Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award
Gary MasonSome reporters start their careers writing for their high school or community newspaper. Gary Mason's 34-year career, honoured tonight with the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award, was kick-started by talking politics with his girlfriend's father, who happened to be a columnist and co-owner of the Sarnia Gazette.
Mason says Watergate was another influence that pushed him towards newspapering, especially the work of Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
"These two reporters took down the President of the United States. As someone who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, I was attracted by that equation, that these two reporters could do something so consequential."
Ironically, his career almost didn't get off the ground. Canada's major journalism schools required French 12, and he had only Grade 10 French. After a half-hearted attempt at Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, and a few years of travel, he found himself visiting friends in Vancouver, where he decided to stay. He enrolled in a broadcast writing course at BCIT, staying just long enough to generate enough writing samples to apply to Langara's J-school.
After journalism school, he did a short stint at the Vancouver bureau of The Canadian Press, where he says he got a grounding in how to write a story under pressure. After CP, he said, "I knew that no matter what kind of deadline pressure I was under, if I was stuck, and the deadline was clicking away and approaching, I knew I had CP in my back pocket. I knew I could always write a story that was publishable."
His career has included reporting for The Victoria Times-Colonist and The Vancouver Sun in the legislative bureau in Victoria. It wasn't an easy decision moving from The Times Colonist to The Vancouver Sun, he said, especially with his wife, Barb Gunn, pregnant with son Jordan.
"(Then Vancouver Sun city editor) Scott Macrae said he could only offer me a one-year contract. But as a journalist, that's where you wanted to be - at The Sun. We rolled the dice and it all worked out."
It was a roller-coaster ride for the next four years, he said. "We were running on adrenalin every day. If we weren't on the front page with something, we were bitterly disappointed."
His work with Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughan Palmer on the Concord Pacific-Expo Lands caper won the pair a Webster Award for the Best Reporting of the Year in 1988.
"That was obviously very special. Here Vaughn and I were on the front page of The Vancouver Sun being presented with this award by Jack Webster. There were lots of moments along the way, but that obviously sticks out."
Mason stayed for 19 years at The Sun, serving as legislative reporter and bureau chief, and as city editor and deputy managing editor before he began writing a popular sports column in 1997. It was while writing sports that his skills advanced most, he said, because it gave him the latitude to experiment with different writing styles.
Perhaps more than coincidentally, Mason's journalism hero - the late American writer David Halberstam, best known for chronicling the JFK years in The Best and the Brightest - also wrote extensively about sports.
"He was the guy. He is such a good writer, such a good thinker. I read all of his books. Whenever I need a shot of inspiration, a pick-me-up or a way to get my ass in gear, I pull one of his books off the shelf."
Mason joined The Globe and Mail in 2005 as a national affairs columnist and continues there today. He has also published six books, including one on the zany political career of former B.C. premier, Bill Vander Zalm, and another on the Vancouver Olympics. He says there could still be another book in the making, "God willing."
See the dinner presentation video for Gary Mason.
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