A family takes its advance from a lifetime of publishing

It was a Saturday morning in May. 1972. The Shriners Parade was in full swing along Dunlop St. in Barrie. Ron Tyler was taking pictures of everything in sight. He was also interviewing me for the position of editor of the Barrie Banner.

In a nutshell, this sums up Ron Tyler, though the measure and impact of the man goes well beyond coverage of a Shriners Parade.

He’d lost his editor. And let’s not kid ourselves… on a weekly newspaper in 1972 the editor was the reporter, the photographer, the layout artist, the morgue keeper, a part time circulation manager, and often the public face of the medium.

Most people are drawn into owning community newspapers because they come from the ‘print’ side of things and owning a newspaper is the culmination of a career in ‘ink.’

Ron Tyler bought the Barrie Banner from Ev and Harvey Johnstone in 1968. It was necessity more than love that pushed him in this direction… the typographers union’s strike at the Toronto Daily Star had gone on so long that poverty lay ahead for those on strike. Ron decided to strike out on his own and with a partner bought the Barrie Banner. The partnership was shortlived, and Ron and his wife Betty put their financial lives on the line to risk a future for their three children, Kim, Jim and baby Laurie.

Ron was 42 by the time he asked me a few pointed questions during that parade. I suggested he interview while I shoot and together we talked about community journalism.

I knew very little, of course, since my background was the daily newspaper business where I was sent out by a city editor who assigned my stories and sent a photographer to capture visually what I was saying in words. I’d dummied a few pages, but offset layout was a whole new ballgame about which I knew nothing. So, I could write. I was young. 22 years old, in fact, a full two decades younger than my soon-to-be-boss.

For the next several years I had the privilege of slaving alongside Ron, working literally 365 days a year in a tiny space designed for retail storefront in downtown Barrie. The basement of our spot housed the advertising layout department, headed by former owner Ev Johnstone with young Linda Olver working at her side; typesetting with Lois Smith, Pam Wainwright, and Shirley Howie ran the photography department from a makeshift darkroom. Ron oversaw it all… running out to sell ads, arranging for stores to carry the 10,000 copies of The Banner, running a complicated carrier system of kids who delivered the weekly paper to homes, fixing the PMT machine, operating the Verityper headliner.

We came out on Wednesdays in those days and Monday and Tuesday were frenetic.

I remember clearly becoming aware of the tremendous load Ron was carrying as I finished laying out the Front Page in the last week in February, 1973. I was feeling pleased with how the paper looked, all 12 pages. Ron quietly said… “I don’t know if we should publish next week or not. It’s cost us $1,000 a week for the last 12 weeks just to put this paper out. We’re that much in the hole.”

It was a tough struggle and week after week Ron wrote pay cheques and rent cheques and print cheques for more money than he was invoicing. He was quiet with his concern. He was quiet alot.

And yet… and yet… he invested energy and precious dollars to attend the Ontario Weekly Newspapers Association Convention. He encouraged the OWNA to work with the Canadian Community Newspapers Association and develop a one-purchase media program to allow the weeklies to compete with the daily chains media purchases.

Ron later became president of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association where he brought the same diligence and positive attitude to his newspaper publisher colleagues that he brought to community journalism in Barrie.

While he was helping to solve publishing issues on a larger scale, he moved The Banner to an industrial area in Barrie, using his diverse skills to actually build a darkroom, frame and finish offices and a larger layout area. As The Banner earned financial health, Ron added circulation staff, advertising sales and design staff, and his ever-present wife, Betty, anchored the front office and bookkeeping and reception. By 1977 The Banner was publishing three times a week, the equivalent of 70-80 tabloid pages, and making money.

Ron was anxious to move to desktop publishing in the late 70’s, and as the staff grew, Ron became the technical guru of the organization, ever thrusting the team forward into the latest publishing technology, always streamlining and striving for “better.” Meanwhile his and Betty’s children, Kim, Jim and Laurie, were growing up and moving past high school and into careers of their own.

Despite those tight years Ron Tyler kept his principles. As his editor, I could frequently have been asked to avoid this story or that editorial because it might negatively impact on advertising chances.

When Metroland moved into Barrie in 1987 and began to publish The Advance, Ron looked at his energy levels, his age–57–and wondered if he’d be better spending his energies on his new fledgling publication, The Simcoe Shopper, a buy-trade-sell magazine. Ron sold The Banner to Metroland and for a time it was published as The Banner Advance.

One by one, Ron’s children returned to the publishing stable that Ron had so carefully nurtured. He added, in 1988, Tyler’s Cottage Rental Directory and today the three Tyler kids handle full operations. Kim oversees the financial management; Laurie has inherited her father’s incredible feel for technology and human resources; Jim is the driving (literally) force behind the circulation of the Super Shopper’s thousands of issues weekly. And it all happens in that same industrial location Ron moved to 25 years ago.

When an aneurism claimed Ron’s life in January, 1996, he’d been without his right hand, Betty, for seven years. Their kids continue to build on the legacy left by their father, he’d be smiling as he looks at the Super Shopper’s new interactive online edition…new technology, a whole new world of advertising with online traffic link.

This week, the Super Shopper is a quarter-century old. Add to that the 19 years of community journalism commitment carried on by The Advance today. The Tyler kids celebrated with a special issue tracing the roots of their father’s dream.

Ron would be proud.