#72 Storytellers I Admire: Anita Li
Or how to redefine an industry with vision and new perspectives
I’m going to keep this introduction short because I want you to get into the amazing ideas about the future of journalism and potential for community driven journalism that Anita Li covers in this wonderfully wide-ranging conversation. Anita is a journalist, teacher, and media consultant who has worked at some of the most prestigious and well-known media organizations in North America. She is in the middle of preparing for the launch of a new media concept and publication called The Green Line where she and her team are taking a new approach to journalism and potentially redefining its role in communities for the future.
We talk about her unique path, philosophy, what it means to have a North Star and how it can change your life, what makes a good story (of course), and what you can create when you finally step into all parts of who you are and what matters most to you in the world. Here is my truly inspiring conversation with Anita Li. I hope it’ll give you new perspective on how you can choose to engage with the world and make a true difference.
A quick note for context: Anita and I did our master’s together and started the early parts of our post-grad careers at the same news organizations.
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NB: This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity, but I tried to leave as much with you as possible. It’s long so I’d encourage you to grab a cuppa when you have a bit of time and dive into the world of one storyteller for a bit. Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments.
Chantaie: So, the reason I do these, is to help people start to think about storytellers beyond your typical writer. I try to interview people who I consider storytellers, whether or not they consider themselves storytellers, and just have a conversation with them about what story means to them, their own experiences and perspectives, and what they're doing in their lives. So, you can take these questions however you want to, and we'll just dive in and see where it goes.
Anita: Sounds good.
So, the first question I always ask people, and I ask people more or less the same questions with different follow-up is, what's your story? And this one you can decide to tell in whatever way.
A: Oh, wow. Well, now I know why these take 40 minutes. I hope you're ready. I'm extremely excited to talk about this. Since it's about storytelling, I'll talk about my trajectory in journalism, especially since you've been part of that journey too, so it might be interesting for you to hear this.
I've known I wanted to be a journalist since I was eight years old. So we're talking Connie Chung, Barbara Walters, the typical story. These people doing badass work, and in the case of Connie Chung and Lisa Ling, I was like, "They look like me and that's really cool." I started working professionally in the industry at 14 doing paid freelancing. When I was 16, the first major newsroom I worked in was at CTV, and I got paid to be a research and archives assistant. So, journalism is literally the only job I've ever had, bar a failed month-long attempt as an optometry receptionist, I'll never do that again.
(Laughs) I love it.
A: So, that's the context. I was a huge journalism nerd. This was a massive passion of mine. I was raised in quite a traditional household. I read the Star, I got the paper every single day—the physical paper—all days of the week. And my family listened to 680 News and watched CTV News.
So, I had this traditional framework of the places I'd want to work at eventually. When I went to J-School at Carleton to do my masters, they were even more traditional minded. For them it was CBC and The Globe and Mail. As the child of immigrants, I wasn't even aware that those were the station and the paper of record. I had no understanding of that. At Carleton, it was very clear that there were great outlets and then there were not so great ones. It was a binary understanding of the media ecosystem in Canada. And I bought into it. I went to a very traditional undergrad. I went to an Anglican college, Trinity College at UofT, so a lot of old school values and principles.
Then my career started to take a turn. It started getting interesting after the Toronto Star year-long internship that we did together. This is actually the first time I'm even really remembering that time, because it's been so long, 10 years, but I did not have the best time there. I did some great journalism. And now when I look back at it I'm like, damn, I was really good. But it wasn't really recognized for various reasons. We all know about the racial reckoning of the systemic racism that happens at a lot of Canadian media outlets, the Star was part of that. I fully admit, I was also just not the most grounded person at the time. I'm quite a different person now than I was when you met me and when I was in that space.
Of course. That was 10 years ago.
A: Yeah, exactly. And I think we've both gone on journeys too [since then], which is amazing to see. I was very anxious, just not very confident at the time. And I didn't take advantage of the opportunities, I just didn't have a really go-getting, optimistic mindset.
But it was also a toxic environment. I want to just acknowledge that.
A: 100%. Thank you for saying that. Yeah, thank you for saying that, because I want to take personal responsibility, but it was also really toxic.
Yeah. You're blaming yourself too much.
A: Yeah, totally. 100%. And actually going through this journey, in retrospect, I can see now that I was too hard on myself. That was just a really bad environment. That's why it was so hard. But that time also changed everything for me. I left early. I actually bailed. I went to Mashable, which was huge at the time, and I remember telling you in particular and a couple other people there, the last thing they said to me at the Star was somebody saying, "Is that even real journalism where you're going?"
And that was pretty much the vibe of the Star. I remember telling one of our fellow interns I was doing more analytics stuff when I arrived at Mashable and they were like, "Oh my God, that's horrible." Stuff that actually defines my career today, people were like, "Oh my gosh, gasp, this is not real journalism." So I left early, which was unheard of and I just remember getting completely shit on by the editors. They were also mad because nobody ever leaves the year-long early. And I left early, because I was just like, hell no.
I always had this internal compass where I was could say to myself, this feels terrible, and I just need to get out of here, even before I knew what I was going to do. So I decided to take this chance, took on this job at Mashable, and it was literally one of the defining moments of my career. Still today, that and The Discourse. I Learned about audience engagement, analytics, I learned about internet culture and youth culture, which are hugely important to understand in this day and age with the rise of influencer culture and just news entrepreneurship, and doing things in a more innovative way. So, it really was a fantastic decision and it changed the trajectory of my career forever. Because it was the first time I was not going down this traditional Canadian path and it took a lot of guts.
And you moved away, right?
A: Yeah, exactly. So, Mashable was a New York based publication. I started dipping my toes into American publications there. I was still in Canada and worked a vampire shift of overnight hours and eventually became the weekend editor there. Then I wanted to go to the States. I was sponsored by Complex Media to be their managing editor of this diversity-focused publication.
I eventually made it to Fusion where I covered the 2016 Trump election. And that time, two years in New York, were life changing beyond measure, in the sense that it was the first time at the time as a woman of colour that I felt genuinely validated and seen. I got promoted really quickly, and people were just like, "She's smart." And I never had that experience at all at prior publications. Even though we were validated through getting The Globe and the Star internships—they were the best internships—it didn't feel like my work was valued. So that totally changed the game for me. And it was the first time I was promoted to a director position.
Then I came home and went to The Discourse. I was hired as a Media Innovation Editor and then I became promoted to Director of Communities. That's truly when this North Star thing started emerging where I was like, okay, I really care passionately about community-driven journalism. I care about ethical business models and ethical frameworks that actually consult communities about the media coverage they receive, that actually reflects their lived experience and the stuff that they care about.
That's why I call it the second defining moment of my career. I gained a very clear idea of how I want to use my skills to make the world a better place through journalism and [at a] higher level through communication and bridging gaps in communication. It’s why I'm a full-time media consultant, I launched my own news outlet called The Green Line, which is a local Toronto outlet. I'm also an educator, which I'm super passionate about it—I never thought I would be, honestly. I love being around young people, teaching them. And I'm my own boss—I'm actually making more money than I ever have in any Canadian media context. That's not the main thing, obviously, but it's funny because I was like, oh, you do what you love, and you can make a good living out of it too. So, that's the Cole’s notes [of my story].
Amazing. Amazing. Okay. So how would you define a good story? What makes a good story in your world?
A: Oh, that's a really good question. I think a good story has to be, first of all, compellingly told. I find that there can be a lot of dry journalism out there, and even the framework with which we were taught in Canadian journalism is very traditional and a bit rigid. So for me, you have to spin a good yarn, regardless of the platform, whether it's a long-form or short-form piece, or it's on Instagram, Twitter, or where ever, it has to be told in a way that is tailored to the platform and actually meets the audience where they are.
A good story also understands the audience they're speaking to. I don't think this is inherent to all good stories, but those are the fundamentals, making sure you're spinning a good yarn, you're accurate, and you're speaking to your audience, but in a way that doesn't pander to them. And the last thing, it's illuminating things that you might not know. But I also just love storytelling. I just want to emphasize the tailoring aspects, tailor it to the audience, tailor it to the platform, and do not be afraid of being experimental with the goal of actually better serving your audience. So, that's how I define it.
Awesome. I love that. I want to just jump over to your teaching a little bit, because as you were just talking, it made me think, what do you teach your students when it comes to this notion of storytelling in the context of what they're doing? I'm assuming you're teaching journalism, but tell me if I'm wrong and we can still keep going.
A: Yeah, totally. I am teaching journalism. I teach at City University of New York, Ryerson, which is now X University, and Centennial College. I teach different things, I'll go through them really quickly and then explain what I emphasize. So, at CUNY, which I won't spend too much time on, I mostly teach news entrepreneurs and media executives—pretty high-level media executives—about business models and audience engagement, especially as they connect to audience engagement. So that's more about getting people to financial sustainability, illuminating ways, especially for media executives, to better serve their audiences, especially if they manage a big newsroom. So, that's my way of addressing a systemic lack of stories from underserved communities and the fact that a lot of media outlets are owned by conglomerates or rich families and don't actually represent the public. So that's a form of activism in and of itself in my own way.
Then there's Centennial where I do community-driven journalism. The young people who go to school there are actually largely from Scarborough, which is my hometown, and East York. So, Scarborough is a place that's really underserved. It's a news desert, 700,000 people, largely working class, full of immigrants and people of colour. I love teaching those kids, because I just vibe with them, we immediately understand each other. And I respect them in a way that I feel like they often don't feel. At least they tell me this, they actually feel like I listen to them, that I value their perspectives and their opinions.
And the thing that I teach them, which they love, is community-driven journalism and how to fill in gaps in coverage in underserved communities. But largely, putting that in the context of saying everybody has a story to tell and we're not doing our jobs as journalists—because ultimately we're meant to serve the public—if we're not reflecting accurately and holistically this country, our city, and our province. So, that's the main thrust of what I teach there. Being mindful of those gaps [that currently exist].
At Ryerson, I teach journalism innovation. A lot of [the students] are a little more traditional. Some of them are more experimental, but oftentimes, because it's the best school in the country, they end up getting funnelled to the best places, so to speak. So The Globe, the Star, CBC, all those places.
So, oftentimes while I never tell people what to do, I'm very much like, do you. You'll know what is best for you. What I teach them [though] is that, hey, there's another path that you guys might not have thought of. Not everybody has to go to CBC or the Globe, there's this amazing emerging digital media ecosystem where you could do more experimental stuff. You could do more things that are more aligned with your values.You can be more experimental in formats. You can stretch yourself a little bit more than the frameworks that you're limited by in a lot of more traditional newsrooms. Not to throw shade at them, there's a ton of value to those places, but I tell them, hey, there's an amazing ecosystem that's opening up and you shouldn't limit yourself to one path.
They need that. So, back to the questions (both laugh), I'd love for you to tell me about the work you do that brings you joy, when you think about all the different things you are working on.
A: I love this question, Chantaie. I honestly am the happiest in my career I have ever been. And there were moments where I was so unhappy, being totally straightforward. People are not even as responsive to the stuff I'm doing now compared to the big name stuff that I was doing before, but I genuinely don't care and I've never been able to say that before. It took a while to get to this point, but I've organized my life in a way that seriously everything I do gives me joy.
And a central piece of joy is creating The Green Line. It's a culmination of my life's work. That may sound ridiculous or grandiose at 34, but like I said, I've been in the industry for 20 years solid, and 10 years full time at really major institutions. So for me, The Green Line is community-driven journalism, it's solutions journalism. It merges the best of the rigour of old school best practices in journalism, but the innovation of creator culture, and the nimbleness and the fun of internet culture, and meme culture, and youth culture. A lot of the American digital media outlets I worked at were very rooted in internet youth culture. And it's more diverse as well. So, I think, honestly, it's me finally understanding who I am as a person and not running away from those things if that makes sense.
A: I feel like I'm a bridge builder. On one side I have this very fancy background, going to Trinity College, being around literally Canada's elites, and then going to Carleton, which is this fancy master's school, and then also having this pedigree of working at The Globe and the Star. But then at the same time, there's a huge part of me that's also from Scarborough, child of immigrants, grew up in a working-class area. I also don't identify with a lot of hoity-toity things, I'm more irreverent as a person. There was just a lot of things that I was like, who am I? And basically, The Green Line is a full expression of that. It merges all those sensibilities, especially in journalism.
So even though I work a lot, even more than I used to, and I always have worked hard, it is so satisfying. And it also all overlaps, my consulting work and my teaching work overlaps with all this. Everything I consult in is around community-driven journalism, solutions journalism, ethical business models, and education. I teach the same things. It feels almost cyclical and regenerative in a way, and it all informs this ultimate product that I'm creating. And it doesn't even matter so much if it fails. I honestly am not afraid. If it fails, it fails, whatever. For me, I have a growth mindset now. I'm doing this thing. I'm on this earth, I only get one chance to do what I want to do, and I just am going to go for it. So, yeah, that's the thing.
Oh, I love to hear that. I love it.
A: Thank you.
You said something earlier that I've been thinking about a lot lately, and it's, ‘I've designed my life.’ Or organized my life I think is what you said. And I think there's something about that idea, that leads to joy. I don't know what it is, but there's just something. And it is a deep privilege, but I also think, if you get it, do it, you know?
A: Yes, exactly. 100%. And I recognize my privilege in this, but you're totally right. If you do have the privilege and the resources do it, it's almost incumbent on you to do it. Like with my friends, I'm like, just do it. You're in a position where you can. What are you waiting for? And I think a lot of people post pandemic are realizing it. There are so many people who are going off and doing their own thing for that reason, which is awesome.
And the thing is, that's when you actually have the ability to contribute and to create community. Because that's what it sounds like you're doing partly with The Green Line. It's also creating something of value for the world.
A: Yes, exactly. And you have to be in that position where you know that when you give to yourself, you're able to give to community. It's the whole, if you have an empty cup, you can't fill somebody else's cup. And I honestly feel that way. I know it might sound corny, but I honestly feel like if everybody taps into that, the world would genuinely be a better place. There's just going to be more joy. There's just going to be great, amazing things that people have created that really speak to their own values and lived experience. I just think I'm so happy that the world is moving in this trajectory, at least people in our generation.
Yeah. Yeah, So, I'm going a bit out of order here, but I want to make sure we hit on this. So, when you think about your work, and I think specifically The Green Line, who would you say is your audience, or who do you create for?
A: I have three target audiences. Basically the way I describe The Green Line is, it's a local news outlet that's all about investigating the way we live, to help young Torontonians survive and thrive in a rapidly changing city. So, that's the value proposition. And the main audience is action-oriented young urbanites. So those are Gen Zs and millennials. And these generations are more diverse and actually more progressive than older generations, and they're looking for ways to take action on issues that matter to them. So, I don't need to tell you that the last 10 years have had major social movements, whether it's Me Too, Black Lives Matter, gun control movements, climate marches and they have been driven by people our age or younger. I want to tap into those people who are connected and activated and that's a lot of this generation and younger.
The second audience is underrepresented Torontonians. So those are people who live, work, and play in highly populated areas of the city that are underserved by existing media. And they can range from newcomers, like immigrants and refugees, to people with dual identities who I consider myself [among]; I'm very Canadian, but also a child of Hong Kong immigrants. Also people living in news deserts and places like Scarborough and Regent Park and Willowdale.
And then the third audience is the non-local audience. They’re like the culture vultures. A lot of what we're producing is cultural content that's genuinely grassroots. And so those are people who are young, millennials and Gen Z who are based in English speaking urban centres around the world. Because Toronto has a lot of soft power. I don't need to tell you, The Weekend, Drake, Alessia Cara, we produce so much culture that everybody pays attention to now, and I'm confident in that assessment, because I lived in New York, and by the tail end of my stay, people were constantly talking about stuff coming out of Toronto. So, I can tell that maybe there might be an audience there too.
Cool. Okay. So, this is a two-pronged question, that used to be a single pronged question. First of all, do you consider yourself a storyteller? And if you do, when did you realize that you were a storyteller? Or what made you realize, if there was an instant?
A: I don't even think I've ever characterized myself as a storyteller. What's so fascinating is I once had a conversation with a group of friends who considered themselves writers and I was like, "I'm not a writer." And it wasn't a self-denigrating thing. They were like, "No, no, you are a writer" as if I was putting myself down. I was like, "No guys, I'm a journalist." (laughs) So I actually somehow divorced the concepts.
Tell more about that. What's this difference?
A: Yeah, and this will get to the answer on storytelling, because I always found journalism to be very serious minded. The kind of news I consumed reflected that. It was very much, you report the facts and less about the storytelling, because I didn't ever see myself as necessarily the long form writerly type of journalist. I wanted to be a hard news TV broadcaster when I was young. I wanted to be like Lisa Ling. I wanted to be like Connie Chung.
And so for me, I was like, journalism isn't necessarily storytelling—which is silly—but it's delivering facts in an informative way. So I divorced those things--And that was probably, that conversation I had with friends. I never actually saw myself as a storyteller, I saw myself as a journalist. Even today, even though I'm on the business side of media now. But in retrospect, as I answer this question, I think I started becoming a storyteller in first or second grade, so this was even before I realized at eight [I wanted to be] a journalist. I used to write short stories about my dad and how great he was. Just literally three or four sentences on our desktop computer and printed out on those, you know the sheets of paper that you tear holes off the side? I used to write stories like that. So I think I was a storyteller by that age, and I was probably six or seven.
But I don't think there was ever a moment where I was like, "I am a storyteller." I think I identified with being a journalist at a very young age, so probably in middle school when I started writing for my school paper. I just don't think that's ever been a moniker I've used to describe myself, which is kind of interesting.
Thank you for sharing that. Everyone's perspective on that title is so interesting to me. Why would you say stories matter at all?
A: Oh man, stories are so essential. And as a journalist, I've always known this, but I think I know this in an even deeper way as a human being who is very invested in creating a better world, or contributing to a better world and creating better outcomes for people, for the reason that it genuinely builds bridges. I know politicians say this, and people say this as a throwaway, but I really mean this. And I mean this after living through the life experiences that I have. I was actually a very dogmatic, ideology-driven activist in my early 20s. And you probably actually met me during a time when I was still very much like that, just extremely rigid. Frankly, I just was really rooted in my own worldview and just not really, even willing necessarily to engage.
And then over time, especially in the last five years or so, in the process of meeting so many people through the work I do as a consultant, I've talked to people in Kentucky, I've talked to people in Greece. You just start to realize, through the stories that we share, there's a lot more commonality [between us] genuinely as human beings than there are differences. And that's not to whitewash all the injustice that happens out there, because I'm very firmly on the side of justice, but at the same time, I genuinely think the power of stories is creating understanding, and engaging people in a way that is bringing them along a journey as opposed to pedantically telling them facts or telling them, "You need to do this." So yeah, it's just really powerful. It's the best way for us to connect with each other.
Oh, I love that. Thank you for sharing that. (Pause) Sorry, I can't decide what to ask you next. Who is a storyteller that you admire?
A: Oh man. I feel like I have so many.
You can name as many as feels good to you.
A: Let me think. I'm actually a big fan of writers more than I am journalists. Even though I have a lot of respect for a lot of journalists, Ta-Nehisi Coates obviously comes to mind. But when I think about what's on my nightstand, James Baldwin and Joan Didion are, and I know they are usual suspects that people cite, but that's for an obvious reason. And they're almost life changing in the writings that I've consumed from these two people in particular. Also, Maya Angelou.
I also love a lot of philosophers. I've gotten really into it the last few years. I was raised Buddhist, but in a cultural way, and I wasn't raised with a religion. And I've actually come to appreciate religion, even though I'm not religious, because I think people who are genuinely people of faith subscribe to a set of principles that centre them and lead them through life. Philosophy has given me a lot of that. And so people like John O'Donohue and Alan Watts are some of the people that I admire. There are philosophers who have given me a sense of understanding about the way the world works. And honestly, there's a consistency to the way people who have been successful move through the world. And I don't mean successful in the traditional sense. I mean truly living a life on your terms in a way that actually benefits the greater good. And there's a consistency across cultures across generations, dating back all the way to, one of my favourite philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, who is a Roman philosopher king. There are just consistent things that come up about the way you conduct yourself and the way you move through the world that has given me so much solace and calm in the last several years. And those writings are amazing.
And to me, the greatest storytellers are ones who have things to say that illuminate the world and old truths in a way that is fresh and relevant in modern times. And these old truths continue to be relevant, especially now in this day and age, where there's so much polarization and populism and people are at each other's throats.
Okay. Thank you. What is a story you've created and/or shared that you're especially proud of? And that can be at any point in your life or something that’s coming up.
A: There's a story that I commissioned for Complex that is coming to mind. Do you know Shaun King, the activist?
Yeah. (rolls eyes a little)
A: Yeah. So he's very controversial. This piece from 2016 was actually about the controversy around him. It's almost six years old now. It was not something that had been written at all up to that point because he was actually seen as this gem of a person, but there was so much stuff going on around grassroots activism at the time where they were like, "This guy is actually really toxic." This means a lot to me for several reasons. The person who I worked with on it actually passed away. He was really young. He passed away in his early 30s when we were all in New York and we were still friends with him. And it was a sudden death. He was somebody who had so much promise, he was brilliant. He actually pitched the piece. His name is Feliks Garcia.
The uphill battle we had to get it out is also why it means a lot to me. Because Complex at the time had amazing music journalism, amazing culture journalism, but they didn't really do stuff that was focused on Black Lives Matter or social justice. It wasn't a thing that they covered. In fact, I remember the editor at the time saying, "This isn't part of our identity." They're very cool kid culture stuff. So it was like, "This is weird. This is not what we do."
But the story took off. Not only did we get a lot of attention for it critically, positive attention, we also got a lot of attention in just pure eyeballs, just pure reach. And that totally challenged the perception of my bosses. They realized, oh, we actually need to pay attention to this. People actually give a shit about these kinds of stories. And people still reference it years later. Whenever stuff comes up about Shaun King, they always say, "This piece was the first that came out about this guy." It's also just really well written. And Felix, he understood incorporating diversity in journalism and community-driven journalism in a way that not a ton of people understood years ago in 2016. So I'm really proud of that. It's also focused on a community that's underserved and overlooked.
That's amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I'll definitely include a link in the piece. Okay. And then, really, is there anything you're looking forward to sharing? So, you've told me about a story you're proud of, is there anything you're looking forward to?
A: Oh, 100%. I'm really excited about The Green Line. It is hard launching in March 2022. If you go to TheGreenLine.to, you'll see what we call an action journey. And I'll explain that really briefly. So every month we're going to look at a systemic issue facing Torontonians, specifically our audience of young and underrepresented Torontonians. I'm really excited about this. There's a lot of cool stuff coming down the line. We actually have a month focused on sports, a month focused on music, a month focused on labor, but the very first one is actually about COVID re-entry.
The way it breaks down is, every month there's a systemic issue we look at, and there's four components to it. The first week we have an explainer that breaks down the systemic issue in a very digestible way on Instagram. And then, the second week is when we publish this long-form piece that's solutions oriented and interactive that unpacks the particular issue, in this case, it's COVID re-entry, and I'll tell you a bit more about it. Week three is an event where we convene people, sources from the story, the reporter, community members, leaders, industry leaders, to come together to talk through solutions to the problem. And then finally, the last week is where we publish an article that actually covers the event. So we're effectively crowd sourcing solutions that we can then reflect back to the public that they can take action on. Those solutions also inform our ongoing editorial coverage from a solutions journalism perspective.
So, the first one I'm really excited about, because it's about COVID re-entry in Toronto, compares basically what re-entry was like after the 1918 Spanish flu in Toronto versus what it's like today. And the focus is on civic duty and volunteerism and how the [context] of World War I actually created this strong sense of community. And newspapers at the time were even part of it. The Globe and Mail was publishing, "This is where you can volunteer to be a volunteer nurse." They were actually doing stuff at that granular level, compared to today and what that looks like, and how we are different in the way we actually support each other or don’t support each other today. It's fascinating. And I'm really excited about it.
The reporter, Steven Zhou, who is a phenomenal reporter, actually usually does foreign politics, but I asked him to do this because his background is interesting. He's a guy from mainland China who converted to Islam less than a decade ago, and he's very devout. It's fascinating because that's not as common. I asked him to do this, even though he's a political journalist, because I wanted somebody who had a really strong set of principles, their own worldview. And I wanted him to write through that lens. And that's part of the ethos of The Green Line.
I was going to ask you about that, because that's not typical of a journalist or a journalistic leader. So, tell me about that choice if you can.
A: Yeah, totally. Thank you for asking about this. I'm loving this conversation, Chantaie, I feel like I'm making my manifesto, it's been so nice. So, I'm a big lover of philosophy, and like I told you, it's given me a sense of calm in addition to therapy, also highly recommend for everybody. Even if you're not going through any sort of crisis, it's amazing, and we need to destigmatize that. But in addition to that, philosophy has helped me a lot. And I keep thinking that there's a lot of distraction in society, especially in Toronto. We’re the financial centre [of Canada], there's a lot of focus on status and money. And everybody knows this. You always hear, "Oh yeah, money can't buy you happiness." But nobody really sits with that concept.
And it's not like I've figured things out, of course, I'm still a person, a human being, but I've figured out what works for me in terms of what truly gives me peace and contentment. And I keep thinking about this concept of principles and community and living my life on my terms, even if people may not necessarily like it, or some people may not like it, which is totally fine.
I wanted to create an outlet that was surfacing people's world views and the way they move through the world, especially from a perspective that is not pedantic or talking down to you, which a lot of lifestyle publications do, where it's like, "You need to buy those things to make you happy" or, "You need to do this" or, "You got to fix your relationship in this way." This is saying instead, "Hey, this is how people exist, and this is what works for them." There's a lot of hard-hitting journalism too, but this is the underlying theme, and that's really what I want people to take away with them. It is why I have this action journey built in, because every action you take shapes who you are as a person, and we have to be way more deliberate about that. That's the underpinnings of The Green Line, really.
That is what journalism needs. Everything you've said so far about your own experiences and your responses are hitting me hard because I used to be a journalist. In the same way you don’t consider yourself a writer, I don't consider myself a journalist, I haven't been one for a very long time. And some of the reasons I left journalism are the things that you're addressing right now and trying to fix. I went into it and was like, I want to change the world. I wanted to have an impact. I wanted to tell stories that mattered. And instead I felt like I was taking advantage of people to try my best to compete to get a cover story. You know what I mean? It didn't feel like the thing I wanted to do with my life and in the world.
A: Yeah. And just to jump off of that, because I totally agree with that. The way The Green Line came to be was, I was in a lot of venture capital backed digital media outlets in the States, and it was very focused on prioritizing quantity of clicks over quality of journalism. I started realizing that, especially at Fusion, I was preaching to the converted. I was like, okay, why are we putting out all these justice oriented stories if literally the people who are reading them already know and are well aware?
Oh, echo chambers, yeah.
A: But I was just like, how [do we fix that]? This is actually why I got into the business side—I'm not a business person, I'm not even a numbers person, historically, but I was like, how do I fix this problem? It's the ownership model. We need more diversity at the top. It's largely owned by conglomerates and rich families who have a lot of control. And so you're like, okay, this is how I'm going to be able to fix this. And not only that, people are not even hearing the story. Okay, great, you had this cool investigation, who do you think is actually reading that? You know what I mean?
A: And at the end of the day, the most pressing issues are actually our inability to communicate with each other and ground ourselves. That's universal. That's not specific to any one race or background or country. And so for me, I'm actually trying to address these issues. It's like filling in skills gaps, and this is not at all condescending, because I think about my own experience as a kid in the public education system, and I was not really that well prepared for the world, in the ways that actually matter. These ways, how to actually live. Ultimately you want to live a peaceful, happy existence and that's fundamentally what everybody is looking for. So I'm just like, how can I do this in a way that's not pedantic, that brings people along, that isn't talking down to them, that actually surfaces things from community? And I'm hoping that this will resonate with people for that reason.
So, one quick question, before we go, because it feels like a lot of your career has been about fixing journalism, for lack of a better word. So, from your perspective, why is it worth fixing? Yeah, sorry, I know it's a hard one in the last few minutes.
A: Gosh, I believe in it so much. Like I said, I'm literally somebody who has only ever identified as being a journalist. I think I know it really deeply. So it's confidence in my own skill set. Like I said, I have a weird, unique background, especially for Canadian journalism, that's like legacy and not legacy. I've been an on-air reporter, print reporter, online reporter, producer, editor. And then, I also have this digital media, modern, future-oriented experience.
And so, it's confidence in my skill set, but also I am actually concerned about the state of the world and it's kind of a do or die, now or never thing. I'm not an alarmist. I'm not somebody who is pessimistic. I'm an optimist, but a realist at the same time. And that's actually why I'm doing this, because I was like, okay, I'm concerned by the climate crisis, I'm concerned about systemic discrimination, but more than that, I'm concerned about polarization, because if we are not able to communicate with each other and get along, how the heck are we going to be able to solve these seemingly intractable problems in the world?
And so for me, journalism is worth saving because of what it can actually do, and what it can achieve, which is illuminate issues, build bridges, and bring people together in a genuine way. And so, for me, the power of media is not lost. It's just about pivoting our thinking around it and not trying to force this old framework on a really changing, evolving world that's changing quite rapidly. So for me, that's the reason why I feel like, yeah, no, it's a 100% worth it. And if I can chip away in my own little way, in my own little space, it's worth doing.
Okay. I want to end there because that's the perfect answer. Was there anything that you wanted to talk about, you thought might come up, or you wanted to share that perhaps hasn't come up?
A: No, obviously you're an amazing interviewer, duh, not surprising. I don't have anything else to add. This was actually fun. I think it's the best interview I've had, because you really got deep about fundamentally why I care about this stuff, and I cannot wait to read it. I feel like whenever people are confused about what I'm all about, I'll just say, read this interview by Chantaie. Seriously, I have nothing to add, because I think you've captured it perfectly.
Well, I'm glad to hear that. And thank you so much, because I think my readers are going to love this. You've just shared so much of value and provided a whole new perspective on thinking about journalism, thinking about stories and all those things. So, thank you so much.
A: It was good chatting and talking at you (both laugh). Thanks so much.