Paul Godfrey: Rewriting a dire news story
It was 1988, and Ben Johnson had just tested positive for steroids after winning Olympic gold. Mr. Godfrey – then publisher of The Toronto Sun – was trying to climb into a tuxedo when a friend who represented the sprinter called and asked him how to put together a press conference.
What happened next is the stuff of newspaper legend. Mr. Godfrey convinced the caller to grant the Sun exclusive access to Mr. Johnson, who would tearfully deny the charges in a farmhouse east of Toronto as the publisher and a columnist listened intently.
It was a worldwide scoop that ran under the headline “I didn’t do it.” To throw competitors off the trail, the Sun printed several hundred decoy copies that hit the streets before press time at rival papers.
And when it finally came out that he did do it, Mr. Godfrey managed to spin that to his paper’s advantage as well.
“We just went out there and told everyone that he lied to us first,” he says, leaning forward and banging the table as he laughed. “That was an exclusive, too.”
The chief executive officer of Postmedia Network Inc. loves to tell stories about overcoming challenges and defeating the competition. But as he seeks to restructure Canada’s largest English-language newspaper chain, a happy ending is anything but a sure thing.