Skip To Content
Picture by Dan Callister on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Q&A with Mark Bulgutch: Steak and potatoes, waterskiing squirrels and the future of journalism

By Kate Tenenhouse on April 9, 2016


Mark Bulgutch, award-winning reporter and author of That’s Why I’m a Journalist, is coming to the capital on April 19th to discuss the future of Canadian journalism with Carleton professor Chris Waddell. In anticipation of the event at the Octopus Books’ Centretown location, Apt613 chatted with Bulgutch in a phone interview about steak and potatoes, waterskiing squirrels and even a little bit about journalism.

You have to actually vote with your eyeballs. Watch quality journalism and you’ll get quality journalism.

This Q&A has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.

Apt613: What made you want to write this book?

Mark Bulgutch: There were two things that I wanted to accomplish, apart from just getting people to read good stories.

One would be for people who watch television news. People who watch television news are not getting what they used to get and these stories are a reminder of what we used to get and what we should get on television news.

I also thought about young journalists, and I teach at Ryerson so I know a lot of them and I’ve seen them in newsrooms… I worry about them accepting standards that they shouldn’t accept.

Growing up, I thought of (news) as steak and potatoes, really important stuff. I think now, a young person going into a newsroom is surrounded by a lot of potato chips and Coca-Cola, a news diet, because that’s allegedly all they can afford to do.

I think instead if they read these stories in the book, they’ll say, ‘Wow, that’s the power of journalism. That’s what we should be doing more and more of. We shouldn’t accept this narrowing of what journalism is because this is what journalism is.’


And so, when you approached these 44 Canadian journalists and asked them to be a part of the book, what kind of reactions did you get to the idea?

Generally speaking, they were completely happy to do it. They’re great storytellers and they were happy to tell me their stories.

What surprised you about writing this book? What did you learn?

 Sometimes I would think, ‘Well that’s an old story,’ but it’s not an old story.

I was talking to Brian (Stewart) about what story he wanted to tell and he said, the most important story he ever did was the Ethiopian famine, which goes back to the 1980s, and he said, “But everybody knows that story,” And I said to him, “Brian, nobody under the age of 40 knows that story.”

At that time in the 1980s, it swept the world. The Canadian government made a big push at the United Nations to do something about this famine. And nothing would’ve ever happened without Brian’s reporting and today it’s lost in the mist of history. So, getting those stories out was important to me. 

You’re coming to Ottawa on April 19th to talk about the challenges facing journalism today. How do these challenges relate to your book?

I don’t think we should accept the premise that we live in a different economic environment today that says great journalism isn’t possible anymore. I look around, everyone looks around, and you see constant shrinking of newsrooms.

People who own news organizations, whether it be a television network, a magazine, a newspaper, they have a right to make money, I won’t say they don’t but I don’t think they have a right to squeeze every nickel out of their enterprise in order to the make maximum profit they can at the expense of quality journalism that matters.

It’s not just me who’s saying we’ve lost our way and something’s got to be done about it.

Your book highlights those moments of serious, quality journalism and when you come to Ottawa, you’ll be talking about the future of serious journalism, so do you think that there is a real future for it? 

Yes, I do. I have to think that way or else I’d just throw up my hands up and say, “Oh woe is me,” in despair. What’s the value in that? What I like to tell people is that the control of everything is in their hands.

If you sit at home and you watch the waterskiing squirrels, guess what? You get waterskiing squirrels. But if you say instead, “I’m only going to watch the quality stuff,” then that becomes popular, that’s the economic driver.

You have to actually vote with your eyeballs. Watch quality journalism and you’ll get quality journalism.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The only other thing I’ll say about the event, I find rather than just talking to people, I like to have a conversation with people.

I’ll have Chris Waddell with me at the bookstore. There’s another bright mind, so between the two of us, I think we’ll have some sparks and we should have a good conversation, not only between me and him but between everybody who comes.

To find out more about the event, click here.

Want to know about That’s Why I’m a Journalist? Click here.