Follow the rules or leave it. That is what Dan Westell, 57, learned the hard way throughout his career as a journalist. The Ryerson professor and journalist spoke to a class of first-year journalism students yesterday morning about how he managed to irritate every major editor in the newsprint field.
“I have a history of arguing with my editors,” said Westell.
Westell was a leading reporter for many of his employers, including the Financial Times and the Globe and Mail. He was also an excellent assignment editor for the Financial Post. However, it was the newsroom administration and the handling of stories of certain papers that Westell had much to say about.
The National Post is where he was last employed as a full-time reporter. Within one year of working there, Westell learned that the National Post leaned strongly towards the Conservative party.
“I don’t like papers with political agendas,” Westell said, “I never joined political groups. I didn’t feel comfortable joining a big group.”
The National Post, in many cases, spoke through a Conservative voice in the paper.
“Once, I was assigned to write a story to trash CBC,” Westell said, “I felt unhappy about it. The story did not end up happening.”
For a while, Westell refused to insert bylines to his stories. He simply did not want to support his company’s viewpoint, and did not want his name on stories that he was not particularly happy about.
“One day, my editor called me to his office and told me to ‘be different’,” Westell said, “I felt insecure.”
Shortly afterwards, Westell was fired in 1999. Westell sued the company and won about $44,000.
As to exactly why he was fired, Westell does not know to this day. But one thing was sure; Westell would not land another job in a media outlet in Toronto again. Even Westell’s good friend, who is an editor at the Globe and Mail, would not give him a job due to his history with other major paper editors.
“They [the National Post] were doing things their way and you don’t want to pick a fight on day five of your job,” Westell said, “You either follow the rules or leave it.”
After leaving the National Post, Westell worked for some non-journalistic companies in construction, paper mill and a bargaining committee. He currently is a freelance writer for CBC online and Public Works Financing, and is teaching at the School of Journalism at Ryerson University.
“As much as I admire and think that free thinking is important, you have to get along in the world,” Westell said, “Be differential to the bosses. It’s too late for me, but it is not too late for you.”