I was stunned last week when I heard the Sun was shutting down.
I’d been fearing it, and sometimes expecting it, for decades. This was especially true during my six-year stint as editor, and the 15 years that followed when I wrote a column almost every week.
My fears grew in recent years, as the world’s economy slumped, Bermuda’s economy tanked, and advertisers ran out of money themselves. And the internet was busy devouring newspapers: The Bermuda Sun, as they say in the obituary columns, was pre-deceased by countless distinguished colleagues, friends and relatives.
Still, I was surprised. The Sun wasn’t your average terminal case, wasted and pale long before the sheet was pulled over the head. The Bermuda Sun looked perfectly healthy. Good and loyal people were there at those battered desks, working as they always did. The paper was still full of news, still led the coverage on a lot of important issues, and was still read by a lot of people. It was a well-lived life to the very end.
Of course, I knew through personal experience that the Sun lived on the brink.
I used to complain to the chairmen I worked with — first Sir John Plowman, then Warren Brown, then Randy French — that expected us to run the paper with two boys and a dog. Or maybe that’s what they told me I had to do; I can’t remember.
But it was an honourable kind of poverty, and necessary.
We lived on the second floor of a building beside the Shopping Centre on Victoria Street in those days, a warren of dented desks and aging partitions, with dusty carpets and a gloomy, stinking darkroom.
An ancient printing press lived in the dungeon beneath us, spitting out ink, chunks of aging metal and stacks of newspaper, with sometimes alarming groans.
Similar sounds came from the new Magnum PowerForce Gym and Diet Centre, who helped defray costs by sharing quarters down a narrow hallway from us.
Huge effort and anxiety went into making things work. There was complaining, to be sure — that is the God-given right and obligation of anyone who works for a newspaper — but far less than on more prosperous newspapers I’ve worked for, and a lot more camaraderie and good humour too.
We did what newspapers do; we gathered information, reported stories, tried to understand Bermuda and the things that happened there, and then help readers understand things too. We tried to make money — my, how we tried, taking up good ideas and crazy ideas, and trying to concoct schemes that would miraculously turn things around.
Some argued we should become a free “shopper”, others a gossip sheet, or else some kind of serious intellectual journal. We tried a free dating service in the classified ads, which was interesting but hardly profitable. There are still people I pass on the street today who are thankful (or ought to be) that we at the Bermuda Sun were always honourable and discrete.
In other words, we muddled on.
The vast panoply of Bermuda life trudged or skipped or slithered through our newsroom, determined to leave its footsteps (or cover them up) on our pages.
Most of us could have made a better living doing other things in other places, at least when the economy was good. Shareholders could easily have gotten a better return on their investment from almost anywhere else, including the bottom of their mattresses.
But it was addicting, and satisfying, and for a very good cause. But there we were, poking around Bermuda, trying to understand what had happened and what was going to happen, what was going well, and what was going wrong, and how maybe we could make it better.
And then we shared it. It wasn’t very complicated. The Sun tried to tell its stories with confidence but also humility. It tried to recognize the complexities of a small place like Bermuda, and reflect nuances and explain differences of perspective in a community often divided by ignorance and suspicion.
The Sun never tried to get people to agree with its own views, where it had them, or even agree with each other. But it did a very good job helping Bermudians understand the views of the “other side”.
There are always too many “other sides” in Bermuda, separated by ignorance and suspicion.
The Sun, I think, provided a better understanding than most other media of how those differences developed and how they could be diminished. It viewed Bermuda’s problems with less hysteria, and greater hope and caring.
What becomes of this, now the Sun is disappearing?
My biggest fear, as I think of Bermuda without the the Sun, certainly isn’t an absence of information and ideas. It isn’t just The Royal Gazette out there. There’s TV, radio, Bernews.com, bus-stop ads, and Bermuda blogs of all description… Who can possibly keep track? There’s still way more media in Bermuda, and about Bermuda, than any Bermudian could possibly consume.
My fear is that so much of it is hidden, scattered, uncoordinated, badly-reported and poorly-researched. Good information and good ideas often aren’t believed or shared enough to have an impact. Bad information and ill-informed ideas often get traction they don’t deserve.
What we are losing today is something special that can only come when a group of reporters and editors work together — when they share inspiration, information, ideas, and contacts, criticism and praise with each other. It only works when they subject themselves to training, to standards, to oversight, discipline and even dismissal.
So I’m sad the Sun has gone.
But I’m not in despair. These things are so important that, sooner or later, the unruly chaos of “new media” will find a way to re-create it.
And the information Bermuda needs from its media is so valuable that, in the end, new media will find the magic formula that eventually eluded the Bermuda Sun — a way to make it pay.
Tom Vesey is a former editor of the Bermuda Sun; he now lives in Vancouver.