Life after journalism, Part 92: ‘I chose love over career… and got screwed up the wazoo’

I’ve mentioned before how some people were just meant for a certain career. I made newspapers on my Vic 20 and Commodore 64s, using bad clip art and made up stories.

Sarah Crosbie did the same thing. And even though she didn’t go to journalism school, she parlayed a stint at a campus paper into a great job at a daily newspaper.

And then it turfed her out on her ass. She didn’t see it coming, and is still pissed. But, she’s reinvented herself in the unlikeliest of places – rock and roll radio.

Sarah and her co-host.

You came into print journalism through a university paper, right? Were newspapers always your plan?
When I was five years old, I got a Vic 20 for my birthday. The only two things I knew how to do on it were type and play Frogger, trying to get that damn frog across the highway.
I spent a lot of time in my room writing stories. I once wrote some X-rated dirty thing and my mom had to tell me not to do that again.
I went to Queen’s University even though it didn’t have a J-school because I, like so many other high school kids, got tricked into it: You tour in the fall when the burgundy maple tree leaves are swirling around the clock tower building, Grant Hall. Lovers are walking through campus in their leather school jackets with their hands in each other’s back pockets and there’s a god-damn bagpiper skipping up the street. Seriously. You can’t help but write a cheque right there it’s so freakin’ lovely.
I started writing for the Queen’s Journal, the student paper, and then decided to run the whole thing as the editor. That led to an internship at The Whig-Standard (Canada’s oldest continually published daily newspaper – that damn slogan is drilled into my head) where I stayed for 10 years.
I’m probably the only crazy in Canada who has said “no thank you” to a job at the Globe and Mail. I chose love over career. And a few years later, got screwed up the wazoo for my decision.

Happier Whig days

Did you see the layoff coming? What sort of emotional reaction did you have over the weeks and months afterward?
No, I didn’t see my layoff coming. I worked like a lunatic and two years later, it still hurts. I worked my ass off at The Whig. I got a National Newspaper Award nomination for investigative work, an Ontario Newspaper Award nod for humour writing. I wrote a popular column, edited the weekly arts magazine and hosted almost every damn event the paper sponsored. In the end, I learned two very, very important lessons: Everyone is replaceable and watch who you step on on the way up because you’ll hit em on the way down.
The truth is I cost too much money and I was just a number. And it was not No. 1.
The most interesting thing to me about being laid off is that I’ve accepted it’s a trauma. And unless you’ve been laid off too, you can’t understand the feelings of loneliness, anger, embarrassment and depression.
One day, you’re a beloved writer with a byline. The next day, you’re out of work, at Wal-Mart wandering the toy section nine days before Christmas sobbing because you don’t know if you can afford the Transformer for you son and because you’ve realized in your state of craziness, you’ve wandered into Big Blue wearing no underwear and pajama pants and you forgot to take off yesterday’s makeup, so now you’re a panty-less Alice Cooper lookalike.
Am I over it? No, but I don’t forgive very easily. I wonder how some people sleep at night. And I wonder why they think I’ll smile back at you on the street when you say hello when you ripped something away from me that I loved and cherished,.
I loved The Whig and it threw me away.
But luckily, life throws you second chances.

You completely transformed yourself – you do morning radio now. How in the world did you do that?
Luck, good timing and some savvy men.
As an editor at The Whig, it was my job to host and speak at numerous events. I loved it. You feel drunk with excitement when you’re entertaining a crowd, hoping they’ll laugh at something you say. It was also my job to go on the No. 1 radio station in Kingston, K-Rock 105.7, and do some entertainment updates. Around the same time I got laid off, the station had brought in a new morning guy – Darryl Kornicky – from Ottawa to host the 5:30 to 10 a.m. show. He needed a new partner. Somehow, my name got thrown around and I was asked to come in and do some guest hosting spots.
It’s literally thanks to three guys (OK, four) that I got my job:
1) A brilliant businessman named John Wright, who owned the station at the time, said he’d seen me host events and had always wondered how to steal me and get me to K-Rock
2) The new station program director Doug Elliott took a chance on hiring someone with zero radio experience to co-host the morning show (which is unheard of). I actually got some nasty e-mails saying I had no business being in radio because I hadn’t paid my dues
3) Darryl Kornicky: We just clicked. He fought for me. I owe him at least a few million bucks when I win the lottery
4) My husband. I’m out the door before he’s awake and out late hosting events when it’s time to go to bed. You can’t do morning radio without a supportive partner.
It’s been one and a half years now. I almost cry on Sunday nights when I think about having to set my alarm for 4 a.m.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about moving out of newspapers?
It’s a time of transition. But I don’t blame the demise of newspapers solely on the online explosion – it’s companies failure to think radically, to think big, to think sensational. Papers have hired the wrong editors. They’ve made safe choices. How can you woo female and young readers when you aren’t on Twitter? When you fail to embrace FB? When the freakin’ entertainment stories are two days old and in the back of the paper, while PerezHilton, TMZ, RadarOnline, are household names? My favourite years at The Whig were led by Noreen Rasbach (now at Globe), who believed in doing things in a big, bold way and city editor Rob Tripp, who is fearless and believes in putting together a front Saturday page that made you pick it up and say “WTF?” because the story, headline, photo (the package) was so incredible. I liked him so much, I married him.

Someone to talk about.

How come you never post to your blog anymore? It’s one of my favourite things to pretend not to read.
Once, a reader sent in a Letter To The Editor complaining of seeing so much “Crosbiemania” in the paper. Crosbiemania (www.sarahcrosbie.com) is currently being redesigned. It’ll relaunch in early fall.
Really, the truth is, I’m like so many other media people: I’m actually shy, I’m quite insecure (my thighs are particularly bad) and I totally suffer from imposter syndrome. I’m always worried what I throw out there is dung. But for now, people listen and read, so I still get to do it.
I miss newspapers. I went to New York for 9/11, covered hometown hero Avril Lavigne at the Junos, and spent a year tracking down a notorious pedophile.
But you can still do important work in rock radio: We found a sick Queen’s University cancer researcher a new liver.
And I get to talk about Bon Jovi. A lot.

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14 responses to “Life after journalism, Part 92: ‘I chose love over career… and got screwed up the wazoo’

  1. Nice interview. Good to see that Quebecor Media can’t break someone’s spirit.

  2. Thanks to Steve for inserting my photo there at the bottom of the story.

  3. Awesome interview, Sarah, candid, and it manages to be heartbreaking, infuriating and uplifting at the same time.

    Things are meant to happen for a reason, I believe, and obviously, you were meant to make more of an impact as a mom and a great radio host.

  4. Interesting idea you got going here.

  5. Gee my hair looks great in that picture of me taking your picture. lol

  6. Im holding Sarah to throwin me a few million with the win. The finest person Ive worked alongside in 18yrs of doin Mornings. Intelligent, Articulate, Funny and Sassy. All the experiance needed. Its not easy rollin into work after 5, with lifes b.s. swirlin around in your half asleep brain, and truly enjoy sitting across from someone who helps turn 3.5 hours into some of the best part of the day. I have thanked the Whig several times for freeing her up.

  7. Great article…and you are so right Sarah, about how the corporations are mishandling the papers and putting the wrong people into power positions.

  8. Still remember walking into the Whig offices in December and Greg Burliuk telling me they just liad off Sarah Crosbie a few hours ago. 18 months later, I still can’t believe they did it.

    Sarah — you are still one of my favourite co-workers ever. Darryl is lucky to have you now.

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  10. Another Quebecor victim

    Hi Sarah,

    I recently fell victim to Quebecor and feel betrayed for all the hard work I gave this company.

    I’m now at a crossroads with my career. Not sure what I’m going to do but it’s nice to see that there is some light at the tunnel and your story gives me some hope and inspiration.

    Continued success to you.

    • It takes a long, long, LLOONNNG time to get over the feeling that you were abandoned, tossed aside, tossed out. Unless you’ve been laid off, you really can’t understand how it feels. People kept telling me “Oh, something better will come along.” But at the time, I didn’t want “something better”. I wanted my desk, my colleagues, my computer, my job. Now, I love my “something better” and I have a new perspective on life versus work …

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  13. Great site, keep up the good work, my colleagues would love this. I read a lot of blogs daily, and for the most part people lack substance, but not in this case. I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog, I’m gonna bookmark this humanfacebook.com web site. Thanks

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