What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in j-school?
I always planned on doing broadcast actually, with no real plan beyond that. But my first year, I spent a lot of time at The Eyeopener, certainly as much or more time than I spent in a classroom. I sort of fell in love with print and so that became the path that I chose. I ended up still streaming — at the time, there were streams — in broadcast, but print was always my focus from pretty early on. I didn’t really have a dream job necessarily, other than that I wanted a print job, which of course even back then were becoming rarer. I did the radio room at the Star, which was crime, and I worked at a small-town paper one summer, which was all kind of everything. So I think I was just committed on going into print somehow and I wasn’t too fussed on what door I took to get there.
I felt like I had some great profs at Ryerson, but I definitely think, on the whole of it, I learned more at The Eyeopener than I did in the classroom. But that being said, there were some great profs who I’m close with to this day who taught me a lot and were invaluable to my time there.
What was the most important thing you got from your j-school education?
Experience. It sort of sounds trite or obvious, given that so many people say that about Ryerson, but it really is the case. Your education there prepares you to be effective when you walk through the doors of a news organization for the first time but helps you get through the door of the news organization for the first time. I think the internships they co-ordinate there were really valuable. These are things that can’t be overstated in terms of their value. I had an internship at the CBC in fourth year that was great. I think the experience really was the big thing that we got from Ryerson. I’m kind of the mind that in journalism, we probably need more people whose background is not traditional j-school degree. That is not to say that there isn’t still value in people who do still go the j-school route and get the degree, and use their time there to build experience, get their foot in the door and catch on where they can. The opportunities these days are getting tougher, I do not envy the situation grads these days are in. They increasingly just have to be the best of the best to get a job in this environment. I guess to put a positive spin on it, it’s motivating but it’s all the more reason to be sure to get experience that you would at Ryerson when you’re going to school. I think it just makes you that much more competitive if your goal is to work as a journalist, which it was for me.
Why do you say that having people in the industry who have not gone through j-school would be beneficial?
Either not gone through j-school, or gone through j-school and something else. I just think a diversity of opinions is important and a diversity of backgrounds is important. So for instance, people who maybe got a master’s degree in journalism after studying something that wasn’t journalism — economics, business, whatever. I think the more diversity you have, be it diversity of educational background, diversity of actual personal background, journalism is the better for it. I think in an internet era, we’re getting better at that — it sort of egalitarianizes it and allows people to prove themselves in a way that maybe wasn’t as obvious before, even if they didn’t have the traditional j-school degree. But I do think that the more experience you have, it can only help you as a journalist.
What was your first job in the industry?
My first paid job in the industry was a summer internship between second and third year at The Kenora Daily Miner and News. The editor was great, a guy named Lloyd Mack, who I believe is still there, and that was my first job. And then I worked at the Star, in the radio room in third and fourth year and worked at the Edmonton Journal between third and fourth year, which is my hometown. I interned at the CBC with a broadcast internship and then through all that, my first job out of university was a lucky one — I got an internship at the Globe and then got on there. So I started at the Globe right after graduating, which is fortunate I think. I left the Globe earlier this year, and I love the Globe, I still have huge admiration for it and the people there. But every year, I look at the incoming interns and their resumes just got stronger and stronger. You look at these and think, ‘Jeez, if I was graduating now, I would have had to do something else to up my game if I was going to get a gig here.’ But I started at the Globe out of university and stayed there for seven years in Toronto, and then Edmonton and then Ottawa.
The attacks at Parliament Hill are now a year in the past — your video of that day was widely circulated. Did your experience that day change your career in any way?
It changed me. It was obviously a serious event that sort of sticks with you. I think anyone that was in centre block that day would give a similar answer. It’s hard to know if it changed my career. Obviously there was a bit of a “15 minutes” there where I was doing a bunch of interviews about that day. As a journalist you just hope that if you find yourself in a position where news is happening that you can make the most of it and do your job as best you can and that’s what I tried to do that day. But it was a very crappy day, obviously. My office now overlooks the war memorial where Cpl. (Nathan) Cirillo died. I get really uncomfortable with stories where we sort of look back and celebrate the journalism, which is important, but without remembering that journalism tends to be borne out of tragedy and certainly was that day. But it certainly stays with me to this day and literally every day I walk by the war memorial where Cpl. Cirillo died and it’s tough… it’s tough. I feel for him and I feel for his family and I look back at that day and I’m just thankful more people weren’t hurt. It happened so quickly.
How else would you say that it changed you?
I wrote in the Globe about it a couple months later, in December — how, for myself and a lot of other people there, it takes a while to get back to what you would consider normal. Restless sleep, jumping at sounds, that kind of thing. It sort of shakes you up to be in that … it will forever be etched in my mind. I think anyone who was there would say the same thing. Every time you step into Centre Block now, which is a pretty big part of my job, you remember it. So it sticks with you but I don’t like the idea of it somehow being a defining moment — I guess I probably can’t escape that — but I don’t look back on it in that way. I don’t want to look back on that without remembering that it was a really really tragic day.
When did you begin in your current position at Bloomberg?
I started in February.
And you’re still a parliamentary reporter?
I am. Most of our readers are international, so it’s a bit of a shift with going from writing for a domestic audience to a global one.
How have you dealt with that shift?
It’s good. I suppose people would be expected to say that they like their employer, but I really do. I think Bloomberg is a place where they value accuracy and speed above all else, but in that order. It’s a great organization to work for with a big footprint in Canada — they’re launching Bloomberg TV this year. I loved my time at the Globe but it’s been a good gig at Bloomberg. It’s a news organization that really attracted me based on its priorities.
What advice would you give to current journalism students?
Just keep working and don’t be discouraged if things don’t go your way. Those of us who happened to graduate and start working earlier have had it easier because there were more opportunities open based simply on the economics of the industry. So keep at it. At the same time, in an internet era, in some ways it’s easier than ever to get noticed. There are a lot of new opportunities opening as well, with Vice and BuzzFeed. So I would just say keep at it, don’t get discouraged. The economics are changing so quickly and it would be very easy to get discouraged by that, but there are new opportunities springing up and I think that in many ways, the internet era makes it easier than ever to get noticed. So I wish them luck.
October 26, 2015
Interview by Leah Hansen