Remedial Media: Mr. Holland’s Opus

That didn’t take long.

Only two months ago, David Holland, CEO of Torstar, assumed the additional mantle of publisher of the Toronto Star when John Cruickshank shuffled off the stage. Holland declared he was going to “immerse” himself in the paper.

This week, the 58-year-old bean counter came up gasping for air, announcing to the world, and to his undoubtedly nonplussed family, that the moment had come when he felt the need to spend more time with them, and that he was “retiring.”

So why did Davey walk the plank after 30 years’ dweebish service to the 1 Yonge empire?

Let us count the ways:

Stock price, down to $1.59 from $12 or thereabouts when Holland took over as CEO in 2009.

Bad decisions, mainly on failed digital plays. For example:  Shop.ca filed for bankruptcy last week, notwithstanding endless millions of free promos in the Star and its associated websites, wiping out about $15 million in Torstar investment.

Tablet disaster. Star Touch remains cemented in neutral, even as more and more millions of dollars are sunk in promotion. A year in, the dog is still not hunting, just listlessly licking its neuticals.

Oh, and a newsroom suicide.

Faithful readers will know about the death of Raveena Aulakh, the popular environment reporter, whose demise was triggered by a singularly sordid sequence of legovers that left her bereft as senior managers went bonking away without her.

The result has been a complete collapse of faith in their bosses by the troops on the floor, a crisis of confidence that has been metastasizing for over a month.

One head rolled, that of Jon Filson, the tablet guru who abandoned Raveena to polish desks with his boss, Managing Editor Jane Davenport. But not sweet Jane, who was awarded a still-unannounced new role at the joint.

The ham-handed management response only made matters worse. The feckless delay in publicly acknowledging Aulakh’s death, and its backstory, fuelled the fire. And the appointment of Irene Gentle as new ME didn’t help. A Hamilton Spectator refugee, she never won over the newsroom in her role as city editor, so to have her lead the tribe is seen as an insult by many.

“She makes sure the Fresh Air Fund gets plenty of ink,” said one Star sluggo this week, “But that’s about all.”

It’s inconceivable that poor Holland wasn’t part of the problem. When an editor (come on down, Michael Cooke), is confronted with a crisis, it’s the publisher he consults. But their decisions only compounded the problem, and ya reaps what ya sows.

A sad end for a perfectly inoffensive accountant, but Holland did walk away with $3.5-million dollars last year, and according to severance terms, gets roughly double that as a parting gift.

The remaining question, of course, is Cooke. The ebullient Brit imbued the Star with a swagger unseen in decades when he returned seven years ago. The past year, however, has been filled with predictably boring Star stories about the afflicted.

No scoops from city hall, or Ottawa, where the Star once terrified the competition. And even with the generous doses of “Star Exclusive” and “Star Gets Action” stuck atop banal stories, there’s precious little protein.

Their near-shutout at the National Newspaper Awards, a uniquely obsessional matter at the Star, has only added to the general air of despond.

So you fire the coach.

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One comment on “Remedial Media: Mr. Holland’s Opus
  1. Nete Peedham says:

    Another of their brilliant decisions was to cut off comments, driving MORE people away!

    They wanted to go behind a paywall…another farce.

    The Star could maybe improve by bringing back online comments, and then FIRING THE MODERATORS, those pathetic, parasitic little control freaks who consider themselves neutral, yet are invariably capricious.

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