Sasha Downer, News Contributor
The year was 1966. At the age of 23, David Bentley had journeyed from England to Halifax, arriving at a barren rental home.
Fellow journalist, Linden MacIntyre, recalls the first time he met Bentley. “I looked across the street and saw a lonely looking guy sitting on the doorstep, (so) I went over and introduced myself. His house was empty, and he had no furniture … but he had a bottle of Scotch and two teacups.”
With only two years of experience as a working journalist, Bentley decided it was time to leave the north of England. He sent letters to countless newspapers in the U.S and Canada before receiving two responses: one from the Wichita Beacon in Kansas, the other from The Halifax Herald Limited. Maybe it was his admitted poor geographic sense, maybe it was his desire to wear a lumberjack shirt in public, but Bentley gravitated towards the colder climate.
Even as a boy, Bentley knew what he wanted to do. As a man in his late 60s, he’s still doing it. In July of 2010, friends and family gathered at Halifax’s Midtown Tavern to celebrate Bentley’s 50th year as a journalist. Throughout his long career Bentley has started a handful of outlets, including The Bedford Sackville News, The Halifax Daily News, Frank Magazine, Ottawa Frank, and Allnovascotia.com. Despite these accomplishments, Bentley manages to keep both feet on the ground.
“He’s humble, actually, which people will find funny, but he truly is,” said Kevin Cox, managing editor atAllnovascotia.com. “He will rarely take credit for anything and he dismisses compliments,” said Cox.
Bentley is a product of his time. Linden MacIntyre says, “he comes from a generation that valued modesty and a low key personality … in those days, the best of reporters were the people who were hardly ever noticed. You slipped into a room and found out what was going on without making a big show of being media … Bentley’s very much of that tradition.”
But his humility hasn’t hindered his passion, Cox says. “When you look at his age, he’s still got that drive and enthusiasm … the story is still everything. That’s a dying breed.”
Bentley tends to play coy, but he has a spine made of steel. In 1968 he boldly resigned from his job at the Herald, when they refused to publish a story about a government scandal in Sackville. About a year later with the help of Barry Conrod, he launched Fleur, a women’s fashion magazine that died after only a few issues. So, with his wife and three children in mind, Bentley swallowed his pride and returned to the Herald, where he was promptly sentenced to work in Port Hawkesbury, which he called “Siberia.”
Bentley is resilient. He already had another publication in mind. “He was working for the Herald, saving money furiously, and really cutting corners on living costs because he was gonna have another go at it,” says MacIntyre. “I visited him one weekend in 1970 and he showed me a few things he had squirreled away in a back room … printing gizmos that he had been quietly buying second hand and storing for his new beginning.”
A few years later in 1975, The Bedford-Sackville News hit the presses. “He worked like hell to make it happen, and he never looked back. He just clawed his way up into a position where he could take it downtown.” With a little help from his friends, the once weekly publication went daily and became known as The Daily News. Its circulation grew to 20,000, becoming a staple in many Maritimers’ mornings. Bentley later sold his share of The Daily News, signing a non-competition clause preventing him from selling advertising space in future publications. Intrigued by the prospect of creating a publication that prospered without the help of any advertisement, he set his sights on the next big thing:Frank Magazine.
With partners Dulcie Conrad and Lyndon Watkins, Bentley began work on this British inspired publication, which would have to be supported solely from sales. In November of 1987 the first issue of Frank magazine hit the stands, coining the slogan “Frank by name, Frank by nature,” on its cover. Today, the magazine is alive and thriving in Atlantic Canada and will be releasing its 600th issue. “David is a visionary,” said John Williams, who owned and edited Frank until recently. “He sees something and he makes it happen.”
In 1989, Bentley met Michael Bate to discuss Frank’s national possibilities. “Anyone who said they wanted to start a satirical magazine with no advertising and no government grants would have (been deemed) crazy,” said Bate. “Our whole business plan was on a napkin…the timing was just right.”
Bate went on the become the editor of Ottawa Frank, which didn’t last past its 15th birthday, but Bate is thankful to have met Bentley. “I love David. He’s one of the great characters in my life, and one of the great influences,” said Bate.
At home Bentley enjoys gardening and reading classical literature. “He was just a normal Dad,” says daughter Caroline Wood, shrugging.
“(He) has a great balance between life and work,” says MacIntyre. “The two are almost seamless.”
Despite all this praise, Bentley is far from perfect. For one, Bate says he can’t mix a drink to save his life. “We drank together and he gave (me) this awful rum and orange juice mixture.”
Lethal cocktails aside, Bentley has had his fair share of legal battles. In 1999, President of Salter Street Films Limited Paul E. Donovan sued David Bentley, Lyndon Watkins, and Michael Bate for defamation. According to the statement of claim, the trio printed and published eight factual errors “with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity and with malice.” The case was settled outside of court, but Bentley’s luck soon ran out.
In 2000 Gordon Earle sued Frank for defamation and won. “Frank Magazine ran a story that Mr. Earle viewed as slurring him racially, indicating that he was not competent… and essentially (that) he was hired and occupied a series of positions with the government because he was black, not because he was capable,” said Earle’s lawyer, David Coles. “I gave Frank many chances to apologize and to withdraw their remark, but they refused, so we took it to court,” said Earle. Bentley represented himself in court, where Coles says, “he defended his claim vigorously, but the jury concluded that the story was defamatory and ordered that he pay Mr. Earle a not insignificant sum of money,” said Coles. $60,000 later, Frank remained Frank by name and by nature.
Over the years he’s earned himself quite a reputation. “People will tell you that he’s legendary for blow-ups, but honestly I haven’t seen much of it,” said the editor of Allnovascotia.com Kevin Cox. “The only time David gets really angry is if we miss something.”
Bentley is passionate about what he does. “Halifax and Nova Scotia is a fabulous place to do journalism,” said Bentley. “Everybody knows everybody and they desperately want to know what’s going on.”
So who is David Bentley now? Is he the simple man who enjoys gardening and reading classic literature, or the hard-hitting, story-breaking journalist? For MacIntyre the answer is simple: “He’s the same David Bentley I met on the doorstep with the bottle of Scotch that Sunday morning.”