Apparently Graham Dennis, publisher of The Chronicle Herald and The Mail Star in Nova Scotia for the last 57 years, fought off the temptations to be like the Murdochs and the Maxwells of the world — brash, flamboyant, vain, complicated, and determined to build an empire.
This fact alone makes Mr. Dennis a hero in my book … And a true journalist, businessman and publisher focused on a mission to better the world through genuine reporting of world and local events.
Graham Dennis passed away last Thursday at the age of 83 … He outlived many icons and through much transformative history.
Here is a little of Mr Dennis’ unique history and an inspiring slice of publishing history:
When Graham Dennis took over as publisher of The Chronicle Herald and The Mail Star, the type was hot, the war with the Soviets was cold, reporters were “ink-stained wretches,” and writers of letters to the editor signed off their fiery missives with pseudonyms.
The year was 1954. The New York Giants were World Series champions. Louis St. Laurent was prime minister. Dwight Eisenhower was president. Queen Elizabeth was two years into her reign. Conrad Black, future media baron, was still wearing short pants. Graham Dennis, destined to serve as this newspaper’s publisher for the next 57 years, was 26 years old.
Mr. Dennis, who died on Thursday, outlasted all of the above in one way or another — except the Queen, which would be just fine with him. Yes, Mr. Black is still around, but he’s been to prison and he can’t be described as a media mogul anymore.
I mention dear Conrad because he in many ways stands for the typical newspaper proprietor of his era. Black is like the Murdochs and the Maxwells of the world — brash, flamboyant, vain, complicated, and determined to build an empire.
Graham Dennis was cut from different cloth. He was modest, self-effacing, shy, polite to the point of courtliness, and focused on the single goal of running one smallish daily newspaper whose mission was to support progress in the place he loved — Nova Scotia.
Conrad Black was also like many of his Canadian contemporaries in another way — he was determined to buy The Chronicle Herald newspapers from Mr. Dennis. In fact, quite a crowd of media bosses has tried to unseat the Dennis family.
When I was The Chronicle Herald’s Ottawa correspondent, in the early 1980s, the guys who worked for the Thomson newspaper chain often bugged me about whether “Graham” might sell. The Thomson newspaper chain is no longer with us; the Dennis family still owns the Halifax newspapers.
In 1999, I was at a dinner in Toronto at which Peter White, an adviser to Conrad Black, pointedly sat beside me. I was vain enough to imagine that White wanted to experience the light elegance of my refined company. Within five minutes, his real mission was clear. He wanted to know if Mr. Dennis would speak to Conrad about selling the paper.