What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in j-school?

It’s funny. Pretty much exactly the same thing. When I say, “exactly what I’m doing now,” I mean in journalism, doing what I love, getting to tell stories and holding institutions and powerful people to account. All of that is all I dreamed of doing and that I’ve been able to do that is still kind of remarkable. I didn’t in any way think I would be managing a newsroom or working at such an institution like The Boston Globe. I feel incredibly privileged to do that every day. I knew that this was the path that I wanted to be on if I was lucky enough to find my way in it.

How did you kind of get started? What was your first job outside of school?

I did the two-year grad program at Ryerson. In my second year, I did an internship at ABC News’ Nightline, which at that time was anchored by Ted Koppel and it was a very competitive internship program. I did that internship in Washington D.C. for three-and-half, four months and then came back to Canada and got a job at Global News. Kevin Newman, who was an anchor at Global National at the time, had worked at ABC News’ Nightline and I, like most overeager journalism graduates, I pestered my way into meeting with him and I eventually found my way into Global.

Would you say that having connections is important for recent grads?

Connections are useless if you aren’t someone that has earned the credibility that people believe in. The most important thing is just to do the work. That’s something that I tell the interns that come through here a lot. When I was at ABC News doing my internship there, for the first three weeks, I was cleaning out the cupboards and getting coffee for people. And then gradually, because I did that without complaining, I was allowed to start shot-listing tape. And it sounds really tedious, shot-listing tape, how boring. But once I started shot-listing the tape and doing a good job of that, they started letting me go out on shoots and they started feeling more comfortable with me. But the other thing was, I actually learned most of my interviewing techniques from shot-listing that tape, because I got to listen and watch some of the best interviewers in the world asking questions. The lesson there for me was even though something may seem like it’s a mundane task and you’re doing it in these large news organizations, you can find lessons in all of those tasks. And always, before you leave at the end of the day, ask if there’s anything more you can do to help. And if you just ask that question for the rest of your career, you will never find yourself in dire straits.

Was there anything that surprised you about working in the industry once you got out of school?

What surprised me was how little I knew about actual production. We learn ethics in journalism school, we learn how to tell stories, but I didn’t have a sense of how a satellite truck worked. I didn’t have a sense of how a printing press worked. And when you get into these organizations, the process of making the sausage is something that nothing can prepare you for other than when you’re in there.

You mentioned that you moved around a little bit — how did you make those moves from broadcast to print and then to digital?

My favourite question. What I do is journalism. And journalism doesn’t really have a platform of preference. My true north I guess has always been to view what we do as telling the best stories that we possibly can tell and report on the biggest stories that we can possibly report on and shine a light on on the best platform at that particular moment in time. I think the reason why I’ve been able to adapt like a chameleon to the latest technologies, whether it’s Snapchat, or Twitter or a newspaper or a radio station, or a television news program is because ultimately, the skill of being a journalist far outweighs any aspirations of a platform. So it’s always meant far more to me to get the story out than it has to have my byline in the paper or my space on TV. And that’s it. That is why we do what we do. And whenever I’ve seen people kind of hit a wall, it’s because they’ve actually lost sight of that or never really went into it for that reason. They wanted to be on TV or they wanted to have a byline. And bylines change when technologies change and if you’ve lost touch with that story, then it’s not going to be rewarding or fulfilling for you anymore.

How did you arrive at your current position at The Boston Globe?

I did a Nieman fellowship at Harvard in 2012 and coming out of that Nieman fellowship, while I was here in Boston, I got to know the former editor of the Boston Globe, a guy named Marty Baron. And I wrote this article on disruption while I was at Harvard and went back to Canada and worked at Global News where I helped to bring globalnews.ca to its fruition. Once Marty Baron left — he went to the Washington Post to become editor there — the new editor, Brian McGrory, was looking for a new managing editor and asked Marty if he knew of anyone and Marty gave my name among many and so that’s how it happened.

Can you tell me one of the most challenging things about your job?

It’s such a simple question, but one that flummoxes me because every day is a challenge, but in a good way. Not holding on too closely to my own assumptions, I think would be the biggest challenge. Whether I’m dealing with the business of the industry and how it’s changing or the storytelling and the way that we report in our craft, I think the key is to not be so beholden to your own assumptions that you are dogmatic and forget to listen to people. And I think that’s always the challenge, I mean that’s something I definitely check on, I always need to be listening because behind every voice and every conflict is a grain of truth that you should be listening for.

You mentioned the paper you wrote while at your fellowship at Harvard, Breaking News: Mastering the Art of Disruptive Innovation in Journalism — can you tell me a little bit more about disruptive innovation in journalism?

Disruption in journalism is a theory that was developed by a well-renowned Harvard business school professor, Clayton Christensen, that’s been used to analyze how technology can change industries as diverse as the auto manufacturing to steel mills to journalism. And so I worked with Clay to apply his theory to journalism and what it essentially argued, and what gives me great comfort, is that while traditional news organizations have been disrupted by cheaper, faster and “good-enough” competitors, ultimately, these cheaper, faster and “good-enough” competitors themselves will move up market and journalism will survive. Disruption is about the cycle of the news business and how, even in the midst of that cycle, journalism will sustain itself.

What was the most important thing you got from your education at Ryerson?

Confidence. I learned how to work on a deadline and sleep in and still keep my grades up. Education to me is about harnessing what you already may have inside of you and just don’t know it and Ryerson harnessed the passion and the love for this craft that I have. It was an affirmation in many ways that I can do this, I’m good at this and it’s the right path forward for me. At that time in my life, I was an undergrad coming out of western and thinking about what I was going to do with my life, not very different to where you are now, and Ryerson kind of showed me a way forward. Without it, I would never have had the … to pursue anything further.

What advice would you give to current journalism students?

Stay curious. Stay skeptical. And do the gruntwork. Pick up the phone, don’t cut corners. Reporting is hard and it takes real effort. It needs you to be curious, it needs you to be skeptical and it needs you to do the work. And if you can do all those three things, and you don’t care about your bylines but about the story, you’ll do just fine.


Grads at Work 
is an occasional series of profiles of RSJ alums. If you know of a notable grad you’d like to see featured, send us an email at office.journalism@ryerson.ca.

 

December 1, 2015

Interview by Leah Hansen

David Skok headshot

David Skok
Associate Editor & Head of Editorial Strategy, Digital, The Toronto Star
Class of 2002