the easy route that we've seen too many times before. When FOX news realized, after years of trying with no success, that there wasn't demand for another news outlet in a crowded marketplace they decided to go ultra-looney and replicate the Jerry Springer show on a news format. And as we know, people tune into the Jerry Springer show.

Let's hope the Spec realizes their important role in the discussion that is Hamilton and treats that responsibility with the utmost respect. I wish them well. This will be an interesting number of years to see what unfolds.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 17:36:30

I didn't mention my sadness upon learning that this will be the end of Streetbeat. Paul Wilson (along with Jeff Mahoney) has been one of the only reasons I even look for a paper in a coffee shop on Mon/Wed/Fri.
His fantastic take on Hamilton's urbanism will be missed. He is one of our only reporters who understands that this is city, not just a bland suburb of somewhere else. Good luck Paul. You will be missed!

Comment edited by jason on 2010-11-27 16:37:06

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By ambit (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 18:38:31

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 19:21:27

Thanks Joey for bringing this to my attention, super read. A shame for sure.

Not well said ambit. thumbs down.

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By Paul (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 19:29:19

As a former employee of the Spectator who was laid off last year, it is not only editorial that has lost much. They have been cutting and offering early retirement throughout the company for the last few years. I was one a several cut because 5 years was not enough seniority to survive especially when the company is determined to cut away salaries.

The Classified department also doubled in responsability taking on Kitchener area papers while cutting wages and full time opportunities in favour of lower paid part time jobs.

To me this is in large part due to the Spectator being one of many papers so of lower priority than if it were locvally owned and considered the priority it should be in the community.

A paper is more than it's writers and I think if you took all the talent they have lost over the last few years you could probably start another paper.

A new locally focused paper is exactly what is needed as we have lost our main paper to a lower ranking member of a company aiming at a regional market and pooling resources that water down local focus in order to reuse article in more than one publication.

I am saddened to hear they continue to hemorrhage talent.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2010 at 19:40:26

Reporters I've known there have been pretty dissatisfied with the editorial direction at the Spec for years. Their condensing of hard news into a single section and focusing on "fluff pieces" has seriously hurt their credibility, as well as cutting jobs and funds for real reporting.

It'll be sad to see all these veterens go.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2010 at 19:41:32

I remember one of the best Paul Wilson columns I ever read-- it was about schizophrenia, and his writing expressed a real desire to understand those who suffer with the disease, and a desire to do justice to their story and so communicate it well to others.

Our family had the opportunity to meet him when he came to our house eight years ago to do a story for Mother's day (we had just welcomed our ninth child). I had agreed to do the story because I figured we would get a nice, professional family photograph that we could purchase from the Spec afterward. Then, as the time drew nearer, I started to feel a little apprehensive about it, because people frequently make strange assumptions about our home life, even to the point of saying ridiculous things, and I began to worry how a reporter would write about us. Felt right at ease once we met him, though, because his genuine interest in people was evident, and he took us as we were. Of course there was a mad frenzy of tidying up the main floor before he arrived on a weekday after school. When he asked if he could see upstairs because he was curious about how we'd organized things(the nightmare of many a mother with several little ones), I blanched, and mumbled something about it's not being ready for company. I figured that would make it into the story-- but it didn't.

Will miss him in the Spec-- and will definitely be looking out for his writing somewhere else.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 20:45:57

I hope Steve Buist is staying, one of the best investigative and/or large serial reporters in the country. Is anyone really surprised at this news, The Spec has been an afterthought for Torstar since the purchase.

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By Spectator (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 20:52:15

I hear others going at Barbara Brown, Denise Davy, Eric McGuiness, John Kernaghan and Garry McKay. Maybe Nicole MacIntyre? A bunch of editors are going too. Some a near retirement, but lots are younger. Wilson is a big loss, I grew up reading him. I hope they replace people, the paper is thin as it is.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2010 at 21:46:21

@Matt Demers

While the loss of Paul Wilson is huge, all indications are that he's not leaving Hamilton and will be more involved in the community. At some point, he was going to retire and the buyout may allow him to do more than we could imagine at the present time.

As a Hamiltonian studying journalism at Ryerson who watches RTH closely, I hope you apply into the paper. The Spectator needs Hamiltonians who want to be writing for news organization if its going to survive.

@RenaissanceWatcher

The anchors are also executive producers in most cases. They spend a lot of time putting the news package together. Reading is a small part of their job. The loss of Kernaghan will have a huge impact on their Pan Am coverage - he was the one breaking stories on that file. Barbara Brown's knowledge of cases before the courts is second to none. You can't replace that knowledge without placing a reporter in the position for five years.

@jason

OpenFile will assist in the growth of local journalism. The fact they'll be hiring local journalists is a need injection, but they won't be breaking news at City Hall or the Courthouse.

@ambit

I have no illusions - I have a good career ahead of me, but it is unlikely it will be at The Spectator or in journalism full-time.

@HamiltonFan

He makes a good point.

@Paul

Agreed, the consolidation of ownership is a concern. Journalism was in trouble before the Internet. This is a good discussion of the problems: http://www.radioopensource.org/mcchesney...

@Spectator

I've heard many of the same names. Some very significant losses.

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By speculator (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 21:54:00

I'd be surprised if Nicole MacIntyre got a package. She's pretty young and just got back from mat leave.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 22:38:06

Wow. I can't think of anyone else who writes for the paper, other than Dreschel, that isn't on that list. Who's left??

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2010 at 22:44:03

@speculator

The package was offered to everyone. It'd be her choice if she took it.

@jason

This is the challenge for the paper, it takes time for people to build a reputation and following. Many of the people leaving were strong supporters of the digital product too - I don't want people getting the wrong impression.

TheSpec needs to make really good hiring decisions now.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted November 27, 2010 at 23:00:40

Joey:

You mentioned that the package was offered to everyone. Is the Hamilton Spectator being sold to a new owner?

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2010 at 23:22:26

@RenaissanceWatcher

Not being sold. It's a requirement of the union contract to offer buyouts to everyone. National Post did the same thing this fall.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 09:01:06

Thanks for the information about the union contracts, Joey.

It was also disappointing to read that John Kernaghan and Barbara Brown are among those leaving. John Kernaghan has been reporting thoroughly and objectively on the stadium issue for almost a decade, including Hamilton's two failed bids for the Commonwealth Games and the current Pan Am stadium debacle. Also, your comments are spot on about Barbara Brown's unique knowledge of the cases in the Hamilton courts, past and present. Their departures will leave two large voids to fill.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2010-11-28 08:02:20

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2010 at 10:47:00

Ironically enough, in the information age, young people no longer pay for information.

Anybody know anybody under 30 with a paid subscription to anything?

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 11:08:51

well, I'm just over 30. 33 to be exact, and to answer your question- no, I don't subscribe to anything. I would though, if it was worthwhile. I had a spec subscription for several years until a couple years ago when I realized I was wasting my money. Granted, since that time I've noticed a slow, steady improvement in their product. If we had a local paper as good as the Star or Globe I would probably subscribe.

Heck, I don't even have cable. LOL

Comment edited by jason on 2010-11-28 10:09:37

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2010 at 11:47:17

I was subscribed to the spectator for years (and I'm under 30), but canned it last summer. The paper's been struggling for a long time, and the quality of reporting wasn't worth the money.

I hear a lot being thrown around about how the internet's killing journalism. But let's be realistic, newspapers and TV killed it first.

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 12:12:56

I don't get the outrage over the loss of these hacks. Paul Wilson inparticular didn't do any kind of journalism at all. A more out of tune with the lower city person I have yet to read. His idea of a soft news story seemed to be driving around looking for something to comment on. He must seem like a top journalist when you see him beside Dreschel.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 12:40:44

This is some wonderful news in Paul Wilson's article on the Hamilton Spectator website today. Jeff Feswick, an experienced heritage property renovator, has purchased Treble Hall on the east side of John Street between King Street and King William Street and he plans to fully renovate it. Best wishes to Mr. Fenwick in his endeavour. http://www.thespec.com/living/article/27...

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By Wentworthst (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 13:39:04

As someone who left journalism in the 90's for Internet dev (the phase "white males need not apply" was tossed out a lot back then), I'm still cheering for papers like the Spec, even if though they always seemed to hate the web and those like me.

My great frustration with print is they failed to the see Internet as the 1st invention in communications in a century that favored the written word over broadcast... The "paper" has limited space, distribution and high expense; the web should have been a boon, allowing them infinite space, 24hr coverage and eventually gave them video. Instead of assuming the territory, they left to folks like me.

Unfortunately, anytime I tried to suggest these potentials (even offer freely), the technical disinterest & feeling of contempt was too high to overcome.
Jeff Reid

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2010 at 15:31:50

@Wentworthst

Could not agree with you more. I've been fortunate to work for great editors at Maclean's and The Globe and Mail who've allowed me to work on the web.

I've also found that "print" journalists are my biggest detractors and on more than one occasion I've been informed that I'm not a "real" journalist because of where I chose to public my work.

The Internet favours depth of information and the connecting of stories to each other - the very things the newspaper can do more strongly than any other news organization.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2010 at 17:31:34

I'm in my 60s, don't subscribe to anything and am better off for it. To much misinformation, misdirection and manipulation that has cost Hamilton, Hamiltonians and Canadians dearly. Pierre Burton writes well about this phenomenon. Blood shed, lives ruined, nation ransacked. I like to think the media is a mile wide and an inch deep. Knows everything, understands nothing. But far too influential and business biased. So I say good riddance.

But what to do - we need input and guidance. I pay close attention to Matt Taibbi, BNN and various bloggers who seem to know what is really happening. My subscription to Atlantic Monthly lapsed during one of their more esoteric moments but I credit them with ripping the scales from my eyes and with great journalistic standards and letters to the editor section. Magazines are better than papers. Books are better than magazines except for the time factor.

By default, I guess i'm subscribed to CBC radio (aren't we all?), at least their podcasts, along with many other podcast sites, which furnish interesting lectures perfectly geared for my dog walking, kids sports chauffeuring responsibilities, long drives, etc. Hands free, mobile.

This crucial part of the world is unfolding in a way beneficial to the common people who have been trodden upon for far too long. Lets hope the trend continues unhindered by the hand of greedy or incompetent regulators as is too often the case (ie bill C32).

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By NotSad (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 20:24:17

RE: Paul Wilson. The Spec has suffered from too long from amnesia. It lives in the past and is afraid of the future. Paul Wilson has for me symbolized this for too long. He has a talent for telling a story, but his fear of anything east of Wellington or West of McMaster U is exactly what's wrong with a paper that hasn't yet embraced the new hamilton.

Good bye, Paul. Don't let the door slam you on the way out.

Now, Mr. Paul Berton, this is your chance to shape a new paper for a new Hamilton.

Try visiting Winona or Mount Hope or Alberton or Rockton and actually REPORT on those great places. You will be amazed how your circulation will improve.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2010 at 22:16:13

with all due respect, if it weren't for Paul Wilson Spec readers wouldn't even know that anything exists between Mac and Wellington. Perhaps folks in Alberton or Rockton can start their own paper if they don't like being a part of the Hamilton Spectator. There is city here, FYI.

If I remember correctly, Paul Wilson also made some neat forays out into the countryside and if I'm not mistaken he did a cycling tour through small-town Ontario last summer.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-11-28 21:18:09

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By JBJ (registered) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 15:24:09

It is a sad day indeed for those journalists and editors. This speaks volumes for the state of print journalism in North America. We can be thankful, I suppose, that the Spectator is not shutting down entirely like some papers have in the US.

The Spectator needs to actually report on the news in Hamilton and do so in ways that are different from broadcast and social media. CH news is pretty much a rehash of stories from other networks. There is little in the way of investigative journalism about Hamilton politics, the economy, culture and so forth. The Spectator needs to do that digging and get people engaged and informed. There is a lot of junk on the internet and in other kinds of media but what I have always liked about print is that you could study a topic in greater detail and allow for ideas to develop.

I know .... I am a Luddite but here's to hoping something good comes out of this situation.

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By AnneMariePavlov (registered) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 15:51:32

I gave up on CHCH and the Spec, and instead read Raise The Hammer, and watch Cable 14's "For The Record"!!!

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By observer (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 19:55:36

I see this:
"By jason (registered)
Posted November 27, 2010 21:38:06

Wow. I can't think of anyone else who writes for the paper, other than Dreschel, that isn't on that list. Who's left??"

What?!? Go ahead, depress me: Dreschel is staying?? Why? What did we do to deserve him? Supercilious; sneering, as one Hamiltonian says about him. When he's away, the Spec says he'll "return." Why? And do those of you who praised the Di Ianni move to Cable 14 in the other news today have stronger stomachs than most? Ryan would forbid as too personal my saying that Larry is nothing but vindictive, vitriolic, nine degrees of pompous, self-justifying, & re-inventing (with help from Wikipedia). Look in Google for the history-of-Larry-by-Larry pieces in the Chris Ecklund "blog" that Ecklund pulled down as Larry [finally] announced for mayor because it would give Larry an "unfair advantage." Ok, stop.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2010 at 21:17:06

The problem with the internet is that it's hard to make money. People won't pay for your articles or buy subscriptions, they'll just click on to the next site. Newspapers have been slow to engage with it because of that, fearing that people would 'get something for free'. Others weren't so fearful, and stole the show.

I'd have a lot more sympathy if the quality of "paid" reporters really was all that much better than us amateurs. Sadly, it isn't. And if the fear of the newspaper industry is that they're going to loose precious customer income because people are doing a better job and giving it away for free, I really don't know what to tell them. It's not like big corporations haven't been paying them for years to NOT cover stories (through ad revenues, by far their biggest income). If that money wasn't worth it, that's all on them.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 29, 2010 at 22:00:04

Paul Wilson's piece on disappearing water fountains was amazing: http://www.thespec.com/living/article/27... The photo is equally good, what could be more Hamilton than the handsome TH&B building, framing masculine bus driver Mr. Croft, who just wants a water fountain or two for God's sake.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 09:21:27

Don't get me started Ted. LOL Wilson also did a great piece years ago on our Shorty Greens being ripped out and replaced with bland fountains. The usual excuse of 'they're outdated, nobody makes them anymore, blah blah blah'.

Meanwhile in Portland, they value their history, even little things like fountains:

http://www.uniquely-portland-oregon.com/...

Wilson will be sorely missed. He routinely called out the city on their backwards thinking. Alternative media are really going to need to step it up in his absence.

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By another capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 09:38:23

Sorry, I'm not that upset.

The Spec is just not that good a paper....plain and simple.

It's "reporters" are more than biased, don't actually worry about things like facts and are too opinionated.

It's too bad. It used to a good paper

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2010 at 11:00:13

@jason - those little overflow-style fountains were supposedly unhygenic. Iirc tests had shown that bacteria would live in the "cup" part. Basically it's a bucket that everybody is sticking their face into.

That said, hygiene obsession seems to have killed public water fountains altogether.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2010 at 12:54:43

@Jason. Cool link, Jason. Thanks for sharing that. Love the name. Benson Bubblers. My kids can't walk aby a water fountain without asking to be lifted up for a drink. There shirts/coats are usually soaked afterwards, but they have a facination for water fountains?

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 12:55:46

Pxtl, Portlands are identical. bubbling all the time. it's easy to use something like hygiene to kill small details of urban life that become unimportant to civic officials.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 14:41:13

Any chance Paul Wilson can continue street beat here, at RTH?

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By Infomaniac (registered) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 16:25:43

As an old Spec newshound (35 years ago), I bemoan the direction of this glorious profession. As much as I respect and avidly read Paul Wilson, (his dispatches are the best regular feature in The Spec), I'll also miss others who form part of the newsroom's institutional memory, which will be decimated. I don't know who else is on the list, but suspect folks like Barb Brown and Eric McGuinness -- the latter of whom is likely the longest serving reporter there -- are heading off. They too will be missed for their knowledge, understanding and ability to write tight and bright... Ain't evolution grand?

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted November 30, 2010 at 20:12:13

Does the CBC still want to get a station going here?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 01, 2010 at 00:55:35

What the CBC wants and what the Conservatives will let them have are two different things.

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By Spurious (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2010 at 12:25:39

I think Barbara Brown will be missed she is a professional. Eric? I don't know. His best before date has expired.

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By laffaminit (anonymous) | Posted December 06, 2010 at 18:34:29

"Any chance Paul Wilson can continue street beat here, at RTH?"

Hahahahaha! He'd love to write for an audience of 12. Good one.

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