David Shoalts is a hockey columnist for the Globe and Mail, and has been for far too long in the eyes of the hockey analytics crowd and a distressingly long list of people on Twitter. While he is a fan of what he considers good in music, writing, theatre and movies, his interest in pop culture ended somewhere around 1982. He also likes to pretend he is a runner.
Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
I used to tell people I wanted to be a lawyer just to have an answer. Then my mother told me what kind of marks were needed to get into law school. Then I met a few lawyers. So I started thinking seriously for the first time about that I wanted to do. This was near the end of my first year at the University of Waterloo, a school I chose because the town played host to Oktoberfest. Fortunately, the answer came quickly because it was right in front of me in the form of the three newspapers I devoured every morning.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Get a large bottle of Jameson’s Irish whisky. Sit down. Pour a glass. Sip until the thought goes away.
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
I read all of our competitors every day: Toronto Star, Sun, National Post, CBC.ca. I also regularly read websites that cover hockey like Sportsnet.ca and ESPN.com. Since the NHL crowd embraced Twitter, it is a must even if it shows how many profoundly stupid people there are in the world. I also listen to both sports radio stations in Toronto. This explains my personality defects, although I try and balance this by watching British murder mysteries on Netflix.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
After 35 years it is hard to single out one best interview but the best interview subjects I’ve had include Don Cherry, Tim Leiweke, Brian Burke (who can also be the worst depending on whether you’ve annoyed him lately), the late Pat Burns (ditto) and Patrick Roy. There are also some gems among the many NHLers to whom English is their second language. Ilya Bryzgalov was the obvious choice here, until he started trying too hard. My favourites, though, are Darius Kasparaitis, who once halted a scrum when someone in the media mob broke wind, and Arturs Irbe, a Latvian goalie who once said, “I play like wall.”
Even after 35 years, this one stands out: Phil Esposito. Shortly after he hoodwinked the NHL into granting him the Tampa Bay Lightning expansion franchise (which finally landed in saner, richer hands), Esposito and the Lightning came to Toronto for their first game against the Maple Leafs. My assignment was to get a question-and-answer out of him. For some reason, perhaps connected to his turn as a star for Team Canada in the 1972 Soviet series a good 20 years earlier, Esposito hated the Toronto media. It was apparent the minute he walked in the door that night. He reluctantly agreed to the interview. He started to answer the first question and then said, “The hell with this. I’m not answering any of your effing questions,” and walked off. This was between the first and second period. After the game, he was approached by Bob McKenzie, who worked for the Toronto Star at the time. There was an exchange of words and Esposito punched him. McKenzie called the cops and had Esposito charged with assault. The charges were dropped when Espo apologized.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Kid, if you go into journalism you’re out of your freaking mind.
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
By the time-honoured motto of all sports writers: Where’s mine?
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
The same advice every other media person gave: Get off your butt, figure out exactly who you should be making your pitch to and contact only them. A recent phenomenon among PR people is to spam all media with whatever their client is peddling. I am sick and tired of getting pitches for stories about health supplements, for example, when all I write about is hockey. All you do is get you and your agency on my junk email list.
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
I’ve had similar experiences to this one and all had the same thing in common: the PR rep went the extra mile. In this case, me and a group of Toronto hockey writers made the 60-kilometre trek from downtown Atlanta to the Thrashers’ practice rink because we wanted to interview their young star Ilya Kovalchuk to set up the Leafs-Thrashers game the next night. Rob Koch was the Thrashers’ media-relations guy. It’s too bad the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets because we all loved Rob, who was unfailingly helpful, unlike far too many of his peers these days. It turned out Kovalchuk was excused from practice that day and was not around. Most PR guys would have shrugged and told us too bad. Not Rob. He took us into a board room, called Kovalchuk and did a conference call on the spot. We all went back to our hotels with the story we wanted. Those guys are gold.
Most hockey analytics geeks. Aside from having no sense of humour, they all act like they are the true sages of hockey simply because they came up with a few equations to state the obvious. The team that has the puck most usually wins. No kidding, Sherlock. That’s been true since Lord Stanley was talked into spending 35 bucks to buy a certain cup.
Blues, rockabilly, real rock and roll, Van Morrison, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Aretha Franklin, Big Joe Turner, The Blasters, Bruce Springsteen, Sam Cooke, Delbert McClinton, Handsome Ned and lots of others. Also, Ian Rankin and Inspector Rebus, Henning Mankell and Wallander. And theatre save for most musicals, which always frosted my children. But I was a enough of a good sport to buy the tickets and sit through them.
Robert Johnson Lost and Found. The authors went through all of the written material on the bluesman to separate fact from fiction. No, he didn’t sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for talent but the true story is pretty darn good, too.
Best place on Earth?
P.E.I. for relaxing, New York for everything else.
Dan Jenkins, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
Favourite app (or whatever you’re downloading these days)?
My employer decreed I must use a BlackBerry. I’m not in this game.
Pool or ocean?
Ocean, as long as there is a bar handy.
Voice mail or email?
I suppose email is the lesser of two evils.