Looking out the window, I could see the tall, worn out Toronto Star building while heading into Union Station. A staple in Canadian news and media, I arrived at the building, eager to meet the publications respected city columnist—Edward Keenan. Not only working for The Toronto Star, Keenan hosts his own radio show every Sunday night on 1010 Newstalk and is the author of the book Some Great Idea. The father of three showed me around the Toronto Star’s busy news office. We later sat down and discussed in depth his life leading up to this lucrative position at The Star, the stories he’s most proud of, and advice to aspiring journalists.
What is your position here at The Toronto Star?
I am a city columnist at the Star, I’ve been here for about a month, and prior to that I was a senior editor and columnist at The Grid Magazine. I also host a radio show every Sunday night on Newstalk 1010.
What type of reporting do you do?
I do a lot of commentary and some reporting, especially right now on the municipal elections because we are right in the midst of the last leg of the campaign, so that’s occupying a lot of attention. My mandate here is to write and report on stories of significance to the city, which sometimes means going out to City Hall or out in the streets to find those issues that are effecting peoples lives.
How did you get your first break?
I don’t know. I don’t think there was ever a moment where I got a big break that had really propelled me. Essentially I was a dropout at the Ryerson School of Journalism, and I worked at a trade magazine for about a year, and then I couldn’t find other work. For about ten years I was out of work and not involved in journalism. I was working on a novel but I was working as a short order cook. I owned my own restaurant, I was a chef and I also worked in offices, door-to-door sales, so I was having a hard time. At the end of that period, I took an unpaid internship at Eye Weekly, which I guess was my big break because I had an opportunity there to do a lot of writing. At the end of that I got a freelance contract as a staff writer, where I was writing every week. After six months I was hired as an associate editor and I worked there until Eye Weekly became The Grid. My big break so to speak would then probably be my internship, because at the end of it they decided to keep giving me work.
You already told me some places you have worked, are there any others?
Yes, I had worked full-time for The Grid Magazine and The Toronto Star. I did a lot of regular part-time freelance work for Canadian Immigrant Magazine as an editor, as well as Sway magazine. I was an innovation and job news editor for a publication called Yonge Street, which is a business publication and is still online today. I have been a contributing editor at Spacing magazine since it was founded. I also was a long time blogger for The Walrus magazine, Macleans, The Globe and Mail and a bunch of other publications. I hosted a radio show called CIUT 89.5 FM, which is a community radio station at The University of Toronto. Now I have been working as a radio host at Newstalk 1010 for the last little while. For a brief period I was writing a television series called Into The Fire, which is a series about Muay Thai fighters, which lasted three episodes on The Score before the production company producing it ran out of money. I am also an author for a book called Some Great Ideas, which is about Toronto politics. Recently I have written a children’s book for Owl Books that is teaching kids about politics and why they should care.
What would be your advice for a new journalist?
I don’t know the short version of that. My best advice for a new journalist is to work at it. There are several things. First off, you don’t need anyone’s permission to be a journalist. A journalist is just someone who goes out and finds information and shares that with the general public. I find a lot of young journalists are expecting someone to give them a big break or give them a job or tell them what to write about, which I understand because you want to get paid, however the best way to learn is by doing. The second piece of advice I would give—and remember this is coming from someone who does opinion commentary—is that the most valuable thing you can bring to a publication or to readers is your unique perspective. You should bring something that no one else is bringing so that you stand out. The third thing in terms of working and job market is that if your looking for a stable way to make a living then there are much easier ways to do that then this. Secure places of employment are vanishing in this industry, so if you are a journalist today then you are essentially running a business of your own. You have to think of it as a relationship you are developing with readers, through blogs or magazines, you are constantly looking for ways to expand your business. Think of yourself as an employer with customers.
What is the story you are most proud of?
The story that I am most proud of is I guess this profile I wrote on Rob Ford for Eye Weekly in 2006, before he became mayor. He gained a reputation of being a bit of an oddball in City Council and I spent a few days writing a profile on him. I wanted to know why a guy who was looked at as a joke by his coworkers, kept getting elected. Looking back on that, I feel like a lot of what I wrote stands up to who he is now. I am happy with that as a piece. Another one is a long essay I wrote in Spacing magazine in 2005 or 2007. I wrote how suburbs are changing and immigrants are coming in, and slowly Scarborough became a lower income neighborhood, and the city was not equipped for it. Again, I feel like very few people observed that, I feel like a lot of what I wrote became a major contribution to what is talked about today.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor. I have had several people over the course of my career that were mentors. I have had the good luck to work with a lot of talented people. I don’t specifically have any mentors. I don’t think I ever really looked for one. I often look for a community of people for advice and guidance, rather then some councelor.