OK, so Garry Steckles is Michael Cooke’s longtime friend. He’s also — he very much wants us all to know — every inch a journalist and someone with plenty to offer the Sun-Times: “I’d like to think that Michael is keeping me on because I’ve had more than 40 years experience putting out major papers in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean.
Steckles’s career began in England in 1960 on the sports desk of the South Shield Gazette in County Durham, wended its way to Manchester, crossed the pond to major Canadian papers in Toronto, Montreal, and other cities, and later led him to create a new tabloid, Caribbean Week, in Barbados and to somehow function simultaneously as a news editor of a paper in Vancouver and as the proprietor of a restaurant on Saint Kitts. In this context, it’s certainly worth mentioning that his biography of Bob Marley will be published in March.
Let’s stipulate that Steckles is the sort of journalist any newspaper in a position to would leap to hire. The problem is that the Sun-Times is in no position to. As I discussed in my most recent post, Cooke, the editor in chief, intends to lay off more than 30 Newspaper Guild employees, and he’s obliged by the guild contract to be guided in his layoffs by seniority. Steckles, a “consultant” until last autumn, when he was given an editing job covered by the guild, has no seniority to speak of, but Cooke has protected him by promoting him to an unspecified management position. Understandably, guild members are outraged. If he lives, one more of them dies.
“It’s a very difficult situation for everybody,” Steckles said today. “Trust me, it’s not something I feel particularly good about. One of the great tragedies to me is that the paper’s never looked better. There are some really terrific designers and fine columnists and reporters here. We’re all going through bad times, you know, and the Sun-Times‘s prospects aren’t helped by the fact the coffers were decimated by the previous proprietors [Conrad Black and David Radler]. They were two very experienced, brilliant newspaper proprietors, but there’s no doubt that what they were doing here was not good for the paper.
“This is not something that gives me a feeling of anything but sorrow for the way things are. [But] there’s nothing much I can do about it. I need the money. We ran a restaurant for 30 years on Saint Kitts. I’m in my early 60s, in no way wealthy, and I need a job, too. If there’s a way I can keep my job I want to keep it.”