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December 21, 2008

Setting the record straight on Eirik K-n-u-t-z-e-n

Could it be that in gauging the worth of journalists readers take their cue from the cavalier way in which we treat one another? 
 
How many times have you misspelled a colleague's name in an e-mail because you were too lazy to look it up? How many times have you guarded your beat -- and Rolodex -- from a fellow reporter whose coverage dared to butt up against yours? 
 
How many times have you reached for the phone or keyboard to find out how a laid-off associate is faring in his/her new life away from daily newspaper-ing? 
 
To one degree or another, we're all full of ourselves. It comes with the turf, no? J-school instilled that. Taught us to be driven, persistent ... self-obsessed in the pursuit of the scoop. 
 
The word "collegial" surfaces occasionally, but it comes off as flat, foreign-sounding when uttered by an editor. It's usually reserved for the dreaded performance review. 
 
These sentiments were sparked by the passing of a dear friend named Eirik Knutzen. Eirik, 64, was one of the brave ones. While the rest of us needed the security of a weekly salary and benefits, Eirik, being a singularly independent fellow, flew without a net. He freelanced for almost his entire career. 
 
At one time, he occupied an office in the old Bank of America building in Westwood. That's where I visited him when in town covering this or that press junket. Among his clients, the Copley News Service and Toronto Star, which published his TV dispatches and columns for 17 years. His celebrity profiles -- of everyone from Johnny Carson to Jim Carrey -- ran in most of the papers in this country and, before the advent of Internet thievery, many overseas. 
 
Like most of us in this business, Eirik wasn't a "name," but he was a respected writer who never took himself or the entertainment scene too seriously. It repaid him in full. When he died last month in Rancho Mirage of complications from a long battle with heart disease, his passing went all but ignored by colleagues. (Life partner Lani Young published a lovely remembrance in The Desert Sun.)
 
The Toronto Star -- which dropped his byline when he needed the paper most -- assigned someone to the obit who obviously didn't know, or care. The story was about a longtime Star fixture named Eirik Knudsen. A setrec on the misspelled surname ran a day later. 
 
"I was very embarrassed by this particular error," said entertainment editor Douglas Cudmore. "We've spoken to those involved and run a correction. Thanks for writing." 
 
Eirik, one of the great iconoclasts, would have managed a pained smile, and then remarked, "You can't fault them for being inconsistent."
December 21, 2008 4:23 PM | | Comments (0)

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