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How to be an editor

In memorium: Another former editor, Cory Bourdeaud’hui 
remembers Andy Sirski

“Sirski.”

That’s how Andy answered the phone.

Andy Sirski was editor of Grainews. He retired in 2006 after 27 years with Grainews and passed away in February.

Andy loved gardening, cigars and making wine but those weren’t his true loves in his life.

The first was his family.

Andy drove and fixed old cars. They were Datsuns because they were easy to fix and fairly easy to find. I think he had five in his yard in Winnipeg at one time and three were used for parts. He didn’t care what they looked like and he said he did this so his wife Pat could stay home and raise their five children. That was important to them. He did a lot of things that most people wouldn’t do in order to give a family of seven some additional cash flow with only one income. For example, he also had a paper route for years and did tax returns on the side.

The second love of his life was farming. He loved the farm and talking to farmers. Being the editor of Grainews allowed Andy to have contact with farmers from across the Prairies. He welcomed their calls and didn’t mind when they called late at night. He understood that there was work to do on the farm and farmers didn’t have time during the day to call him to comment on an article they read in Grainews or ask for his advice. Since he hired me mainly to talk to farmers and share their ideas with Grainews’ readers, he allowed me to work from home so I could make these connections at night. The added bonus was that I could spend some time with my young family and not just be there at 6 p.m. every evening. “As long as the work gets done, I don’t care when you do it,” he said.

Andy’s third true love was stock trading. He enjoyed trading stocks and the bonus was that it gave him another source of income. He called trading in the stock market his “off-farm” income. I don’t think Andy found any of his “off-farm” income was extra work.

At first, he made and lost small fortunes. He called that his tuition. In the last 25 or so years he was looking for ways of taking out the highs and lows of trading stocks by using sell signals and rules that he developed. He eventually discovered covered calls, which limited his gains but also limited his downside risk. He shared all his wins and losses with Grainews readers. In retirement he started his own stock newsletter. Farmers who read his off-farm investment columns and would call to complain that stock trading was just too risky, Andy’s answer would be, “And farming isn’t?”

Back to Grainews. He wanted to make sure each article in Grainews did, as he called it, the three As: applied, appealed and advanced. Later he added an extra thing that a Grainews article must be, which was a must read. By making sure every article possible followed these rules, he knew he would help farmers. Andy wanted Grainews to be another tool in a farmer’s tool box.

The only exception to the three “A” rules were the jokes he liked to run in Grainews. Life can’t be all work all the time, right? He used Betty, our receptionist back in the UGG days to see if a joke crossed a line. Betty would tell him if a joke he wanted to publish would get him into trouble.

He was a good writer but he was a fantastic headline writer. He wanted to make sure that Grainews readers would know exactly what they would learn in the article by just reading the headline. You’d think he wanted clear, concise headlines because farmers are busy and he didn’t want them wasting their time reading an article that might not fit their farm.

That’s not why he wanted to re-write every headline.

He didn’t want farmers to miss an article that would apply to their farm because of a poorly written headline. “Farmers are busy and might not know from the headline that this article will help them in some way,” he would say. So he changed (Andy would say “change” is not the right word to use here. The right word would be improved) a lot of the articles by simply using in the headline the words “How to” or “10 ways.” By doing this a Grainews reader knew immediately what the article was going to cover and could decide quickly if they should invest five minutes of their precious time.

Andy told me early on in my Grainews career that when you talk to a farmer about weed control, or his latest mechanical improvement or grain futures and options, that every detail, no matter how small, don’t leave out. If the farmer told you he sprayed a grass herbicide, ask him, which one and at what rate? If the farmer used a piece of angle iron to fix a piece of machinery, make sure you ask him, what length and what gauge? Andy wanted to make sure that the Grainews reader could go into his shop or field or on his computer and use what they just read to improve their farm somehow. And he didn’t want them to have any questions about the process even though he would have loved to hear from them. If a reader decided to invest their time in a Grainews article, Andy wanted to make sure they got what they expected.

I told Andy once that he wanted these articles — with every small detail — to read just like a recipe. He smiled and said, “Exactly.” The student was learning.

It would be a crime if I didn’t take a second here to mention Andy’s overall farm financial plan that he developed called the five-legged stool. Basically, the stool represents your farm’s and your family’s financial health. Every leg that you could add to your stool meant that your financial situation was more stable. Have five strong legs on your stool and you’d have no trouble doing all the things you wanted to do, financially, in life. He felt that a properly built five-legged stool would give you the financial freedom that seemed so elusive to many farmers he talked to. If the farm was the only leg on your stool, you were going to have trouble.

In honour of Andy, the five legs are: the farm; another skill; insurance; off-farm investments such as stocks; and education savings for children.

Andy hired me straight out of university to be a senior writer for Grainews. I took the ag diploma course at the U of M, not journalism but he hired me anyway, without any writing experience or training. He said he turned a lot of people, including a lot of farmers, into writers who said that they couldn’t write at all. He told me, “You have no problem carrying a conversation so if you write like you talk, you will be just fine.” I remember it took me three weeks to finish my first article in Grainews. So I guess Andy also had patience. This was back in 2000 so the topic of fusarium, vomitoxin and DON levels were on a lot of farmers’ minds. I wrote a long headline and a wordy lead. Andy shortened it all. The first word I ever published in Grainews was “OK.” Funny the things you remember.

Andy wrote all his stuff out in long-hand. He had a typesetter who would read through his copy and get it on the page that we could publish in Grainews. It wasn’t unusual for his “Wheat and Chaff “ writings to be over 30 pages long. If we didn’t have room, he would publish the items that were time sensitive and the rest would be held over until the next issue.

He made sure in every issue of “Wheat and Chaff” that he would remind readers to be careful on the farm because your family needs you and loves you. Andy would give away little heart-shaped stickers with “Please be careful. We love you. Your family.” written on them. He’d ask readers to send him their address so he could send them out so they could stick them on their tractors and combines. He knew what was really important and what was not. His heart was always in the right place.

His signature ending to every “Wheat and Chaff” was one word longer than his signature answer to a telephone call — “God Bless.”

Same to you Andy.

Memories of Andy

By Les Henry

It is with a sad heart that we learn of the loss of Andy Sirski. I knew Andy best as editor of Grainews. It was my pleasure to meet Andy in Winnipeg many years ago. He picked me up at my hotel with an old car he kept per- fectly maintained himself, and treated me to steak and eggs for breakfast on the way to the Grainews office.

He always took great interest in his scribes and even after he went on to other ventures he took time to phone each of us, just to chat and see how we were doing. Andy was a self- taught stock trader who also taught many others how to manoeuvre a very risky business. I especially liked his “sell half” rule in uncertain times. If you sell half and it goes down you are happy you sold half. If you sell half and it goes up you are happy you kept half.

Andy was a “glass half full” kind of guy and will be missed by many.

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