Jim Mackin — RIP

Posted on December 20, 2010


Recycling is good, right? Well, recently I heard from the son of the man this post is about. He found it on an old blog I kept a number of years ago. On rediscovering the blog I found a number of pieces I wouldn’t mind reprinting here, and what better to start with than this tribute to one of the few men I could ever say I truly hated. And almost loved.

This post was written in 2004 in memory of Jim’s death two years earlier.

Rochedale College. But that’s another story.

It’s almost two years now since Jim Mackin died.

Mackin, of course, was the controversial, obstreperous, exuberant publisher of The Outrider, Toronto’s first newspaper for the homeless. I don’t really know why I’m thinking of him again, except that my wife and I recently passed by the old Rochedale College building where The Outrider offices had been.

Jim and I met in 1994 when I joined with him in the early days of The Outrider, where I also got to meet and work with Rod Goodman of the Toronto Star and his wife Jan Hayes of the Globe and Mail. It was an exciting time and a great learning experience – on many levels.

Ours was a complex relationship. Part mentor, part father-figure, he was, for a time, the most important man in my life. On the other hand, I never knew when he was lying and when he was telling the truth; although the way to bet was on the lie. But Jim, along with his staff, succeeded in putting together the most widely popular “homeless” paper in Canada. It was Jim’s brilliant idea that while the paper was meant to help the homeless by providing a source of income, the content should be accessible and interesting to the public at large — in other words, to the people actually buying it. To this end we covered general news, unusual news, and peppered the publication with unique features. Among these was: “Al the Alien,” who looked at society from a uniquely outsider viewpoint; “Blaise Meredith,” advertising pundit and satirist; and “Dumpster Dan,” a supposedly homeless restaurant reviewer who based his reviews on the refuse tossed in the restaurant dumpsters. (“I wouldn’t recommend the salmon, since most of the ones thrown out are only half eaten, but the spare ribs would seem to be delicious since there’s nothing but bones left in every instance.”)

We knew we’d made it when we were parodied by Frank magazine.

And then it came crashing down.

At the height of The Outrider‘s success, with a major advertising company creating a city-wide campaign for the paper, Jim indulged in a series of firings, and some very questionable activities involving finances. When I stood up to him about the firings (I was Assignment Editor) he fired me as well in a pique. The upshot was an abrupt end to my return to journalism — a goal I’d had since having to give up my column in the Welland Tribune back in 1975 — and my wife and I almost lost our apartment.

He was one of the few people (perhaps the only person) in my life against whom I ever held a grudge.

I swore I would never talk to him again.

Nor did I. Until he found my e-mail and contacted me many years later.

He said he was dying.

Such was his reputation that I doubted him. When I wrote to a few others who had shared in the “Jimmy Mackin Experience” they too doubted him, and warned me not to get involved. I wrote back anyway and, after a time, finally arranged to meet him. Despite my anger, and despite my best intentions, I really couldn’t keep away. Jim has always been a likeable cuss – sort of like James Mason with Sean Connery’s voice.

We met at The Daily Express, a coffee shop across the road from the old Outrider offices, and as soon as I saw him I knew his story was true. He really was dying. And as far as he was concerned, I was one of his best friends.

Sad to say, I probably was.

During the last months, as Jim steadily lost his battle against cancer, I came to know him from a new perspective: part P. T. Barnum, part Tony Robbins. He was convinced right up to the end that there was a gold mine in the old Outrider, and even sold me the rights and title to the newspaper for a dollar (which he then gave back telling me to give it to the first homeless person I met – which I did).

And whatever had passed between us in the past, in the end I’d have to say that he died as a friend. A difficult friend to be sure, but a real one.

I miss him.

Even though life is easier without him.


For anyone interested, the basic story can be read in The Ryerson Review of Journalism (Street Fight). I must, however, point out a few peculiar inaccuracies. For instance, David Paddon, who appears in the article, was unknown to the rest of us. Not only was he not Assignment Editor (it was a small office — I would have noticed someone else sitting at my desk), but he also didn’t craft the JobsOntario grant proposal, which was in fact entirely the work of Jack Mersereau and Frencesca (can’t remember her last name). In fact, Paddon’s entire “career” in the Outrider was a fiction he created for the Ryerson journalist’s benefit — yet another reminder not to trust everything you read in a newspaper or magazine.)