Friday, July 10, 2009

865th Post - Interview with Peter Duffy

Peter Duffy Questions -- May 21, 2009

Peter Duffy and I met at the Pogue Fado on Barrington Street. It is a storied place, the Green Lantern Building, and has a significant place in radio history, which I will discuss with another person in another interview to be published soon.

Our paths have crossed a few times over the years, and it was nice to renew this acquaintance. We talked for quite a while over a decent meal.

Here is our conversation.

1. Your final column on March 19, 2009 quoted a message you received from Ivan Smith in Canning to the effect that he wanted you to get off the boat and wander around for a while. It is a lovely metaphor, and I wish I could remember exactly how it was worded. You have had 2 months away from the grind of producing regular columns. How is the lay of the land?

Peter Duffy: Well, I've taken Ivan's advice. It really encapsulated how I was feeling: That leaving the Herald was not the end of everything. it was the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another chapter of my life. I even bite my tongue if I catch myself saying the word “retirement”, because I don't feel retired. I'm catching my breath between adventures. The Herald was one adventure; the next adventure hasn't begun yet.

So, I fetched up on a strange beach. That's how I think Ivan put it. I've stepped ashore to explore. For the last two months I haven't stopped smiling. Even my doctor – I came from a doctor's appointment this morning – says he hopes he can look as relaxed as I do when his turn comes [chuckles].

I'm feeling very relaxed. I've been very selfish. I haven't joined anything. I haven't applied anywhere. I'm not rushing for any new adventure right now.

It was so hectic at the Herald at the end, so hectic I was afraid I was going to get ill. Literally, the stress; stress is a killer.

Bevboy: Because of the layoffs?

PD:And I was president of the union, pushing back against those layoffs against the company. It got so hot and heavy for the two and a half months that i was the union president. I'd no sooner become president when the roof fell in, figuratively. They were two and a half of the most intensely stressul months I've ever had. The last time I was that stressed, many years ago, I got cancer. That was at the back of my mind as the stress built up at the Herald at the end. Oh, my God.

Plus, last year, I got shingles; stress is a major cause of shingles. God, that was painful!. That was more painful than cancer. if you've never had shingles...

BB: Never.

PD: Don't even have it in your mind because you don't want to attract the gods [chuckles].

So, there was a lot of stress and a lot of worry in the back of my mind. When I stepped ashore, on March 19th, I walked out of the Herald. I did not look back. I loved the people there. I loved what I did. I enjoyed it, and I was grateful to the Herald for all the freedom it gave me. As a columnist, you have an awful lot of freedom to say and to pick your own topics. and to say what you please about them. I was grateful to the Herald for that. I was sad about the way it all ended for myself. It's not how I imagined finishing my newspaper career, with layoffs and buyouts and stuff. I think there were 17 of us who stepped ashore that fateful day.

But, you're asking about me. I stepped shore. I did not look back. I got in my car, and drove away. And I haven't looked back since. I am relaxed. I'm happy. I'm enjoying my life. I'm not doing much. I'm puttering around. The days are passing pleasantly. When I hear my wife's key in the door -- she's a high school teacher; she gets home 4:30, five o'clock -- I can't believe the day has gone. Oh, my God! Where did it go?

It was a happy day, catching up on books. I have a stack of books by my easy chair.

BB: We all do.

PD: And now I'm finally getting to them! I may even hit War and Peace. I'm just puttering around. I have a big project: My neighbour is going to help me build a deck, a huge deck at our place. My wife and i have a place near Hubbards. I have no idea how to hammer a nail. I'm that weak with wood working. My neighbour knows how to do it. I will be the gopher. He's designing the deck. And he and I will build this deck ths summer.

BB: Good!

PD: We'll go down; maybe he and I stay overnight. We'll work until we've had enough, and we'll stop and go into the house and drink some rum, tell tall tales, and get back to it the next morning. We'll work a couple of days the next week, and it will get built.

I'm not even looking for any new adventures beyond that because I wouldn't be able to accept them if they came my way or if i caused them to come my way, because I have this lovely physical project to do. No more brain work. For the month of June it's going to be muscle power.

BB: Excellent.

PD: And I'm looking forward to it. Just being with the guys.

BB: Have you worn a tie in the last two months?

PD: [chuckles] I was naked without a tie. Bev, I haven't worn a tie since March 19th. And people have remarked on it. I've been to do's, retirment parties for other people, and that's the first thing people have said to me. "My God, you're not wearing a tie!". I'm proud of it.

I still have my sixty ties in the closet. I still have my eighty shirts in the closet, summer/winter. I can't quite bring myself to throw them out. But my visits to Sears have just plummetted. I would be there every Saturday looking for sales of shirts and ties and so on. I think I've been there twice since I left the Herald.

I mean, there are a lot of changes. I'm [in] t-shirts and jeans now. I went to my doctor in a t-shirt and jeans. I never did that. i would always go from work fully dressed. [chuckles]

2. Do you miss doing a column?

PD: Bev: No, I don't. I didn't think I'd ever hear myself say that. But I don't. Or, is it the deadlines I don't miss? I'm still trying to figure that out. It puzzles me why, after writing a column. I wrote my first column in 1966, not for the Herald. This is out West. I've been doing columns off and on for forty-odd years. So, after such a short time away from the business, why would I not just be pining, going through withdrawal symptoms? I don't know. But I'm enjoying just being a civilian, if I can put it that way. I'm enjoying reading the newspaper without my radar on.

A columnist has to have his radar going on constantly. Looking for ideas for columns. You cannot read your own newspaper or another newspaper without that radar just tracking slightly ahead of each word that you're reading, looking for an idea for a column [whose] deadline is coming at you, in my case every two days.

BB: Four times a week.

PD: Four times a week. And, meeting people: Even when you're not working, you're never not working. I think as a journalist and as a columnist, you are constantly working, day and night. Off duty? [You're] never off duty. Your radar is just going constantly looking for interesting stories. Eavesdropping. We'd be sitting in a booth like you and I are now, and I would be half paying attention to you, and my radar would be half picking up what's going on in the next booth, or the next booth over there. And, my eye would be wandering, thinking, "Is that the premier? Who's he having lunch with?" [chuckles]

And, now, I'm not. I'm focused. I haven't dismantled my radar; it's been too long in use. But I just switched it on low, so it alerts me if there's a car coming or about to cross the road. My radar is the same as anybody else's radar now: Survival radar, as opposed to "Column/Career/Earning a living" radar. And it's nice to be like this: To be like you!

BB: I still work.

PD: Yes. But it's nice to be Peter Duffy. Just Peter Duffy. Not Peter Duffy of the Herald, which is how I would introduce myself. "Hi. I'm Peter Duffy from the Herald". On the phone, when I was working, when I wasn't working, it was your second skin. And, it was fine. I loved it. I liked the Herald. I liked my job.

BB: To what extent did that job define your life? You said you were Peter Duffy of the Herald.

PD: Well, I think I was my job, and my job was me. That's a sad thing to say, to admit to. In one of my goodbye columns, when I was musing aloud in print about [whether] I should take the buy out at the Herald or not, I did say that it was more difficult for a man to step aside from a job, his career, because, in my opinion, a man and his job are more closely linked than a woman and her job, a woman and her career.

Oh, you can imagine the flak! [chuckles] But, I still maintain it: That a man is his career much more than a woman is her career. A woman is multi-tasking, is multi-faceted. She is her job. She is her career. But she is more. She is her family. She is her faith. She is many things. I think a man becomes his career; it's what keeps you upright as a guy, to my mind, moreso than a woman. And, I still say that. And I don't care who knows it!

BB: My dad is long since retired. He is 78. He has to have something to do. He thinks he'll just rust if he ...

PD Rests than rusts. Bev, I may come to that once I come to enjoying not doing. I'm on holiday, still. I'm being very selfish. I'm not volunteering for anything. I'm not taking on any committments other than a few speaking engagements. But I don't know if that will last. When I feel it's time for the next adventure, then I'll go out and start looking, if and when that time comes.

BB: Have you been approached?

PD: By anybody? No, no. I just fell right off the radar. And that was good. It sounds strange to say, but I'm glad that I wasn't approached. I didn't need anything other than just to be quiet and still for a while. I needed to catch my breath. And I'm still in "catching my breath" mode right now.

If something came along, once I got my deck project finished, I would certainly consider it. I might even go out and shake a few trees, a few bushes. But, right now, I'm just very happy being me, just having all the time in the world. And the good weather! The good weather is here. It's just a bonus. My days are a joy. They're so different from my career days, my work days, which I loved, but that was a different adventure. Now, I'm on a new track, a new adventure.

BB: You used to take the Herald van or truck and drive down dirt roads and just find stores. Now, you can drive down those same dirt roads just for the sake of driving down the road.

PD: Yes. I could probably go down every dirt road that I drove down for the Herald and see if completely differently now. In fact, I've done a few, and come back, very refreshed. I went out to see a lady who's become a dear friend. She's going to be 100 this Fall. All the dealings she and I had had over the years had been through the filter of my job. I was doing stories when she was 90, 95. And now, she and I are meeting on a different level. It's part of this swtiching off the radar that I'm doing.

I can do that, unlike my younger colleagues who left at the same time, left the Herald. They still need to work. They still need to earn a living. They have mortgages, families, and commitments. They're young. That was, I think, one of the tragedies of what happened at the Herald this year with the layoffs. There were so many young, talented people who got caught up in the harvesting and the layoffs. They weren't the old farts. These were young people in their late twenties, early thirties, just about to have a baby, just got a new house, new car. And I thought, "My God. How are they going to manage?" Because, there is not a big demand for journalists in Nova Scotia or Halifax. There are fewer jobs than ever before.

Look at what's happening at the CBC now. [massive layoffs across the country] I'm in a different boat because of my age, 66. I'm pensionable, getting severance pay. If I was financially hard up, then this conversation might be very different. In fact, we may not be having this conversation, because I'd be out looking for a job like crazy. [chuckles] I would have no time to do this. But, money is not a problem. And, I felt a little guilty about that in comparison to my colleagues, the younger ones for whom money is a major urgency: The loss of a wage. And, then, I calm myself down. I say, "Listen, Duffy: You've been working since you were 18. That's, what, 48 years? And, you've been working towards being financially comfortable. So, why are you feeling guilty?" But, I did. [chuckles] I still felt guilty.

So, I'm in a good place, Bev: Mentally, emotionally, financially. This is an amazing place that I'm at right now. It really is.

BB: Excellent. I'm glad to hear it.

2.5 Did you ever have a column spiked? Which one(s), and how did you react to this?

PD: Yes. I've had a number of columns spiked. I had some spiked during the troubles at the Herald at the end because we withheld our bylines, as a union. It's one thing for a news reporter to withhold a byline because management can just put on it, "Our Staff". But for a columnist, a column is a personal thing. It's about you, and your reaction to events. And, for the reader not to know who's talking, whose voice this is, it's difficult.

I was aware of that, so when the boycott began, as the union president, of course I had to lead the boycott. I re-jigged my column to take me out of the column and make it read more like a little feature. It was still readable; you wouldn't be puzzled about who the Hell was talking here. It wasn't built like that. But, that column still got pulled because my name wasn't on it. Three [columns] in all got pulled because my name wasn't on it. So it was nothing I'd done other than ask my name not go on the columns as a show of solidarity with the union.

That's one thing. Sometimes I've gone over the line in terms of something I've said. Minorities are very touchy things to write about. Aboriginal people, Blacks, handicapped. Sometimes I've been shrill in some of the things I've said about minorities if I thought that a minority was abusing the good will of the system to the point where you dare not say anything wrong about a minority group, for fear of being accused of being a racist, sexist, ageist, whatever. All of which I've been called.

And, quite frankly, Bev, I found it quite liberating. You think I'm sexist? Stand up and say it, and I'll print it. I'll print your comment to me. I'm racist? Step up and tell me. Write a letter to the editor, or write a letter to me. I'll publish it. And, people did. I found it most liberating because we got that nonsense out of the way now. You got your worst shot in, because those words are like nuclear bombs. Nobody wants to be called a racist or a sexist or an "ist" anything. My God! You can get fired. You can get taken to the tribunal for that. But, once you've been called that, and you're still standing (you haven't been fired; you haven't been sued; you haven't been taken to the cleaners or to the tribunal), it's quite liberating. Not to the degree where you use it as a license to be unfair to a minority group. But after you've been called all those things, to have the courage to still say, "That's fine. However, I still think that the Aboriginal community should have done this ", or whatever the situation was. [It's] because they can't do any more harm to you than they've already done by calling you racist, or sexist, or whatever.

I discovered to my joy that once we got that out of the way, we could talk. I could talk to the Black community, and they could talk to me. I could talk to the Aboriginal community; I could go into their communities, literally. I went to the Prestons once, after being chastized for something I'd written about the Black community. I went to the Black community, and I spent time there, the whole day there, knocking on doors, going to the church, and asking, "Why, as a white person, am I afraid of you? Because I am." And people would talk to me, if you were upfront.

We're not upfront enough. We don't say what's on our minds. We dance. We pussyfoot. We tremble. And, as a consequence, whatever it is that's going wrong continues to go wrong because very few people will stand up and say, "That's not right", or, "That's wrong, and just because you're a minority does not give you the license to wag the dog. The tail wagging the dog. We're in a democracy here where majority rules, and yet not always. Minorities set the tone, set the pace. And, I thought that was appalling. I''m not saying I thought that minorities were wrong, but I was appalled more at the reaction of the majority to just back off, cave in, and say, "Oh, God. You're right. We're wrong. We're bad." And, I'll be damned if I'll apologize for my birthright, of who I am and who I was born.

I want you to talk to me. That's what my column was all about. Me telling you, "This is what I think about you. This is what I think about what you've done, what your community has done. And now you tell me what you think. We'll argue. We'll scream at each other. But at least we'll be talking, for God's sake. And I won't be as afraid of you as I at am now, and you will maybe know a little more about me and not be as afraid of me. Because, my God, we're all afraid of each other.

BB: It's through communication that people come to respect one another.

PD: Yes. It is. And, we're not communicating. We've got all the media. We've never had media like we have now. The ability to communicate, my God with the technology, we've got so much stuff to say, and so much stuff needs saying, and so little is getting said. And, we're all afraid of it. I think if I have any regrets about stepping away from journalism, it's that I won't be there trying to make people talk to each other. Honestly talk about what's on their mind. I'm sad about that. I will miss that. It was very satisfying. Very scary sometimes because of the feedback I got and some of the comments, and the threats.

I once got such terrible threats, and I published them in a column, that the Mounties called me [chuckles]. I never knew until that day that there's a special squad of Mounties based at the Airport whose only job is to safeguard public buildings in Nova Scotia, and public figures. That's their job. The sergeant called me up after he read my column of the threats that I'd been getting from readers on something I'd written about the Iraqi war; and he wanted to know if I had had any threats that were beyond what I had printed in the paper, if there were any that went into threats against public figures. I said, "No. They're all directed at me". The sergeant paused for a minute, and said, "Mr. Duffy, do you feel you need protection?" He was thinking maybe they needed to protect me. [chuckles]

I said, "Oh, my God. I never really thought of that before. No, I'm o.k."

I've never felt threatened in my whole career. I've caused a lot of anger amongst readers over the years, different places, different papers. I had upset a judge in Fort McMurray, the main judge in town; and he phoned me up and said, "You need to be horsewhipped!" He was so upset [chuckles]. So, I've had my share. But never to that degree that I'd need protection by the police, no.

BB: Getting back to the spiking...

PD: Sorry! Spiking.

BB: ...were some of those "ist" columns spiked?

PD: Yes. They would be the ones where I had said what I thought about a minority. I tried to do it in a constructive way, but sometimes my emotions, my zeal, got the better of me. And I went over the top, across the line; and the editor said, "Uh, uh. It ain't running like this!"

Occasionally, it got through, and it was brought to my attention that it was uncalled for, unfair, whatever I'd said was way over the line. If it was, in hindsight, I apologized in the next column for what I'd said in the previous column. I was never afraid to say I was wrong in a follow up column, or that I had crossed a line and apologized to whatever community I had offended if it was plain that I had offended them in hindsight.

Nobody likes to apologize. You'd sooner cut off your tongue than apologize. But I would apologize. And, I found, instead of a weakness, that I gained an awful lot of respect by mistakes that I owned up to. Whenever I realized I had made one, or had gone too far, I would own up to it. I never tried to hide it, because that was getting too much baggage. If you had too much baggage, you can't do the job, at least as a columnist. You have to be up there, warts and all. And, you have to have the trust of the readers. If you don't have that, nobody's going to read you.

3. You said you took out a subscription to the Herald upon your retirement. Do you feel the paper provides good value for your money?

PD: [Long Pause] Bev, I've never had a subscription to a newspaper before. I'd been in the business for 43 years, and I'd always got my papers free. You get free newspapers. You just pick one up when you go in. This is the first time in my whole life that I've ever had a newspaper subscription.

It's an awful thin paper. It has become awful thin. But I knew that anyway, from the inside looking out. I was surprised by how little money it costs to get a subscription. It's a couple hundred dollars for a year, and i was quite surprised because i would get every Saturday's paper. I would buy it because I wasn't in the office on Saturday. I would buy the Globe and Mail and the Saturday Chronicle Herald. I think the Saturday Herald was about a buck twenty five. 52 Saturdays times a buck twenty five is about sixty five dollars a year. That's how much I was already spending on the Herald, whereas for another hundred and thirty five dollars I was suddenly getting the paper every day. So, I was happy by how little the subscription cost me. Financially, I think it's reasonable. What you get for that two hundred and odd dollars, knowing the constraints the paper is under; knowing that the staff is suddenly reduced by that many reporters and editors and columnists; knowing how advertising is continuing to slide; Ithink it's the best value possible. Which is me coming crab-wise at your question. I don't think I could expect anything more, given the circumstances.

BB:They do what the can with what they have.

PD: Yes. I get the flyers. We get them on Wednesdays, and Thursdays. She's "tick", boys. She's "tick". But the flyers are a form of information as well. I know the Herald doesn't put them out; it just carries them.

But [the Herald] is a satisfying package. Some days the package is more satisfying than others. But I woudl not like to be without any of the seven issues each week. I will resubscribe!

4.You seemed to have a warm relationship with Rick Howe; among other things, you covered his final Hotline last year. Is that the case? How do you feel about the state of talk radio in Halifax?

PD: Not a lot of thought, Bev, quite honestly. I was so busy doing my own job. I was always flattered when Rick asked me come on his show, and Andrew Krystal. Those are the only two shows I can remember.

BB: Oh, you were on Andrew's show as well?

PD: I was. I don't know how big the audiences are. Do you have any idea? You've talked to these radio guys? Are they very big audeinces?

BB: it all depends on how they break down the demographics. They say that CJCH had 2.6 percent of the listenership. But they didn't care that twelve-year-old girls were not listening. They were in a particular demographic. And within that demographic it was doing reasonably well. But, once again, twelve year-old girls are the ones buying things, not people our age, [so the question is], what's the listnership, and what's the value of that listenership?

PD: When I go visit my buddy who lives across the road (my buddy who's going to help me build my deck this summer), he always has talk radio on in the mornings. When I've had to go for a doctor's appointment or somewhere in a public building, when I was working for the Herald, I was noting how many times talk radio was playing in the background.

I think there is a market for it. I enjoyed doing it. It's a lot more fun to talk than to write. It's a lot easier to be on the radio to talk, like you and i are doing now, than to sit and play on the computer with words and get yourself more and more confused about should be the best part of the story, what you should lead with, and looking for a good punch line for the ending.

I think if I hadn't been in journalism, I might have tried talk radio. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the experience. If Rick Howe or Andrew Krystal ever moves over, would somebody call me, please, and give me nod so I can put in an application? [chuckles]

BB: People in the industry read my blog, so we'll see what happens.

5. How do you fill your days since your retirement?

PD: I don't know. I don't know how I fill my days. [chuckles] They just fill. Yesterday, I had to go to Chester to see the building inspector to ask about building my deck. He couldn't see us until the afternoon. So, that's fine. That was the afternoon taken care of. In the whole morning, I read a book about the start up of The National Post. [This was] one of the books I had by the side of my easy chair that I had bought over the years and never had the time or the energy to get to. I'm kind of worried because the pile is going down now.

That's how yesterday passed: The morning, I was with The National Post, all the ins and outs of Conrad Black and getting the Post started. And, in the afternoon, I was on the road to Chester and talking decks and trusses and 2x2's with the building inspector. And, today, I'm here with you. This afternoon, I'll go home. I want to get back and finish my National Post book. It was so interesting.

The days, I putter. The furnace in my basement has got rust spots; there's been water dripping. Over the years parts of it [have become] rusty. I painted my furnace the day before yesterday with rust proof paint. It looks much better now! I feel much better. What's that? A one hour job, maybe. But dammit, it was fun to do. It was mindless, but I enjoyed it. And, whenever I walk past it now, I say, "God, that looks sharp!".

There are just nicks and dings in the paint work in our townhouse in Bedford where we live. I got some touch up paint. As I feel like it, I just do [a little touch up]. Isn't that a stupid thing? A grown man, getting pleasure out of this? But it's just jobs that have been let go. I'm touching up my life, all of these little nicks and dings in my life that I never got to.

BB: It's almost a metaphor.

PD: It's almost a metaphor. Yes. It is. I have my daytimer. The Herald let me take my daytimer home; it was no use to anybody else. I keep it on my breakfast counter. I look ahead, and next week is empty. At the moment, it's empty, but come Monday, it's going to be filling. There will be bits filling in, things that will crop up. Somebody wants to go have lunch. I have to go back and see the building inspector. I have a little memo to myself: "Go on road trip" on a little sticky note that I transfer from week to week. A little nudge to myself.

Listen: The day comes you don't have anything else on, get in the car and go down those back roads. The days pass in a very gentle, nice way. And, when I hear my wife's key in the door at 4:30, 5 o'clock, I'm stunned that it's that time. The time is not weighing heavy. I'm not missing a routine, a rhythm, a purpose. Each day brings just pleasant little puttering.

I'm happy. I'm a happy man.

BB: I'm happy for you!

6. You mentioned before that you didn't mind if people disagreed with your columns, so long as they did not consider them boring. Despite this, are there some columns you wish you had not written because they sparked a backlash or were misinterpreted by readers?

PD:[Long Pause] Bev, I can't think of one that I wish I hadn't written. Even the ones that caused me pain, that came back and bit me, and a number of them did, as we were discussing earlier. They led on to new wisdom, new experiences, new columns.

Getting back to the minority communities: Whenever I upset a minority community, I would get an angry e-mail or phone call from a member of that community. It may be the chief, if it was a Native community.

I wrote a column about a year ago asking, "What do Native people want? They've got the sun and the moon, and they want the stars as well." The roof fell in. Even my own boss came in and scorched me on that one. I got some very, very abrasive feedback from the Native community. So, I invited myself to the community. I said, "Listen. Don't tell me over the phone. Don't tell me in an e-mail. I want to come and meet you, sit down in your kitchen over a cup of tea. You tell me this face-to-face. Let's just talk about this. Let's just find out where I've gone wrong here".

Whether they were stunned at my reaction or what, I don't know. But they would invite me. "Well, ok. You come up. Can you come up tomorrow?" [I'd say] "Yes, I can come up tomorrow. Give me your address. Have the kettle on at 10 o'clock and I'll be in Truro. I'll be at Millbrook [or whereever]".

And, I've made a lot of contacts, a lot of friends that way. What started out as daggars drawn, led on to all kinds of good stuff. I came away from these bruising encounters a wiser man, and I could write with more wisdom the next time. And, next time I would annoy somebody else, and I'd invite myself to their house. [chuckles]

There was never a door that was closed to me because of what I've written. Even misguided columns that I wrote caused doors to open, or helped to open doors to me, through which I passed to a new understanding of problems, of people.

I never regretted any of the columns unless I hurt somebody inadvertently with something I'd written. They were embarrassed or held up to scorn in their community because of talking to me, and people misread or read into it their own prejudices and took it out on the person of whom I wrote. I regretted that, whenever I hurt somebody. There were people I hurt. Not deliberately.

I never knowingly used my position to hurt anybody, or threaten anybody, except once.


PD: I did a story on a street person who had a dog. It was just a mongrel. It was his companion. The dog was in bad shape. It had mange. [It was] losing its skin. [It was] hungry. I did a story on this man and his dog. I convinced the man to get help for the dog through the SPCA, to trust the SPCA with his dog. He wouldn't abandon it, and he knew it needed help; and I convinced him to give it to the SPCA.

When I told a colleague at work what I'd done, my colleague said, "Oh, my God. You know they'll do? They'll just put the dog down!".

BB: Oh, no. I hope they didn't!

PD: Well, I was just beside myself. I phoned the president of the Nova Scotia SPCA. I introduced myself. "You have this dog in your care. If any harm comes to that dog, if you put that dog down because it's more trouble to try and cure it than not, I will come after you with my column. I will cause you all kinds of problems."

I'd never done that, [in] 43 years of journalism. Never, ever used my position, my freedom as a journalist, to threaten anybody, except that one time.

The dog survived, was given the most loving treatment. I don't believe ever had any intention to hurt that dog, but I wasn't taking any chances. The dog is now happily adopted by a family on the Eastern Shore. It found a new home. It's healthy. You would never know anything was ever wrong with it. The SPCA brought it back to life. And I feel good about that. But I was stunned that I might have caused it to be put down. [chuckles].

BB: I'm an animal lover and...

PD: You would have done the same.

BB: Yes. I would have done the same thing.

7. You spent the bulk of your Herald career, almost all of it, at the former Argyle Street building. How jarring, how emotional, was the move to the new offices at the Armdale Roundabout in 2008?

BB: Was it time to leave that place?

PD: No! Perhaps, Bev, if we had stayed on Argyle, my decision to leave the Herald when I did might have been harder to make. I missed the Argyle Street place. The longer I stayed in the new building, the more I missed the old building.

The old building was a newspaper building. It smelled of newspapers. It was old. It had mice. Paint was peeling. The elevator was slow, ancient. But, dammit, it was a newspaper building. The press was in the basement. There was ink in the walls. There was ink in the carpets. Damn, it was a newspaper building.

The new facilities on Joe Howe Drive were magnificent. I had never worked in such beautiful surroundings: Top-of-the-line furniture, desks, carpeting, accoutrements, wallpaper. But it was an office building. I had gone from a newspaper building -- which was like watering a plant for me: I thrivedi in it -- to a sterile office building. We had cubicles. You couldn't really see each other once you sat down and felt like you were in a call center.

The Herald spent a lot of money making the place nice for us. But the atmosphere didn't come with us. I missed [Argyle Street] terribly.

BB: You still do.

PD:I still do. I think if they moved back to Argyle Street, I might put an application in for a job. Even as a delivery boy!

BB: I think when they got the new presses out where ever they got them...

PD: Hammonds Plains.

BB: ... then the writing was on the wall for that space on Argyle, because the printing presses were on Argyle Street. I used to walk by there on a Friday night and see them loading up the papers. I guess the truck drivers would deliver all night? There would be that one printing press, and from there papers were distributed all across the entire province.

PD: The entire province, yes. It was the only industry still downtown when I came to town in 1980. I miss it. The Old Lady of Argyle Street. A dear old place. But, of course, we had to sell it to pay for the new presses. Or, to pay toward the new presses: it didn't cover the whole cost of the presses. Twenty-five million or so. State-of-the-art stuff; it doesn't come cheap.

God Bless the Old Lady of Argyle.

BB: Rumour is that it's coming down in October. That will be a sad day.

PD: I don't think I want to see it.

8. Do you see yourself starting a blog?

PD: No. I'm quite happy not writing, not communicating. Just being me. No blogs. No websites. No anything. Just being free and easy. At least at this point. Actually, a blog sounds like a lot of work.

BB: I have a daily deadline I give myself. I try to write something every single damn day. I only have 30 or 40 people who read it [every day], so I am not sure if they appreciate it or notice, but it's something I do.

9. Do you keep in touch with your former colleagues?

PD: Sadly, no. I've spoken to a couple over the past two months; but that was more just to congratulate them on nominations they got for awards and a little union business that needed taking care of. But other than that, no. I've had coffee with a dear friend at the paper a couple of times. We keep in touch. But I'm not one of these people who, when you leave, you have to keep going back every six months and walk around your old work place and talk to everybody and get on their nerves [chuckles].

Bev, I figure: When you're gone, you're gone. Walk away. Don't go back. That's it. New adventures. New friends. I'll be good.

BB: Acknowledge your past, but don't live in it.

PD: But don't live in it. Well, we're different already. Two months, even a day's separation, you're not the same. So, why try and make it the same?

No. I'm not going back.

10. Is there a future for print media in Halifax?

PD: [chuckles] You save the easy ones for last, don't you?

BB: Yes.

PD: Bev, I believe there is. Short answer. What shape it will take, I don't know. A hybrid of the tactile (the papers we have now) married to the internet. Whether the paper itself is a teaser for what's on the web... I don't know. Some kind of hybrid, anyway.

Newspapers as we know them? No. They're in a state of flux, a state of change. Will they perhaps marry with television and radio? The leader's debate [for the then-running provincial election campaign] on CBC on Monday night was a joint Chronicle Herald-CBC production. You'll see oftentimes when polling is done, not necessarily for elections, but polling is done, it will be a joint CBC-Globe and Mail effort. There are synergies happening between media...

BB: Is that a way to save money? I'm presuming it's really expensive to do a poll.

PD: How much, I don't know. But I would imagine so. I think there's an economies of scale there. Who's to say that that kind of cooperation with the debate that we're mentioning, that we don't see that expand. Perhaps a series on the Sydney tarponds, or poverty in Nova Scotia, or some major issues where CBC or CTV and the Herald link up and you'll see it in both media.

I think it's coming into an exciting phase, newspapers in general. Scary: Some of the big names are disappearing. But those who will be left, and I believe that the Herald will be left, will survive. I think our grandkids will be reading The Chronicle Herald, in some form, in some fashion. The Herald isn't going to disappear. But it will change. It has to be relevant. For a medium to survive, it has to be relevant.

And I'm not sure politics is paramount in people's lives these days, given the distrust that we have of politicians. They open their mouths. We know they're lying. And yet we still, and the Herald still, devotes a lot of space to politics. I'm not saying we should not cover politics. I'm saying that a story about poverty in Nova Scotia ...

BB: That was an excellent series that you guys did.

PD: Wasn't it! That will be more read. Issues that come right in through your front door are what the Herald needs to do.

What other issues? Crime. Fear on the streets. We do crime stories every day. There's a problem out there. I don't have the answers to how we can write about it that will be different to how the Herald has written about it before. But, somehow, we have to get into people's homes with these issues. Given the Herald, and I'm talking about the Herald because I know it best, given how the Herald's staff has shrunk, and its resources are not as big as they once were, I think that the Herald needs to brainstorm more [on] what people need to read because the Herald, like any other newspaper that's in business, has to sell papers. It's nice to be a public trust, and to fight for the litle guy and to expose corruption and to have all of these altruistic ideals. It's good to have that. But the bottom line of a newspaper, of a tv station, of a radio station: Make money. And you only make money if people are buying you or listening to you. And you only get people reading you if you're writing about what's on their minds: What's pleasing them, what's hurting them, what's scaring them.

BB: What's affecting them.

PD: Yes. What comes in their front door when they come home at night. Bev, one of the things I used to do when I worked at the Herald: I trained myself when I would be in public, after work, going to Sobeys, get my groceries. I trained myself to look at the people around me, in the line ups, waiting to pay for my groceries. To listen and to look at them. To the woman ahead of me with her two little children, squalling away. She's tired. She just wants to get the groceries paid for and get home. I'm looking at her and thinking, "What can I write about tomorrow that's she's going to want to read?" She's going to tell the kids to be quiet while she reads takes five minutes to read Duffy. What can I possibly write to capture her attention, given the other things she has going on her in life?

And, the guy standing in front of me. He's wet. He's tired. He's on his way home from work, and it's been a rainy day, and he's had a bad day. What the Hell can I write about that will capture his attention? I think that the Herald, all media, need to go stand in the grocery store lineup for quite a while, for quite a few weeks, and just listen. And look. And figure out: What can we possibly put in our paper, on our radio station, that will capture this poor woman's attention, this woman with her kids, and this guy who's wet, and this old person who doesn't have a lot of money and she's not sure how she's going to pay for her groceries. What do we need to write about, that will get their attention? That will interest them? Help them, perhaps? But, most of all, make them buy the damn paper tomorrow? [chuckles]

Wrap Up:

BB: Peter Duffy, thank you so much for your time today. I know you're retired and like to take things easy, so I appreciate your coming downtown and sitting down with a silly guy like me. I hope, as a blogger, that I didn't ask questions that were embarrassing or inappropriate because I'm learning how to interview as I go along.

PD: Bev, the pleasure was mine. Thank you for even thinking of me. I'm flattered, really. This is a nice change-of-pace where I get to say what I think in an interview, for a change. This is interesting. And I thought your questions were good ones.

BB: I appreciate your kind words.

PD: You were good. You done good!

BB: Thank you again.

PD: My pleasure.

1 comment:

Reg Schofield said...

Excellent interview Bev. I always read Duffy , didn't agree with him always but liked his honesty.