Top 25

Top 25 Journalism Moments (2020)

I remember the moment when I defended my decision to enter journalism as a profession while talking on my Sanyo analog mobile phone to my mom.

She kind of balked at it. “You’re not going to make much money.”

You know what? I grew up in a blue-collar household, and there wasn’t a lot of money. I wasn’t spoiled. And frankly, I didn’t want to be rich. It’s never appealed to me.

Hell, I was your run-of-the-mill apathetic ’90s suburban teen that just liked the paranormal, movies, music, supermodels, puffins and writing.

I had always liked to write. I was writing before I was reading. Wrote a crazy story about Mad Balls in Grade 2. Put together a small book about my friends teaming up with Magnum P.I. in Grade 3. Wrote an imaginative tale about me, Psycho Puffin and ’90s supermodels in Grade 8.

So, even though journalism wasn’t what I went to school for — archaeology if you’re wondering — I felt it was my best bet to become a professional writer.

I’ve worked for a hyper-local newspaper and on a national desk of a major media corporation, an American publication, and even an ennui-inducing trade paper (for an editor with all the charm of Smaug). I’ve learned more than I could have miring away at some industrial drudgery. Plus, I’ve engaged in the communities I’ve worked in, organizing events for high school athletes and political debates.

The other bonus: I’ve experienced more than I could have imagined. I’ve made some great friends through the process, watched careers develop, both in pro sports and entertainment.

I can say I’ve partied with Lennox Lewis, Georges St. Pierre, Donavan Bailey and the U.S. national hockey team. I’ve carpooled with Fashion Santa and the lead singer of Platinum Blonde. I got up extra early to interview an NHL executive. Sat and talked baseball with a decorated World Series doctor-pitcher. Traded anthropology tidbits with a legend. Listened live to Chris Hadfield singing “Space Oddity”. Supped with a famous fashion model. Swapped emails with my No. 2 celebrity crush. Joked with a respected Canadian rock band. Listened in on the advice of Gloria Steinem.

I’ve heard so many stories. And I’m all the richer for it.

There is something that has drawn me to this profession. And I’ll forever be indebted to it. I often struggle with imposter syndrome in this industry, and I’ve struggled through editors who loathed me and thrived with others that thought highly of me. It ebbs and flows.

So, after 15 years of toiling away in the trenches, from that first internship with Torstar Digital in 2005 to my current place at the Canadian Press’ Pagemasters, here are my revised Top 25 journalism moments.

Subject: Kate Bock
When: Fall, 2016
Where: Phone Interview (Toronto to Cleveland)
Publication: Chrome Magazine
The Story: I worked my ass off to secure an interview with the Sports Illustrated model, a few years before she graced the cover. Some of you may roll your eyes, but I find models intriguing. They may be known for their beauty, but what’s on the inside? My article angle was how important charity is for her and it was a pretty generic interview. Until I asked her what LeBron James is like (she was and still is dating his former teammate Kevin Love) and she clammed up tighter than a Looney Tunes’ cartoon mollusk. I quickly shifted the conversation to her jewellery line.
Subject: Catherine Reitman
When: November 2016
Where: CBC Building, Toronto
Publication: Streeter
The Story: Don’t tell the call centre — I was working two jobs — but I played hooky from work so I could interview Catherine Reitman at the CBC building. It was a grand experience. A white-haired Paul Gross waved at me. I watched Kristin Kreuk chat with castmates and Allan Hawco pace around the “Caught” booth. I waited for my interview with Catherine for “Working Moms” and it was a wonderful experience where two recent parents traded war stories. My daughter was four, and my son was one. I also mentioned my previous run-in with her brother Jason: “He was on his BlackBerry the whole time,” I said. “Yeah, that’s Jason,” Catherine replied.
Subject: Mick Fleetwood
When: October 2014
Where: Liss Gallery, Toronto
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: It was a simple photoshoot that had me brushing shoulders with rock royalty. And I asked a question that made Mick Fleetwood light up. As chuffed as I was, I still absorbed every moment of his response, where he proudly explained who Herbert Worthington was to the crowd gathered in the Liss Gallery, (the photographer of the Rumours album cover), and added that there was a small something that inspired him.
Subject: Barbara Gowdy
When: May 2019
Where: Gowdy residence, Toronto
Publication: Streeter
The Story: A lot of my favourite writers are dead. But this isn’t how I want to start this. Regardless, I have a few who are very much alive, like Stephen King, Carl Hiaasen and Barbara Gowdy. The opportunity arose to sit down with her regarding her choral work at a local church, and I was up for it. We ended up talking about writing, The White Bone, her battle with cancer, social issues and life in general. It was well over an hour. She ended up driving me home.
Subject: Launching Chrome
When: July 2016
Where: Ottawa, Toronto
Publication: Chrome Magazine
The Story: Chrome, for me, was that dream job. It was a wonderful blend of features, entertainment and sports. It was a men’s magazine. I knew nothing about fashion, or men’s hygiene, or cars. But I knew sports and I knew supermodels. So, what better than write about both. And, I wrote and edited about 60 to 70 percent of the content for that first issue. I can’t stop talking about how much of a gentleman publisher Abbis Mahmoud is, and I am indebted to him for bringing me back on board as a writer for his second publishing endeavour.
Subject: The Strumbellas
When: March 2014
Where: The Future Baker, Annex, Toronto
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: The Strumbellas were coming off their second consecutive year earning a Juno nomination, and this time I was able to sit down with the quintet and bask in the experience of them losing chicken McNuggets in their road-weary van.
Subject: St. Paul’s by-election
When: September 2009
Where: St. Paul’s riding
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: I knew I was switching over to the sports editor position from my standby of news, but I wanted to go out with a bang. So, I covered a midtown Toronto (St. Paul’s) by-election from beginning to end and organized an all-candidates debate. I got to know the four major candidates, Hoskins-Levy-Heller-Chopik well. And I do remember that I was threatened by John Turmel, who alleged that he knew Brazilian jiujitsu. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Eric Hoskins, pictured, won the by-election.
Subject: Rebecca Jenkins
When: November 2017
Where: Spacco Restaurant
Publication: Streeter
The Story: The “Black Harbour” star sat down with me to talk about taking the Lindy Davies Masterclass at the Canadian Film Centre with Sarah Polley. It was a very casual interview that wound down with a quick photoshoot. We started talking about writers, and the topic of Margaret Atwood came up and I shared a story about how when I moved in with my now wife, I had to purge a lot of books. Well, one of them was a signed copy of The Handmaid’s Tale. Anyway, somehow, I received a new copy signed.
Subject: Cliff Fletcher
When: January 2011
Where: Air Canada Centre
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: I was covering the CHL Top Prospects game when it was in Toronto, watching the Zamboni driver prepare the ice surface at the (once called) Air Canada Centre. I noticed Cliff Fletcher just sitting by himself and I decided to walk over and chat with him.
Subject: Yasmin Warsame
When: Summer, 2017
Where: D-Bar, Yorkville
Publication: Chrome Magazine
The Story: Although the story never made it in the pages of Chrome, as they opted for my piece on Natasha Barnard instead, one of the coolest sit-down interviews I had was with Yasmin Warsame. Izzy Sulejmani joined us at D-Bar and we talked about Sudan, the 45th, Victoria’s Secret and life as a parent.
Subject: Marcus Stroman
When: June 2016
Where: Phone, and later the Rogers Centre
Publication: Chrome Magazine
The Story: Even though I had 15 minutes on the phone with Marcus, I also coordinated the photoshoot, getting my favourite colleague Trevor Godinho to grab photos. Marcus was great and the article was the first of my sports features in Chrome.
Subject: Maria Sharapova
When: August 2019
Where: Aviva Centre, North York
Publication: Streeter
The Story: I had been travelling up to York University to imbibe in my (discrete) love of tennis since 2015. I’ve seen Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Monfils, Raonic, Serena, Ivanovic, Wozniacki and Sharapova play. In 2019, the stars aligned and I watched one of Sharapova’s last tournaments and stayed around for the presser afterwards.
Subject: Hayden Panettiere
When: August 2011
Where: Metro Toronto Convention Centre
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: For the longest time, I would get passes to go cover FanExpo. Eventually, I grew desensitized to covering the event, but I do have some wonderful memories. One included actress Hayden Panettiere, who had an over-zealous handler. I was shooting photos of celebs chatting with fans, and a lonely Hayden sat down in the chair beside her overseer. I lifted my camera and the handler shot me down. Then a fan distracted the handler, wanting an autograph from the “Heroes” star. Panettiere turned to me, flashed a smile and said, “Take the photo.” Me, being daffy, “It’s okay?” “Yes.” And there you have the photo.
Subject: Ivan Reitman/TIFF
When: September 2009
Where: Toronto International Film Festival
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: Three reporters were sent out to cover the behind-the-scenes parties during TIFF, and I was able to attend the Daniels Corporation’s shindig, where I was able to interview Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. I wanted to ask his son Jason a few questions too, but all he did was play with his BlackBerry. This is evidence of my story shared with Catherine.
Subject: Toronto District School Board/Toronto Raptors
When: March 2011
Where: Air Canada Centre
Publication: Toronto Today
The Story: I wanted to do a feature on high school spirit and reached out to the Toronto Raptors and Anton Wright connected me with Kat Stefankiewicz and the Raptor. The Town Crier brought down three students from three of our midtown schools and we did a photoshoot. I will never forget the expression on the teens’ faces when they walked on the hardwood.
Subject: Superstitious Times
When: April 2018
Where: Toronto
Publication: Superstitious Times
The Story: As my freelance writing slowed due to closures or late payments, I set out to write about a topic I thoroughly enjoy but was too afraid to touch on earlier in my career. I like ghost stories. I like the unknown. So, I launched the Superstitious Times with the idea of covering Canada’s paranormal stories through the social anthropological lens of a journalist.
Subject: Natasha Barnard
When: June 2017
Where: Phone interview (Toronto to New York)
Publication: Chrome Magazine
The Story: I had a wonderful hour-long conversation with Sports Illustrated model Natasha Barnard for Chrome Magazine. We talked about South Africa, Cecil the Lion and the Big Five. Barnard had a love of wildlife photography and I really enjoyed the South African accent. The only downside was that the magazine did not go to print. And thus no one read about my interview with except the editors and her modelling agency in South Africa.
Subject: Ontario Community Newspaper Association
When: April 2012
Where: Royal York Fairmont
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: I’ve been told that I have no talent, or it has at least it has been implied in the past, so when I won the Columnist of the Year Award for all of Ontario in 2011, I was really chuffed. Sticking with journalism paid off. And it proved to my critics I have enough talent to win something, at least.
Subject: Brian Burke
When: August 2011
Where: Leaside Memorial Arena
Publication: Toronto Today
The Story: I was working on a sports news story about the expansion of Leaside’s arena for the Town Crier’s monthly magazine, Toronto Today. After speaking with former Leasider Nick Kypreos, I thought, why not talk to Brian Burke, who lived in Bennington Heights at the time. I reached out to the Maple Leafs and given the subject matter; I was offered a very early interview time of 7 a.m. I took it and sat down face-to-face with then Toronto Maple Leafs general manager.
Subject: Daniela Pestova
When: Spring 2017
Where: Via email (Toronto to Prague)
Publication: Chrome Magazine
The Story: Most who know me, know my celebrity crush through most of my teenage years was Cindy Crawford. But during the latter portion of the 1990s, it shifted to the Eastern Bloc. The Czech Republic to be clear. Now, if you told the 15-year-old me, gawking at the cover of the 1995 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover that I would interview Daniela Pestova, I would not have believed you. Although it was through email, because of the difference in time zones, it was still surreal.
Subject: Marco Glaviano
When: June 2015
Where: Izzy Gallery
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: As a teenager in the 1990s, growing up in suburban Whitby, I had a poster of Cindy Crawford on my wall. I knew that photo had been shot by Marco Glaviano, who had a strong working relationship with Crawford. And believe me when I say I was pretty giddy to meet and interview Glaviano during one of his Toronto visits. We sat down before his exhibition and chewed the fat about models, jazz music and the history of digital photography.
Subject: Kyle Lowry
When: April 2017
Where: BioSteel Centre, Toronto
Publication: Chrome Magazine
The Story: One of the athlete profiles I did for Chrome Magazine was Kyle Lowry, and given my work with Marcus Stroman, Lowry was more than happy to sit down with me for 15 minutes and talk about his favourite things. I told him that I appreciated the NBA short on him growing up in Philadelphia, and that eased us into the conversation.
Subject: Trish Stratus
When: December 2009
Where: Stratusphere Yoga Studio, Vaughan
Publication: Vaughan Today/Town Crier
The Story: Not too many people outside of the WWE can say they’ve been sat on by Trish Stratus, let alone be told you have a strong back. Truth is, Trish was lighter than a feather. But she was a very happy, relaxed comfortable interview, and a complete show-off (kidding) the day we actually took a yoga class together. To this day, I still thank the assignment editor, Alexis Dobranowski, for the opportunity.
Subject: Jane Goodall
When:  April 2011
Where: Convocation Hall, University of Toronto
Publication: Town Crier
The Story: Sometimes, it’s the stories you don’t get to share or write, that leave you with the fondest memories. My managing editor Gordon knew I would dig a chance to listen to Jane Goodall, but I also got the chance to be in a very select scrum with Goodall that was devoid of any major press. I introduced myself as an archaeology grad working as a journalist and struck up a conversation about anthropologists Leakey and Hodder.
Subject: The Dalai Lama
When: April 2004
Where: Convocation Hall, University of Toronto
Publication: New College Window
The Story: This was before I was a professional journalist, but I was tapped by my friend Owen to shoot photos of the Dalai Lama with the useless little point-and-click that I owned. And I stood outside Con Hall with my modest camera, amidst a modest crowd, waiting for His Holiness, who was about to be given the International Acharya Sushil Kumar Peace Award. He stepped out of the car and walked up the steps, and just as I was taking his picture, he looked right at me. It was a surreal moment for me.
Photos: Karolyn Coorsh (Ivan Reitman); Francis Crescia (Kat Stefankiewicz, Trish Stratus, Brian Burke); Deana Nastic (Yasmin Warsame); Trevor Godinho (Marcus Stroman); Evens Belleus (Chrome launch); Branislav Simoncik (Daniela Pestova); Max Abadian (Kate Bock); Supplied (Kyle Lowry, Catherine Reitman; Barbara Gowdy, Natasha Barnard); Brian Baker (the rest)

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