First, my apologies to readers for the lack of new material these last couple of weeks. I am getting over a bad flu that evolved into an even worse case of pneumonia. Great fun.
By now, most people know that Randy Simms is no longer a columnist with The Independent.
Simms, the host of VOCM Open Line and Mayor of the City of Mount Pearl, has taken his weekly opinion column over to The Telegram.
In the greater scheme of things, it's not a big deal. The column is, after all, just one person's opinion. At the very least, it is helpful for giving us some insight into where Simms stands on a particular issue before he holds forth on Open Line.
What was most interesting about this transition is the way it was announced' in The Independent, by editor Ryan Cleary:
"One person who isn't with us any longer is VOCM Open Line host and Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms, who quit his job as an Independent columnist unexpectedly this week after being asked to join the The Telegram as a Saturday columnist, replacing Bill Rowe who parted ways with the daily several months ago," Cleary wrote. "Good luck, Randy. It's too bad you didn't write a goodbye column, but then Quebec-based newspaper chains must pay a fortune."
I have a couple of comments on that. I was sure that Randy Simms did too. So I sent off an email, asking why he moved his column to The Telegram, and what he thought about Cleary's parting shot.
Simms replied to say that he didn't have "a lot to say" about his move to The Telegram then proceeded to say a fair bit.
"Obviously, the week-end editorial slot is a great opportunity for me to reach a much wider audience of readers. The Telegram has a long and storied history and represents the kind of quality journalism, reporting and public commentary most in the news field strive to emulate. My role as a talk show host and political observer (I hate the word pundit) makes writing a weekly or daily column a natural extension of the work. I love the challenge of it, though writing a column has proven to be the more difficult of the media tasks I have undertaken."
As for Cleary's dig about earning a "fortune" working for a "Quebec-based chain," Simms took the high road.
"Ryan Cleary and The Independent gave me the opportunity to try this at a serious level for the first time in my life and they worked with me for over a year. I think it's fair to say that Ryan Cleary played a big role in my advancement. I have nothing but positive thoughts for the Independent.
"Being offered a chance to write for the Telegram though is like being tagged to play in the big leagues. I'm excited about it and a little nervous as well. My first column for the paper is coming out on February 23rd."
Not too surprisingly, Simms refused to get into a bun fight with Cleary. After all, columnists come and go. It's the nature of the freelance market. Also not surprisingly, Cleary handled Simms departure in small-minded fashion. Suddenly, Simms is one of the bad guys, working for the Quebec-based chain that, at this moment, is probably plotting with Hydro Quebec and Jean Charest to invade this province and steal our resources.
I thought Simms comment about playing "in the big leagues" at The Telegram was telling, if unintentionally so. The inference is that The Independent is bush league.
Also telling is Cleary's bizarre choice of words. He says that Simms "quit his job" as a columnist with The Independent, which is deceptive. Anyone who has worked even on the periphery of the newspaper business knows that freelance columnists are not employees, they receive no benefits and generally do not get paid well for their work; usually anywhere from $75 to $150 per submission, though Simms may have earned more (I didn't ask) because of his high recognition factor.
In future, if he ever takes another swipe at Simms, Cleary will likely characterize him as working for a "Quebec-based" company, the implication being that Simms has sold his soul and is now a mouthpiece for the evil empire of Quebec. Either way, by leaving, Simms is now one of the enemy.
I wonder if columnist Noreen Golfman, for example, realizes that she has a "job" at The Independent and that, on the day she eventually leaves, is likely to be tagged a traitor?
And finally, if Cleary thinks a person is selling out or available to be bought for the paltry sum of $100 a week, what does that say about him and his minority ownership in The Independent? And the two to three full pages of government ads that appear every week in its pages (without which the paper would surely fail)? And why is it that the paper's recent spending scandal investigations have focused so far on five former Liberal politicians, but no Conservatives? And why did Cleary write such gushing praise for Andy Wells (and his insistence on keeping both PUB and the mayor's job) when the rest of the province was crying foul? Why is the provincial government buying so much advertising in The Independent but none in The Business Post, which has been sharply critical of the Williams administration?
Don't you just love politics in NewfoundlandLabrador?