Interview with a Journalist – Terry McConnell

I had an idea recently for an interview. I thought “wouldn’t it be interesting to interview a journalist?”
Mr. McConnell, columnist from the Edmonton Journal, very graciously granted my request.

1. Let’s begin where it all started in Tilbury, Ontario. You used to work at the family newspaper pulling newspapers from a folding machine as a boy. Do you think those childhood experiences influenced you into a career in journalism later in life?

Oh, I don’t think so. Growing up, I wanted to do a lot of things: be a fighter pilot, a disc jockey, a lawyer, a politician, even at one time a minister. When I was working for my dad, I was just “working for my dad.”

2. After studying journalism in Hamilton, Ontario you bought the two
newspapers your father ran, and launched another. What’s happened to the
family newspaper business now? What about the newspaper you helped launch?

They’re still going —  though times are tough in the newspaper business and they certainly aren’t thriving the way they once did. The one I launched, Tecumseh, is probably doing the best of all of them. That one and the one in Belle River are both now distributed once a week with the daily Windsor Star. The third, the one in Tilbury — my father’s first paper — still stands alone.

3. You were a sportswriter in the 70s. Did you have a favourite sport to report on?
What were your favourite sports teams at the time?

In the early 1970s, I was a sportswriter in Dundas. I probably enjoyed reporting and photographing baseball the most. It can be a very visual sport if you know where to anticipate the action. And somehow writing about baseball was fun, reporting on how the drama played out. Growing up in Ontario, the Toronto Maple Leafs were my favourite hockey team; the Ottawa Rough Riders my favourite football team. Growing up so close to Detroit meant the Detroit Tigers were my favourite baseball team.

4. Looking back at all the awards and various other achievements both
professionally and personally, is there anything you would have liked to
have done differently?

If I could have done anything differently, I would not have returned to my hometown to work for my father’s newspapers and eventually buy them. I would have stayed in the Hamilton area longer, perhaps get into publishing there, or pursue other newsroom opportunities in Central Ontario. That was the plan I had for myself when my father called one day and asked for me to come back. My first instinct was to say no, but my wife at the time wanted to go and I knew it would fulfill my father’s dream. I spent the next 20 years there, living someone else’s dream. Still, it was still a good experience, and there were many good things that came from it, including meeting my second wife.

5.  If you could go back to earlier times is there anything
you wish you had known then that you know now, whether about journalism or
life in general?

Yes.

6.  Where did the idea for The Venting and Telescope come from?
Telescope came at the behest of the Journal’s editor in chief at that time, Murdoch Davis. He was developing a new section for the paper to be called the Sunday Reader and he wanted an unusual column for page 2. He wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like or what was supposed to be in it, but figured he’d know it when he saw it and asked me to take a week and put together some samples for him. So I did. He liked what he saw, decided to call it Telescope, and it’s been running ever since. That was 11 years ago.

Venting was different. I’ve only ever seen something similar in one other newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This was three years after the start of Telescope and by then, the editor in chief was a fellow by the name of Giles Gherson. He was planning several changes to the paper and I pitched him the idea of a reader-driven column, but not one that was a free-for-all like most of them tends to be. Rather it would  be edited into pithy and bite-sized entries that would be assembled in a way that would make it easy to read, funny and occasionally provocative. Gherson liked the idea right away. He gave the column its name. That was in 2002. The rest is history.

7. Switching gears a bit now. I’ve observed you have a bit of a soft
spot for your pets. Did you have a pet growing up as a boy as well? Or did
that not come until later in life?

Oh yeah. I think anyone who has an affinity for animals grew up around them. I know my first wife, for instance, never had a pet at home. She and I always did, because I love pets, but she would have nothing to do with them. She didn’t even like them in the house. On the other hand, both my mother and my second wife always had dogs and cats in the house growing up, so we did, too. My father was like my first wife, though, not a cat person. When I was growing up, we had a cocker spaniel named Frosty, who was two years older than me. He died when I was eight, and I was heartbroken. After that we had a standard poodle named Pierre who died the day after I left for college. In my married life, I’ve had Pookie, Patty, Gretchen, Dave, and right now, two dogs: a shih-tzu/cocker spaniel cross named Pepper and a Jack Russell terrier named Jenny. We’ve always had cats, too.

I’ll tell you an interesting story. When I was growing up, our cat was a calico named Tina. She was the mother and grandmother of all the other cats we had. She died when I was 11. Then 32 years later, my wife and I brought home a calico kitten for our daughter, who was then five. She had never heard the story about my cat growing up, but she had a name for this one: Tina. How on earth? I have no idea, but it is 14 years later and Tina is still with us.

8. Final question. What do you feel has been your greatest achievement
to date?

This may be a pat answer, but it is nevertheless true. My greatest achievement would be my five children and the wonderful young people they have grown to be. Professionally, I suppose my highlight would be the publishing of my first book last fall. That same book comes out in paperback next week.

Thank you to Terry McConnell for taking the time out of a hectic schedule for this interview.

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