The Times sat down with hockey media legend Bob McKenzie on Nov. 4.
Q: When you wrote your great piece about the city of Ottawa in the wake of the Nathan Cirillo tragedy in fall of last year, you said, “more than any Canadian city I visit, it feels like home.” Can you talk about your connection to, and fondness for, the area?
A: I started coming to Ottawa probably first when I covered junior hockey for the Sault Star. The Sault Greyhounds would come on a road trip and I’d come to Ottawa. It was cool because it’s the nation’s capital; to see the Parliament buildings, the Rideau Canal, and those cool things, was terrific. Over the course of time, I always found reasons to come here. Obviously, once the Senators came here I was in Ottawa that much more. Of all the Canadian cities I’ve visited, I’ve probably visited Ottawa as much or more than any of them. It’s got a real nice small-town feel to it, but it’s big league too because it’s got the Senators.
Obviously, to understate things, you’ve come a long way since graduating from Ryerson with a Bachelors of Journalism, helping build up The Hockey News and working at The Star before building your legend as the TSN Hockey Insider. Now your son, Shawn, is breaking into the business for rival Sportsnet. With your wealth of insight and hindsight, what kind of advice did you have for Shawn, and what kind of advice would you give for those who want to work in sports media for a living?
It’s obviously a tough business. It’s tough to make headway. With convergence, there are fewer and fewer outlets for people, whether it’s writing, or broadcast, or print — you name it. It’s difficult to make your way. And yet, I told Shawn, “it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times.” It’s the worst of times because it is a shrinking market. It’s the best of times in that, if you are good at what you do, you can create your own opportunities on the Internet, on Twitter, on websites, on blogs, on YouTube. It’s never been easier, in some ways, to get your message out. But obviously your message has to resonate with people. I just told him to be realistic and recognize it’s a lot of hard work. You don’t necessarily get to be an overnight success. He understands; he’s been around the business. He saw me working at it, and he’s been there when I’ve done things. He knows it’s not all glamour. He saw the sacrifice, and he knows there were lots of Christmases I wasn’t around because I was at the World Junior Championships. He knows, if you want to be successful, you have to make sacrifices.
With your over 1.1 million followers, Twitter has obviously grown your brand. Through Twitter it’s become obvious to people in real time how good you are at your job. What do you think about Twitter as a medium? What do you like, and what do you dislike about it?
I probably have a love-hate relationship with it. It’s really forced everyone in the business to work 24-7 because you have the access to be able to do it. If you’re not doing it, people are asking, “Why aren’t you doing it?” There is an innate pressure there to try and provide an update. I look at Twitter, though, and the biggest thing for me is that it’s a news cooperative. If you follow all the right people – say NHL beat writers – you can get real time updates from every practice in the game. Everything that’s going on, you can have access to it, in real time, on your phone, anywhere you are in the world pretty much. And that’s pretty cool, because when I first started out in the business, trying to get information was a labour intensive process. Now, it’s almost too easy. The issue is trying to filter the avalanche of information that’s available to you.
You’ve mentioned a four or five-year timeline until you put down the pen, put away the phone, and retire. You can’t retire until you pass Justin Bieber for most “followed” Canadian on Twitter, can you?
That’ll never happen. I’m not even going to try to take on Bieber Nation. He will always be ahead, as he should.
I’ve probably got another at least four years, maybe five, doing what I’m doing now. I’d like to ramp it down at some point, because it is a 24-7 job for ten months of the year for me. I get nine weeks off in the summer, but the rest of the time you’re on all the time. It’s the kind of job where you can’t say, “oh, I’m going to semi retire and do three days a week,” because you either know everything or you know nothing. I could see, four or five years down the road, saying, “okay, I’m not covering the NHL on a day to day basis anymore, but I’ll stick around to see some World Juniors and maybe the draft if you want me to.”