Wisdom from a veteran

The Globe’s John Stackhouse on the importance of campus journalism at Queen’s

John Stackhouse, editor in chief of the Globe and Mail, was Journal editor in chief from 1984-85.
John Stackhouse, editor in chief of the Globe and Mail, was Journal editor in chief from 1984-85.

Walk through the Globe newsroom and you might think you’re at a Queen’s Journal reunion. Greg McArthur, Omar El Akkad, Jennifer MacMillan, Jeff Grey, Carol Toller, Sol Chrom.

And then there’s the ones who have moved on—Matt Hartley to the Financial Post, Matt McClure to the Calgary Herald, Drew Fagan and Giles Gherson to Queen’s Park, where they’re deputy ministers (and my colleague and friend Margaret Philp to a tragic loss to cancer).

What makes the Journal such a good breeding ground for print journalists? I think it’s hunger, brains and a bit of luck.

Let’s start with hunger. To the rest of the country, Queen’s is a bit of a country club. Those who go there know it’s not. It’s a campus jam-packed with competitive, high-achievers, young women and men who are not used to placing second at anything.

This hard-driving culture kicks into overdrive in extra-curriculars. It’s not a campus where things are done lightly, or shoddily. Especially at the Journal, which you know everyone else on campus is going to see and judge. No one needs to work at the Journal. We all signed up because we thought it would be fun, or a creative outlet, or a chance to engage in the pursuit of campus democracy.

And then we discovered we had no idea what we were doing. And there was no one to teach us. No manual. No one with more than a few years experience at this. So we taught ourselves. And we stayed because we thought we could make it better, perhaps way better.

No one gives you a credit along the way, or a paycheque, or even much of a thank you. You stay because you’re driven to stay and make the Journal better.

That kind of drive is the rarest, and most valuable quality, in journalism. I’ve seen it in so many people coming out of the place.

I also have come to see how no story, no scoop, no rip-roaring exposé was ever achieved without that kind of drive.

On to smarts. Queen’s attracts only smart people (hard to believe when you think of your housemates). That means the Journal is stocked with a lot of bright, inqiusitive and intellectually restless individuals.

Personally, I think the Journal gets a lot of intellectually restless people because there are few other places on campus to explore and test ideas. The collision of brainpower and energy is magical.

And then there’s luck, that great fluke that brought so many of us through the doors of the Journal in the first place. Pretty much none of us went to Queen’s to become journalists.  We were looking for something else.

Instead, journalism found us. The Journal found us.

Instead of working in the pub, or organizing AMS events, we discovered that the uncovering of information, the telling of stories and the pursuit of truth was what sparked a fire in our hearts. 

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