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Our 40th anniversary: don’t lose your nerve and be lucky

It began as many things do. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

It began as many things do. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into.

Well, I knew it was a weekly newspaper in Sudbury and that it had lost money from the beginning of its time, but I didn’t know this was the decision, such as it was, that would change the rest of my life.

The idea of being in the publishing business for 40 years in Northern Ontario was a preposterous thought.

Just getting to 40 years of age seemed daunting, as my father had died at the age of 33.

Anyway, there was no time for thought. It was all action and little contemplation. I was lucky—and I’ve told this story before. I was editor of the Manitoulin Expositor in Little Current at the time and through a comical set of events (don’t have space to tell) came into possession of a building that housed the Expositor.

One day, a salesman from the House of Broadloom in Sudbury came in to sell carpet.

I told him I didn’t need carpet to publish the paper. He told me it would increase the value of the building. We drank late into the night at the Anchor Inn across the street (not much to do at night back then) and he ended up on the floor of my cottage, and I promised to come to Sudbury one day if he would just leave town.

A few weeks later, I got on my motorcycle and visited that House. I ran into the owner and he said, “Are you that guy from Manitoulin?” I said yes. He said, “We are losing our shirt on this newspaper in Sudbury and I’ll give you a hell of a deal on the carpet if you will take the newspaper.” I said yes.

On September 23, 1973 we published our first of many moneylosing editions of Northern Life in Sudbury.

We would not have survived if four people had not believed in me and the idea. Those people are Rennie Mastin, Bob Bateman, Andy Markle and Ron Heale. In order, a lawyer, a businessman, a printer who could afford not to be paid, and an accountant like no other I have ever met before or since. Extraordinary people.

At one time, we owned newspapers in Ignace, Thunder Bay, Nipigon/Red Rock, Terrace Bay, Sudbury, Sturgeon Falls, North Bay and, of course, our beloved Northern Ontario Business. Each paper had its own story, set of characters and relationship with its community.

It has been an absolute hoot to have the privilege to serve Northerners in a variety of ways over so many years. Additionally, we have had the pleasure to expand our activities across the country and for a time into the United States.

One of our greatest joys is the annual Northern Ontario Business Awards. For 26 years, we have honoured the best among us. There have been 230 winners.

The stories of perseverance, innovation, dedication and love of place have been inspiring. We’ve tried to be a conduit of that spirit. You have to be great to survive the volatility of a resource economy and the market challenges of cost and distance from markets.

The common denominator of our winners has been how much they love living in the North.

It is impossible not to be reflective on a 40th anniversary of anything. It is a long time.

I’m grateful for the extraordinary people that have worked with us over the years. Many have been or were with us for long periods of time and put their heart and soul into our mission.

What they enjoy the most, I think, is the instant and pleasurable gratification of serving people.

Being publishers we put on our community T-shirts in the morning and you know who we are and what we have done for you lately.

I might add you are not shy in telling us how you feel about that.

Forty years ago, the technological revolutions that allowed us to compete were offset presses (freed us from the monopoly of daily newspapers) and the arrival of (remember this) word processors.

Today, everyone is a publisher and boy, do we have to be good to keep your attention. Fortunately, we are.

The world is changing. From a media point of view, it is unrecognizable. The problem I have today is that I have a clue about what we are getting into. Our challenge is to be human in a world travelling at inhuman speed.

I plan to retire in 10 years at the age of 75 after 50 years of publishing. I will write the same column and bid adieu. Thank you one and all for your patience and support. We all have much to be thankful for.