I was sorry to learn this past weekend that a long-time and former Grainews editor and columnist Andy Sirski had passed away Friday in a Winnipeg
hospital. I haven’t read any details yet, but I believe he was in his early 70s.
I’ve known Sirski for many years, but to be honest I didn’t know him all that well. Much of that is due to the fact that I was based with Country Guide and later Grainews in Calgary and he was based in Winnipeg. We never had any arguments, but at the same time we didn’t always agree on how things should be done. I guess that was okay.
The one thing I do know about Andy Sirski is he had a very deep commitment to Grainews and always had the interest of Grainews readers at heart. I also know he was a serious packrat, at least in the office — he never met a piece of paper he could stand to part with, and he loved to talk about investing money. I didn’t often listen to money stories because I never had any money to invest.
BACK IN THE DAY
When I started with the company in the late 1980s, United Grain Growers had two publishing operations. One was called Public Press, which essentially was the magazine division and it published Country Guide and Canadian Cattleman Magazines. Public Press had its own office on Ellis Ave in Winnipeg.
And then downtown at the UGG headquarters were those other guys — the Grainews people. As far as I could tell from the Public Press side we didn’t know what Grainews was, what they did, why they did it — they were a different bunch. We did our thing and they did their thing. In those days John Clark was publisher of Grainews, Roger Olsen was the editor and Andy Sirski was circulation manager.
I lose track of time lines, but sometime in the mid ’90s United Grain Growers decided for efficiency reasons to merge the two publishing operations into a new division called Farm Business Communications. Well that was a nightmare. Now us good guys at Public Press were in the same bed with those Grainews cowboys —how is this going to work?
Palmer Anderson was publisher charged with bringing order to the blended family. I recall one or two “cooler” staff meetings in Winnipeg as the two divisions came together and sized each other up. Probably a bit like bulls in the same feed pen. There was a bit of head butting to sort out the social order, but eventually we all found our spot along the feedbunk.
Sirski became editor of Grainews, also served as circulation manager for the blended operation — Farm Business Communications — and later was named editorial director.
While at times I didn’t appreciate how some messages applied to me since I was already the world’s best farm writer, I do remember some of Sirski’s recurring messages — Grainews was written by farmers for farmers, and are these “about stories” or “how to” stories — is this story nice-to-know stuff about a farmer, or is it getting down to the useful meat and potatoes of actually how to do something.
Things are always changing and evolving in publishing like every other business and after about 15 years of working on the Country Guide side of the business, I had the opportunity about 12 years ago to actually work on the Grainews publication. Sirksi was in the process of retiring and young editors like Cory Bourdeau’hui and Jay Whetter took over the Grainews helm.
The ironic part for me — after looking side-ways at Grainews in the early years, now here I was a hot shot Grainews field editor in Calgary — time for the rubber to hit the road — okay Mr. Know It All, lets see what you can do?
I’m not sure what I’ve done over the past 15 years or so. Grainews continues to evolve. We’ve even had a couple of “girl” editors — who would have thunk it? Lyndsey Smith was on the desk for a while and now Leeann Minogue is at the helm. I could ask what do girls know about farming, but then I would be real trouble. What I do know is that girls know a lot, and as a senior in this business (an old fart), I believe Grainews today is the best farm magazine in Western Canada and is in fact in the most capable editorship hands.
As humbling as it is to accept, I’ve been told that not every word I write directly contributes to farm profitability — I’m working on that. But one thing I did learn from Andy Sirski and try to bring to most articles today is to make it as relevant to farmers as I can. Is there some take-home message in this story with enough detail that it may help a producer in their own production and management decisions? If you need “how to” information these days, well go online and look up the topic on YouTube. But hopefully my articles offer some ideas that may be relevant in your own operation. And when I run out of useful information, hopefully something I write provides at least a chuckle or two. Sirski was also a big believer in every day needs a bit of humour.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]