Editor’s Letter: When the news is the news

Editor’s Letter: When the news is the news

The new owners of the Toronto Star, the country’s largest newspaper, seemed ironically unwilling to sit down for an interview. As details of their fractured partnership emerged, it became apparent why

Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth

The bomb dropped in May of 2020: John Honderich, whose family had co-owned the Toronto Star for decades, was in sell mode. Honderich was more than part owner and chairman. He was the paper: progressive, genial, smart, resolute. To see his long frame, lantern jaw and signature bowtie was to witness a walking manifestation of the institution. But, after decades of runaway profitability, the paper had hit tough times. Lean months turned into lean years. The company’s share price plummeted. As had happened to traditional media everywhere, the Star’s revenue was hollowed out by Facebook and other tech vultures who profit from content they didn’t create, and a reversal of this trend seemed unlikely. It broke his heart, but Honderich knew it was time to move on.

Related: Inside the vicious battle for control of the Toronto Star

The buyers were relatively unknown. Jordan Bitove came from a prominent, wealthy family, but he himself was an enigma. Paul Rivett had been president at insurance and investment giant Fairfax­ but likewise kept a low profile.

Soon, a few details trickled out. Bitove had run some profitable businesses in the city. Rivett was an ardent capitalist with a knack for financial turnarounds. Both had donated to conservative politicians and causes, which caused some Star subscribers to fear that the paper’s liberal values would be sacrificed like a spring lamb. There were also vague rumours of an online casino business. The progressive paper of record owned by apparent right-­wingers and propped up by roulette profits? This was no longer Honderich’s baby.

Paul Rivett (left) and Jordan Bitove. Photo by Getty Images

So who were these guys? A good answer was still lacking. In March of 2021, we decided to find out. Step one of any profile assignment is what you’d expect: ask for an interview. The odds of them saying yes were good. They were, after all, trying to strengthen and expand their brand, and a little publicity might help. Soon, word came back that they were indeed interested, and we set about scheduling interviews. Then, a month later, an unexplained change of heart: they were suddenly unavailable. Could we try again in a year? We agreed, but when they later put us off again, we opted to proceed without their participation. That’s called a write-around, and it’s a laborious undertaking that requires dozens, sometimes hundreds of calls to get a full, fair portrait.

We assigned the story to Jason McBride, a veteran journalist and beautiful stylist. As Jason embarked on his mission, he learned all about Bitove and Rivett, their professional and personal histories, their leadership styles and plans for the paper. Eventually, Rivett agreed to an interview—but without Bitove. Something was up.

In the fall of 2022, we heard rumblings. All was not well at the Star. Bitove and Rivett were fighting over just about everything, and the situation was increasingly hostile. Suddenly, the year and a half of runaround and foot-dragging made sense. The pair had been in conflict almost from the hop. If they’d sat down with Jason, their friction would have been on full display.

Around the end of 2022, as their split was being finalized, both participated in exclusive interviews (separately, naturally), and Jason got to the bottom of how the duo fell apart so spectacularly and what lies ahead. The resulting cover story is full of twists, turns and revelations about the precarious state of our vital industry. Like all quality journalism, it was worth the wait.

Malcolm Johnston is the editor of Toronto Life. He can be reached via email at [email protected].