Michael Cooke, Editor of the Toronto Star, is retiring
Cooke, the longest-serving Editor in the Star’s recent history, was appointed to the position in March 2009. He will leave the Star June 1
By FRANCINE KOPUN Business Reporter Fri., March 23, 2018“It’s been 49 years and it’s time to see what’s left to do in the rest of the world,” he said in a message to staff at One Yonge St., where the Toronto Star is headquartered. Cooke, 65, has been Editor for nine years. He plans to retire from the Star on June 1 and travel to the Middle East to work with an NGO.
“Michael will go down as one of the great editors of the Toronto Star. His passion for investigative journalism, his flair on front pages and his editorial smarts are simply the finest. He is one of the greats,” said John Honderich, chair of Torstar, the Toronto Star’s parent company.
Under Cooke’s editorial stewardship, the Toronto Star drew widespread acclaim for its investigative journalism, for holding governments and agencies accountable, and for its passionate pursuit of the principles established by founder Joseph E. Atkinson, including social justice and the protection of individual and civil liberties.
Cooke said Friday that he regards the Star’s investigation of former mayor Rob Ford as one of the news highlights of his career at the Star. He cited as a personal highlight the Star’s successful effort to bring Afghani schoolgirl Roya Shams to Canada to continue her studies after her father was killed by the Taliban.
Managing Editor Irene Gentle said Cooke was unflagging in his efforts to bring women up through the ranks of the organization into positions of power.
“Something Michael never talks about, but has been a central theme of his leadership, is his promotion of women in the newsroom,” said Gentle. “We have a terrific management team in part because of Michael’s willingness to see beyond gender to the skill of those in the room, women and men. This has been really encouraging and has had a long-lasting impact on the newsroom and the industry.”
Cooke began his career at 17 when he was hired as a cub reporter at a local weekly newspaper in the English seaside town of Morecambe, near the village where he grew up, eventually graduating to Fleet Street in London.
A visit to Toronto in 1975 landed him his first job at the Star, working on the copy desk. He became assistant national editor before joining The Gazette in Montreal, where he served as assistant city editor, city editor and co-managing editor. He later served as managing editor of the Edmonton Journal, as editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Province, and helped launch the National Post in 1998.
In 2000, he was named Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times. He became Editor-in-Chief of the New York Daily News in 2005, returning to Chicago in 2006 as Vice-President of Editorial for the Chicago Sun-Times News Group and later as Editor-in-Chief of the Sun-Times.
News hasn’t changed, but the way it is delivered has changed fundamentally, Cooke said.
Newspapers no longer have the luxury of working on a story over the course of a long day before it goes to print. Social media has democratized the news, but it also means that those first, confusing, and often inaccurate accounts are quickly and widely disseminated.
“It’s democratized information, and that’s fabulous, but what that, of course, leads to is distortion and untruths and that is one of the reasons that I always wait. You should always wait for legacy media to give you the true stories, and I don’t mean just newspapers, but also television, radio — established news organizations,” Cooke said.
The industry has been in upheaval for much of the time that Cooke has been editor, as it struggles to find purchase in an economy upended by online competition.
“We are going through a very dark time. We are in a dark tunnel in every major city and small city across this country and I don’t know when we are going to come out into the sunlight again, but it will happen,” Cooke said.
“The Star has long been a great institution in this city, the province and this country, and, with investigations and social justice at the core of its values, I believe it will flourish in its digital form, even while print remains a powerful part of its newsroom.”