RRJ logo

Fred Kuntz specializes in landscapes. He’s always been serious about painting—to the point of mounting a two-week show in 1992 at Gallery 360 called “A Winter’s Walk.” The exhibit showcased a series of 24 Toronto streetscapes; 16 sold. The rest, along with some related lithographs, still sit in the basement of his Port Credit, Ontario home.

When it comes to putting paint to canvas, Kuntz prefers acrylic to oil. “It’s like me—abrupt,” he says. “Oil, you smoosh it around and a day later it might dry, and it can get very mucky along the way if you smoosh too much. Acrylic, you put it on and it dries. If you don’t like it, paint over it.”

The way Kuntz paints reflects his approach to life in general. “I’d rather decide quicker than mull over something for ages,” he says. “I like action—I get frustrated when things are noodled for months on end and don’t end in resolution.”

John Quinlan scowls as each section editor presents his or her top stories for tomorrow’s paper. Dumbledore is gay, California’s on fire and City Hall is hiking taxes. Quinlan, the Toronto Star’s assistant managing editor for nights, slouches in silence at the head of the crowded table, his arms crossed. Sitting to his right, beside managing editor Joe Hall, is editor-in-chief Fred Kuntz. He’s just as quiet. His chin, covered by a well-groomed goatee, rests on one hand as he flips through the lineup and makes notes on a legal pad. The editors finish and the crowded room is quiet. The only sound is Quinlan’s heavy breathing.

It’s 3:30 p.m. on October 22, 2007, and the next edition of the Star is taking shape. Quinlan finally says, “There’s only one story.” That’s the impending City Hall vote, on a proposal to fix its budget shortfall by adding a municipal vehicle tax and a surcharge on the sale of residential homes. Quinlan explains, in more words than he’s said in the entire meeting, how the front page will be split into three sections: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Editors scribble furiously. There will be pictures, graphs and charts to illustrate the changes, and along the bottom of the page, a column by Royson James to explain it all.

“Is there any chance the vote won’t be today?” Kuntz interrupts. They briefly discuss some alternatives for page one, then Quinlan continues, verbally laying out pages two through 16. The meeting concludes and the editors scurry to the newsroom.

In his corner office, down the hall from the meeting room, Kuntz, a short but solid man, says he wanted to pull his editors back a little, in case the vote gets delayed. He doesn’t want to be left without a front page, but he trusts his editors enough to stay away from the process until about 6:30 p.m. He hangs on the sidelines and lets journalism happen, sometimes checking only the front page before heading home. “I go off on vacation,” he adds, “and the paper still comes together.”

Although the Star’s newest editor-in-chief appears sanguine and delegates with confidence, it’s not his primary strength. Where Kuntz goes, change follows. In 2000, he left the Star and joined The Globe and Mail. Once there, amidst staff grumbling and major restructuring, he jammed through production changes. Two years later, he flipped The Record in Kitchener-Waterloo from an afternoon to a morning paper, something the previous publisher had talked about doing for years. Once back at the Star, he blasted through the paper’s latest redesign in record time and quickly moved editors around like chessboard pieces.

Kuntz is not afraid to take charge, and in this recent phase of his career as newspaper executive, he has excelled at leading change. But in the conservative Star workplace—steeped in history and tradition, and institutionally resistant to change—Kuntz’s brash tactics could earn him more enemies than allies and cripple his ability to improve Canada’s largest daily.

With 19 years of key positions at the Star behind him, including business editor, city editor and deputy managing editor, Kuntz says he’d be amazed to find a staff member he hasn’t tangled with. He started his professional career at the paper in 1979, while still a student at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University). John Miller, then editor of the Sunday Star, was looking for a part-time replacement copy editor and was impressed by Kuntz’s confidence, as well as the recommendation he’d received from a professor. The men also shared an interest in art, and hit it off. Miller hired him immediately.

Journalism wasn’t Kuntz’s first calling, but a keen interest. He was editor-in-chief of his high school yearbook and worked on the school newsletter. It was his father, a commercial artist and printer, who was the strongest influence. Kuntz grew up around art and started painting at age six or seven. “I could barely hold up the paintbrush,” he says. “My father, being a printer, would bring paper home and we’d all just draw. Everybody in my family can draw.” He initially studied architecture at the University of Toronto. It was a mistake, but one quickly corrected. In the winter of 1977 (a year and a half into the five-year program), his roommate, frustrated with architecture school, announced he was going to check out Ryerson’s journalism program. Kuntz, also disturbed by the turmoil—“It was more like a school of philosophy; we couldn’t design a fire escape to save our lives”—decided to go with him. Kuntz visited The Ryersonian, a student newspaper, and recognized right away what the editors and layout people were doing. He thought, “This is where I belong.”

While completing the three-year journalism program, he became editor-in-chief of the Ryersonian, worked nights and weekends at both the Star and the Toronto Sun, and read news on the Ryerson-based community radio station, CKLN. In 1981, after a year-long stint as copy editor for the Brandon Sun in Manitoba, Kuntz found himself back at the Star, this time copy editing on the national desk. While there, he was accepted into York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and got ready to change direction again. Soon after his good news arrived, the paper promoted him to assistant national editor.

“Well,” Kuntz decided, “maybe this Star thing is going to work out.”

Richard Addis from the Globe was on the line. “How would you like to come and work for ‘Canada’s National Newspaper?’” he asked.

Kuntz, Saturday editor at the Star, replied, “No thanks, I’m pretty happy here.”

Addis was miffed, but pressed on. “Don’t you think you should at least go to dinner with me to discuss it?”

“Well, maybe.”

Kuntz consulted with colleagues. They all agreed he should go for a bite with Addis, if only to find out what the Globe was up to. When he sat down and listened to Addis’s offer—a 50 per cent increase in pay, the title of associate editor and, most importantly, an opportunity to overhaul the paper’s production process—he was suddenly a former Star company man.

Addis’s version is a little more succinct: “I phoned him up, took him for a drink and then offered him lots of money.”

Kuntz’s new job wasn’t easy. It was February 2000: the National Post had been publishing for a year and a half, and Toronto was in the midst of an old-fashioned newspaper war. Globe publisher Philip Crawley needed fresh troops and installed Addis as his new editor-in-chief. Kuntz was one of Addis’s first big appointments. As associate editor, he was fourth in command (after executive news editor Edward Greenspon left for Ottawa six months later, Kuntz became third) under Addis and his deputy, Chrystia Freeland.

Globe designer David Pratt, who reported to Kuntz directly, describes him as “very demanding” and “someone you can’t ignore in the newsroom.” According to Pratt, “Fred’s game plan was to knock us all into shape by blasting his way through any resistance that emerged.” He says it was Addis who set Kuntz on the path “by telling him we all needed a rocket up our backsides.” But the ploy didn’t work that well, Pratt thinks, because Addis himself modified the tough-guy act over time.

Kuntz insists he wasn’t merely a puppet. “I went for the job because I liked the description of it,” he says, “but I wasn’t an empty vessel, some limp person that would do Addis’s bidding.” Kuntz says he was hired to introduce changes and implement a redesign. But he also wanted to build a better production team, create a new workspace and raise the level of copy editing. “When I arrived,” Kuntz says of a long-planned Globeredesign, “they were still in a fussing-about stage. They hadn’t set an implementation date.” He says certain employees—designers mostly—were frustrated by the endless fiddling with details.

“Addis asked me to make the rubber hit the road,” Kuntz says. “That’s what I do. I’m a man of action. I make decisions. I’m able to get something done.”

Not everyone was pleased with the new, hard-charging associate editor. Frank magazine latched onto Kuntz once he moved to the Globe, which has a newsroom notorious for feeding gossip to the scandal sheet. Frank reported that the Star received complaints from women about Kuntz’s “inelegant behaviour,” even though the magazine called them “absurd allegations.” It also referred to Kuntz as one of Addis’s “gorillas.” Kuntz’s response: “I’m offended by broad categorization,” he says. “Frank is trash—they print horrible things about people I respect.” Frank’s March 22, 2000 edition announces “legendary Toronto Star backstabber Fred Kuntz was handpicked to be associate editor” and chronicles Kuntz’s alleged mishaps in the newsroom—“Since jumping over from the Toronto Star last year, the Globe and Minion associate editor and goombah has managed to alienate the entire newsroom…”

Kuntz points out that he wasn’t the only Globe change agent Frank attacked that year. Addis and Freeland—both imported from the Financial Times in the United Kingdom—were also targeted. “There were people at the Globe—it may come down to one or two individuals—who had an agenda, were malicious and spent the whole time we were there running us down,” he says. “People talk about the politics at the Star, but I found the politics at the Globe to be a lot darker because of the way it would play out in public like that.”

According to Pratt, though, Kuntz knew coming in that it wouldn’t be all milk and cookies. “I think he expected he wouldn’t be walking into a quiet, happy, peaceful newsroom,” Pratt says. “There was change that had already been happening and there was more change that was going to happen, and he was being brought in to make it happen.”

Kuntz left the Globe after just 17 months. Jagoda Pike, then publisher of another Torstar-owned paper, The Hamilton Spectator, called Kuntz back to the Star family. In 1999, the company had bought Kitchener-Waterloo’s The Record, the Guelph Mercury, the Cambridge Reporter and the Spectator from Quebecor Inc. Pike wanted Kuntz to be group publisher of the newly formed Grand River Valley Newspapers (GRVN). Her choice wasn’t all that popular. “Lots of people said, ‘Have you lost your mind? He has no business experience.’ I said, ‘I’m pretty sure he can learn, and pretty fast.’ As it turned out,” Pike says, “I was right.”

Immediately after learning about the position, Kuntz “zoomed” to Kitchener-Waterloo to investigate. He spent the night in a hotel and the next day hired a real estate agent to show him around the area (Kuntz eventually bought a house in the Deer Ridge district). “I went into the news-paper office and asked for copies of theRecord for every day for the past week, and they said they could only sell them to me. That was a good sign,” Kuntz says. “I was eager.”

As publisher of the GRVN group (now part of Metroland Media Group), Kuntz began making changes. The Record had been without a publisher since March 2001, when Kuntz’s predecessor Wayne MacDonald retired after 10 years. It wasn’t in good shape—like most newspapers, its readership was in decline. But Kuntz had been business editor at the Star and excelled in business courses in high school and university. “I’ve always felt I had a head for numbers,” he says. “And strategy is something that for me is even a source of amusement.”

In June 2002, the afternoon newspaper began landing on doorsteps in the morning. “I started in 1991 and they were talking about ‘going mornings’ then,” says reporter Liz Monteiro. “The idea had been around for 10 years and no one was doing anything about it. Fred got here, and he made us go mornings. And it worked.”

Kuntz moved the newsroom from an old suburban building with asbestos-ridden walls and 30-year-old carpets to a bright new office space in downtown Kitchener. He also launched two bimonthly magazines,Grand and Rex, in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Grand is a lifestyle magazine with a circulation of around 17,000, while Rex focuses on business and goes to 15,000 companies in the region.

As publisher, Kuntz moved fast—perhaps too fast. According to Kevin Crowley, former business editor of theRecord and editor of Rex, Kuntz was good for the Record but difficult to work with. “He can be demanding and abrupt in the way he deals with people,” says Crowley, now Wilfred Laurier University’s associate director of news and editorial services. “He liked to keep people on edge and as a result I don’t think he fostered the most enjoyable environment.”

Pike called Kuntz again one afternoon in October 2006. The executive vice-president of regional daily newspapers for Torstar Corp., and Kuntz’s boss, said: “I want to talk to you.”

“What about?”

“Can’t right now,” she said, between meetings and with no time to explain. “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

Two days later the pair met at a pub in Flamborough, halfway between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo. Over red wine, Pike confided that she’d been promoted to publisher of the Star. She asked Kuntz if he’d like to return to the Star, this time as editor-in-chief. Pike says it was pretty much a done deal. “When I was appointed he was at the top of my list,” she says. “And it was a very short list.”

Despite their respective talents, Pike and Kuntz were tested immediately. They’d come to power at a particularly rough time in the Star’s history. On October 16, 2006, the same day Pike and Kuntz were appointed publisher and editor-in-chief, then-publisher Michael Goldbloom announced he was stepping down, along with his editor-in-chief, Giles Gherson. Although they resigned, a National Post headline that day read: “Turmoil at the top for struggling Toronto Star. Editor, publisher fired.” Goldbloom, now vice-principal of public affairs at McGill University, had become deputy publisher in 2003. He hired Gherson, who was then editor of the Globe’s Report on Business section and former editor-in-chief of the Edmonton Journal. Hall, the 32-year Star veteran, witnessed the changing of the guard. He says the newsroom split into two camps upon Gherson’s arrival. “Half of them thought, ‘Great, an outsider, a fresh perspective, someone who will clear out the cobwebs.’ Others said, ‘He doesn’t understand us—doesn’t know us.’”

“Chased out” is how John Miller, former deputy managing editor at the Star, describes Gherson’s quick exit. Now a deputy minister and associate secretary of the cabinet for the Ontario government, Gherson was an outsider and therefore automatically viewed with suspicion by Star lifers. To compound matters, he hired former associates to be his department editors. “Everybody hated his cronies and wouldn’t work with them,” says Miller. “You know that was a mistake—Gherson’s job was to make allies in the newsroom.” So, after a brief experiment with outside change agents, insiders returned to the top. “It was like the cavalry rode to the rescue,” Miller says. “Star culture won out again.”

According to a former employee, present during the changeover, some staff longed for change and supported the decision to bring Kuntz back to their beloved Star and start swinging. “I don’t want to give you the image of him walking in with an axe, but he did come in, we thought, with a commitment to getting the machine running more smoothly again.”

Hall, a tall man with a rosy complexion and a hint of a British accent, is hushed when asked about the reaction to Kuntz’s arrival. After a few seconds, the Star’s current managing editor takes a deep breath and laughs. “Fred obviously had a legacy of people who liked him, knew him, remembered him well—and others who said, ‘Oh God, I remember we had a huge row a few years ago,’” he says. “In fact, on his first day I was talking to him about reaction around the place and I mentioned this. I said, ‘You know, a few people have come to me and said, ‘Oh God, I’m in trouble. I remember 15 years ago telling Fred to fuck off. Will he remember?’

“Fred said, ‘I’d be amazed if there’s anybody here I haven’t told to fuck off at one time or another.’”

Wherever he’s been—StarGlobeRecord—Kuntz has swung for the head on his way to the top. Becoming editor-in-chief of Canada’s biggest newspaper makes for a feel-good ending, yet accusations about his tough management style linger. Kuntz addresses them calmly: “I’ve heard bull in a China shop, I’ve heard bulldozer, I’ve heard worse.” The phrase he’d prefer: “flawed human being.”

At length, Kuntz will say this: “I constantly live in a state of guilt and regret—mistakes I’ve made, feelings I’ve bruised—because I can be quite direct. I’ve tried over the years to soften the edges, but having a good purpose in life doesn’t make any of us a perfect human being—it just means that we at least have a few things that we can be proud of.”

Kuntz strides through the fifth-floor newsroom at 1 Yonge Street, near the Lake Ontario waterfront. He takes long, quick steps, his feet hammering against the carpeted floor. I struggle to keep up as he weaves through the maze of desks, most of them still empty this early in the morning. It’s 9:10 a.m. on October 22 and we’re on our way to the StarNext training room, a small square office at the back of the newsroom. This week’s students, Randy Starkman, Curtis Rush and Patrick Cain, sit around a table along with their peer-to-peer trainer, Marissa Nelson, now senior editor of digital news.

StarNext is a voluntary training program Kuntz introduced in July 2007. Participants get one week off from their regular jobs to immerse themselves in multimedia techniques. Its goal isn’t to turn newspaper journalists into broadcasters, but to teach skills that can be used to improve the Star’s website. Anyone who is interested can apply, but applicants must pitch an idea for a multimedia project. During the week, participants learn things such as search engine optimization, video editing and storyboarding. “It’s like we’re throwing them in the deep end,” says Nelson, a veteran of Metroland’s Internet training program, Web U. “They’re used to being fantastic at what they do, and we’re asking them to do something they don’t know how to do yet. There’s a lot of nerves.”

By the end of March, 74 people had completed the training program, including Kuntz, who was part of the second group. According to Nelson, “Everybody giggled, like ‘Fred’s in there.’ And that was the point—for everybody to see he was walking the walk.”

On November 18, 2006, Kuntz’s announcement, “Hold these Star editors to account,” appeared in the paper. After just over a month as editor-in-chief, Kuntz boasted about change—a major management restructure of the newsroom, the shuffling of 12 current managers and the return of Quinlan from the Globe.

Kuntz also folded the GTA section into the A section, with a renewed focus on local news and politics. He made several key editorial changes, including moving feature writers into the city department and making investigations “clearly a part of city.” He also split the foreign/national editor positions in two. Many of the moves presaged his redesign. “Some decisions had been stalled for a while,” he says, thinking about how his two-decade-long history at the Star helped him to introduce changes quickly. “I had an opportunity to break the logjam and execute changes that likely made people happier.”

Not long after scooping up Quinlan, Kuntz found himself losing staff to the Globe. In fact, so many staff members were leaving that the Star was fast becoming the Globe’s farm team. Kuntz admits his paper lost nine journalists to its Front Street rival, but notes that the other 21 of the Globe’s 30 new hires came from other places. “You don’t fight for every person who leaves. Sometimes people come and say, ‘I’m going to theGlobe,’ and you say, ‘Good luck.’ Other people you fight to try and keep. There were some people they wanted to hire in their hiring binge who they didn’t because we kept them.” Peter Scowen, former Ideas editor at the Sunday Star, left the paper in December 2006. Now the Globe’s deputy features editor, Scowen says he left because “it was just a very good opportunity.” At least one other former Star employee echoed this claim. Several others declined interview requests.

Kuntz executed his major redesign in six months flat. The new look hit the streets in May 2007. “It’s stunning—nobody around here has ever seen a complete redesign in six months,” says Hall. “And it’s simply because of Fred. He’s just so organized and disciplined.” With the experience of implementing a redesign at the Globeand moving the Record acting as his tailwind, Kuntz was able to shepherd the process at an accelerated clip. “I drink a lot of Red Bull and encourage other people to,” he deadpans. More seriously, the process was streamlined because he and lead designer Charlie Kopun, now assistant managing editor of design, shared many of the same opinions, and perhaps crucially, didn’t burden themselves with an outside consultant.

True to Kuntz’s initial steps, Toronto news moved to the front and he eliminated the GTA section. “I don’t know why nobody did it before,” says Miller, “it’s just so natural.” Opinion and world news are now part of the World and Comment section, which follows the local news. The paper was also resized to resemble a Berliner, embracing the industry-wide trend. Most controversial were cuts to length. Columnists had just 600 words, though they were then invited to write longer pieces on off days under the Analysis header. Kuntz’s reasoning: most readers stop reading after the 600 word mark.

To back up his decree, Kuntz relied on the recent Poynter Institute EyeTrack07 study, which said, “Alternative story forms also drew a higher amount of visual attention, compared to regular text in print.” The research showed that these so-called alternative forms—bulleted information, numbers in large type to express headline-like information and sidebars designed to look like pull quotes—actually improved reader comprehension.

So now, inevitably, there’s an increased emphasis on alternative story forms or “layers,” such as graphs and sidebars. Investigative editor Kevin Donovan says this new trend isn’t such a big deal. He finds it amusing that there have been seminars about them. “They talk about layers,” he says. “Well, I call a layer a sidebar and I always have.” Donovan’s not laughing about the cuts, though, saying, “We’re all competing for a smaller piece of real estate.”

Just after 5 p.m. on a blustery January evening, I’m sitting at a large table in Kuntz’s office, surrounded by four empty, high-backed chairs. I’ve asked him if he’s worried the paper will win fewer awards because of the decreased story lengths. No way, he says, pointing to today’s paper folded on the tabletop between us. “See, look at our page one today.” The main headline blares “$8,186,920,000” in big, bold type. It stretches across a graphic of City Hall, and with a subhead that reads, “That’s what the city proposes to spend in its ‘modest’ 2008 budget.” Underneath, there’s a brightly coloured pie graph, showing where all this money comes from. Under that are some quotes from Mayor David Miller discussing the recent property tax hike. Beside these, a small box breaks down what Torontonians will pay, depending on their income. To its right, there’s a list, along with graphics (a stingray here, a TTC bus there) outlining where the money goes. This is just the main story. To the right of the alternative news clutter are headlines and opening paragraphs for two other unrelated stories. “This is very engaging,” says Kuntz. “Where’s the 30-inch read? Not on the front page.”

In spite of Kuntz’s confidence, changes to length make some writers uneasy. Long-time Star reporter Michelle Shephard applauds the redesign for its recognition that 300 words sometimes is all a writer really needs to tell the story. But she’s wary of the sudden dearth of longer pieces. “What I’m worried about, and I don’t think I’m alone, is if we lose sight of what we do best,” she says. “Newspapers provide context—why something has happened and what it means—not just tell you what’s happening. You can get that in 15-second television hits. Sometimes you have to use words, and sometimes it takes lots of them.”

Joe Fiorito, who has 15 years experience as a newspaper columnist, admits the change was unnerving. “I’m also a pro and I know how to adapt—there’s very little I’ve written that wouldn’t be better shorter. My worry was it was going to lose larger stories, or stories that required nuance.” Fiorito says if a subject merits the extra space he’ll “bust it up and run it over two or three days.” In terms of pitching those longer Analysis pieces: “As a columnist I’m unused to fighting for longer space—I’m not interested in that.”

Another regular, Jim Coyle, had a similar reaction. He says the hard part is covering “complexity or competing versions of events” such as trials, typically one of his favourite areas. While he was covering a trial recently, the challenge of the new word limit became clear to him. “Even as I was listening to the testimony and filling three notebooks,” he says, “my head was already turning: ‘How are you going to tell this tale in 600 words?’”

The old pros might have to get used to it. The even older pro, long-time columnist Richard Gwyn, acknowledges that this is a trying time for newspapers, saying, “Everybody is struggling to find a niche.” But, he argues, the paper’s new orientation is now more Toronto-centric and “less intellectually ambitious than it used to be.”

The overall reaction has been positive, says Kuntz. “I’m not going to bullshit you, but it’s true to say that the majority of the newsroom liked the redesign.”

Word count isn’t the only area where Kuntz has made cuts. One of the paper’s recent initiatives, the PDF format StarP.M.—touted upon arrival as “North America’s first free downloadable afternoon newspaper”—ended October 17, 2007, just over one year after its launch. Approximately 4,000 readers downloaded it on a regular basis—not a sufficient number to justify dedicating three staffers to the project.

Kuntz has grown enough of a publisher’s brain to realize that some ideas just don’t make good business sense, and he isn’t afraid to pull the plug. But one crucial aspect of the Star—its culture—is something he hasn’t touched. “You have a sense that you’re practicing journalism at the frontlines,” Miller says of the paper he worked for in the 1980s. “You have this feeling there’s no story in the world you can’t go out and get. And of course you’re wrong because you’re not that good, and the paper isn’t that good. But there’s this atmosphere that we’re the best, right?”

Another former Star employee describes the cognitive dissonance of the paper’s newsroom culture. “It’s close-knit and friendly and people want you to succeed, but it’s really cutthroat. It has such a fabulous past and a great slate of writers, but I’m not sure there’s a realization today that maybe that won’t sustain them forever.”

Having been at the Star for so long himself, Kuntz is part of this culture. According to Donovan, “You may have heard of the Star family. It’s a crazy sort of thing and you only really get it if you’ve grown up at the Star. Fred is of that mould.”

Another unusual aspect of Star culture is the use of the much-hyped Atkinson Principles—a set of values used to guide the paper’s editorial content and purpose—that have supposedly guided the conscience of Starbrass for years. The company admits on its website that the six principles weren’t formally written down until recently, yet they’re now printed in the employee handbook and part of routine intern training. Among the luxuriously open-ended principles are “a strong, united and independent Canada” and “the rights of working people.” Star employees, both current and former, have a variety of takes on their actual importance. “The Atkinson Principles, I’m not afraid to say, are a joke,” says former employee Scowen. “They were used by upper management and the family trust to control the paper. Any time they weren’t happy with management they would trot them out as a weapon against the person they wanted removed.” Scowen cites Gherson and Goldbloom as two victims of this tactic.

“Most people I dealt with felt uncomfortable about them,” Scowen continues. “They felt they were simplistic and that the paper’s fidelity to them was superficial.”

While the Atkinson Principles support “the rights of working people,” the Star has an infamous union of its own. When its contract expired in December 2007, the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild had the opportunity to extend it for a year. The union declined because, according to editorial union steward Dan Smith, “All the year would have done was to allow the company to actually figure out what its evil plan was going to be and be far more ready to take on the union.” A strike date was set for January 19, but after an extra half-day of bargaining, the union settled.

From an editorial point of view, the most alarming change was job reclassification. A “journalist” now includes anyone who “generates content,” and will be expected to write stories, produce videos, take photos and even produce graphics for the web. The new contract outlines that this new classification will take effect in four years, although changes can’t be made for two years. After that, employees have the right to stay in their current jobs but they cannot refuse training.

Smith, the Star’s book editor when he’s not butting heads with management, says the worry is that everyone will be trained to be “crappy at everything… There’s been no apparent guidance or thought,” he says, “about how we actually retool the newsroom to be smart about how we do this.”

Kuntz doesn’t see it that way. “People try to raise a scare scenario of where, in one day, one person goes out and shoots a video, writes a story, comes back, edits it and then prints the paper and delivers it to the home.” He says the point of reclassification is for management to have the “freedom” to assign all journalists to any task.

“You don’t need to do everything you have a right to do,” he says, “but at least we have the flexibility in our contract to respond to be ready for anything.”

And that’s where Kuntz stands now—ready for anything. Both he and Pike know newspapers must change and that goes for the Star’s newspaper culture, too. Kuntz hasn’t put his bulldozer away just yet.

It’s two days after Christmas and I’m trudging through wet snow down a pleasantly quiet, tree-lined street in Port Credit. I ring the doorbell to Kuntz’s house and two yellow labs, River and Birch, jump and bark at the door. Kuntz invites me inside, clad, as usual, in a suit jacket and slacks. I’m here for what turns out to be a treasure hunt, or, as Kuntz calls it, an “art tour.”

“Can I come?” asks Elizabeth Kuntz, hearing mention of said tour.

“Sure,” Kuntz answers. “It’ll cost you 25 cents.”

Elizabeth Kuntz, a tiny woman with short blond hair that curls around her ears, is Kuntz’s spouse. They’re not officially married, but plan to be. When they declare “I do,” it will be Kuntz’s third and Elizabeth’s second marriage. She picked out the house, not Kuntz. “I’m a condo boy,” he says, but that wouldn’t have accommodated Elizabeth’s 11-year-old son Robbie and her 19-year-old daughter Jillian. They moved in shortly after Kuntz took over as editor-in-chief.

The first tour stop is a newly renovated living room just off the kitchen. A vibrant sunset is paired with a more muted scene, a misty lake and the forest behind it. Next, we squeeze into Elizabeth’s office, where another painting is her computer desktop’s background. The original hangs at the cottage, like many of Kuntz’s paintings. That’s where he puts the finishing touches on most of his paintings. The cottage, located at Port Elgin on Lake Huron, happens to be not only one of his favourite subjects—it’s a big part of who he is. “If we’re at the cottage and people want to play poker,” he tells me, “I’ll deal.”

Downstairs, across from the unfinished bar in another sitting area, streetscapes left over from Kuntz’s 1992 show at Gallery 360 line the walls. “Oh, there’s another one!” Elizabeth pipes up as we pass a downstairs bathroom.

On the way upstairs, we pause to admire a self-portrait Kuntz painted from a photograph of himself as a child. His younger self smiles as he gazes through pop-bottle glasses at the budgie (his first pet) perched on his shoulder. After looking at a few things in his bookshelf-lined office—his honorary doctorate from the Wilfred Laurier University, a tiny scene his father painted while attending the University of Amsterdam—the tour is over. “I don’t know what else to show you,” Kuntz says. “That’s my art.”

(Visited 269 times, 1 visits today)

About the author

Erin Tandy was the Online Editor for the Spring 2008 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. She was also the Copy Editor for the Spring 2007 issue of the magazine.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest stories from our newsroom.