Long time National Post writer Sean Fitz-Gerald stepped into the TSM interview booth for this edition of Ask the MSMer.
Here you go:
TSM: So, just how bad a rec hockey league player are you?
SFG: Bad. Not cartoon terrible, but bad. I never played higher than houseleague, so a lot of the fundamentals — where to be on a breakout, keeping your head up with the puck — are a challenge. And it’s only getting worse as I get older and slower. Basically, I disgrace the game every time I step on the ice.
TSM:You’ve been covering sports for the Post since 2000, that’s a long time. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen: In the journalism business, and in the sports world?
SFG: When I started, the expectation was that you would file your story at the end of the day, a finished piece of work building in the day’s events. Today, the news cycle is 1,000 times faster, with the initial news often broken on Twitter, and with the quick context included in stories filed shortly thereafter. It’s a far more challenging environment, and I think the readers generally benefit, because stories that could play out over several days play out in an afternoon. Follow-up stories need to be smarter, with more depth and thought. And the biggest change, overall, is the competition from all sides — with smart blogs, and also with the fact the teams themselves are often providing content.
TSM: You’ve covered a lot of big events, what’s most memorable and why?
SFG: Easy. It was at the 2012 London Olympics. It was my first trip to the Olympics, and I’d been spending a lot of time focusing on Canadian boxer Mary Spencer. Women’s boxing was making its Olympic debut, and Spencer was a three-time world champion. She lost in her opening bout. While I was there, I noticed a lot of Irish people in the venue. Like, a lot. Like, all of Ireland. I started following Katie Taylor. She trained in a gym south of Dublin; a run-down place with no bathroom. Ireland was still reeling from the economic collapse of 2008, but Irish fans scrounged and scraped their way to England. When she fought for the gold medal, against a Russian, the temporary metal stands sounded like a rolling thunder. You couldn’t hear the ring announcer introduce the fighters. The place shook. It was a tight, close, uneven kind of fight. Close enough that, when the final bell tolled, nobody quite knew who won. In the end, Taylor won, and the place erupted. She held the tricolour above her head, the entire room delirious around her.
TSM: There’s a Sean Fitzgerald at the Toronto Sun, do you know each other and do others get you mixed up?
SFG: We do know each other, and I often get email intended for his eyes, by mistake. There is another Sean Fitz-Gerald in the business in New York, and we know each other, too. He went to the University of Southern California, and was working at the student paper when the Trojans were up against Notre Dame in football. I’m kind of a Notre Dame fan, and we found each other on Twitter. He seems like a bright, ambitious young journalist. Both of them do. While we share the name, those two are clearly the better-looking Sean Fitz-Geralds.
TSM: Favorite road city when working, favorite road arena.
SFG: Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Choosing between one of those would be like choosing a favourite child. The best venue I’ve been lucky enough to visit was All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, for the 2012 Olympics. The place is every bit as glorious as it looks on television.
TSM: If you weren’t covering sports, what do you think you’d be doing?
SFG: I’d be working in news. Maybe a city hall beat.
TSM: You are active on Twitter. Back in the day there was no way for readers to interact with journalists or athletes. It clearly has changed things for those who cover the game and those who follow it; do you think “dialogue” between writer & audience is a good thing?
SFG: I do. And I really value the people I get to interact with on social media. It challenges me, on the professional side, to make sure I’m at the top of my game, so to speak. And on the personal side, I’ve met a lot of people I now consider good friends through Twitter.
TSM: Any thoughts on how they may one day monetize Twitter?
SFG: I am not smart. No.
TSM: Do you regret anything you’ve written or an interview you have conducted? What’s the one you wished you handled differently?
SFG: Oh god, lots. I hate reading over old stories. All I catch are awkward transitions, or lame story structures. When I was younger, I was forever trying to turn off-day practice stories into sprawling, magazine-style ledes. Florid scenes from a suburban field in Mississauga, where the Toronto Argonauts used to practise. Makes me cringe just to think about some of the purple prose I used to file. Bless my editors. Bless their souls.
TSM: Have you ever called someone on something you’ve learned and been asked to not report on it? If so, can you share that now?
SFG: Nothing comes to mind. Then again, I’m more of a general assignment reporter, not on a regular beat. That can make a difference. I can be on hockey one day, basketball the next and amateur sports on the third day. It’s not the daily grind.
TSM: You are on the road with a team that you cover, the night before a game and you see either a player or team official doing something “untoward” How do you decide whether or not to report it.
SFG: It depends on what untoward means. Breaking the law? Report on it. Slurring speech on the way back from a bar? Meh. I might not report on it that day, but I wouldn’t forget about it, either.
TSM: Favorite Toronto interview.
SFG:John Avery, Toronto Argonauts. Dave Cameron, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. Alyn McCauley, Toronto Maple Leafs. Charles Oakley, Toronto Raptors.
TSM: Least favorite Toronto interview.
SFG: Tom Barrasso, Toronto Maple Leafs.
TSM: This past season was especially brutal for the Maple Leafs fans. The team in fact could be worse this up coming season. How hard is it to cover a team as bad as it’s been/could be?
SFG:Here is the thing, and it seems counter-intuitive: The worst thing a team can be is in the middle. A team can be really good, or it can be really bad, but a team in the middle is a difficult team to cover because the storylines aren’t always as crisp. A really good team would be fun for obvious reasons. A really bad team is also interesting to cover because there are so many questions that need answering amid the struggle.
TSM: Rate the Maple Leaf Offseason so far.
SFG: It’s difficult to say. They seem, generally, to be the result of a careful, considered kind of approach. But this kind of thing has never been attempted in Toronto, and there are still a bunch of roadblocks that will need navigating. I’m going to request a “push” on this one.
TSM: The 2015-16 Leafs season will be a success if …
SFG: everybody remembers to abandon expectations of winning.
TSM: Who is the one person alive or dead you wish you could sit down and interview and if you got the chance, what’s the one thing you want to ask them?
SFG: Conn Smythe. Mostly, I’d just want to tell him what a goddamned mess Harold Ballard made of his franchise, and then watch his reaction.
TSM: If you were a betting man, which Toronto team will win a championship first?
TSM: You teach at the Ryerson School Of Journalism: 1. What do you teach? How has school for today’s journalists changed as compared to when you were in school?
SFG: I teach a sports reporting course. Students attending school today have access to better technology, and are trained on several platforms. They are also much smarter than I am.
TSM: What do you want to be when you grow up?
SFG: I’ve always wanted to be a journalist. I helped start a newspaper when I was in high school. There is nothing in the world I wanted to be more than a journalist. It was, and it remains, an obsession. I love my job.
TSM: What’s the one thing your readers don’t know about you?
SFG: I am terrible at a number of sports, and not just rec league hockey.