Stuart McLean’s stories

The author and broadcaster Stuart McLean during a recording of the Vinyl Cafe radio show. McLean died Wednesday at 68. (Photo: Alana Elliott/Wikimedia Commons)

One of the first people I remember interviewing was the renowned Canadian journalist, author and broadcaster Stuart McLean. It also happened to be an interview which I was late for, but nevertheless, was excited to do.

While the piece that accompanied the interview didn’t run, and I don’t remember very much about the conversation today, it was still an interview that I was excited to do. As the years passed, the work he did signified my belief in the power of good storytelling, be it in books, on the radio or other means.

Stuart McLean, known for his Vinyl Cafe program, which aired on CBC Radio and some public radio stations in the US, died today at the age of 68.

McLean found stories in the smallest, intimate moments – stories that could make you laugh, cry, think and wonder, in the form of stories featuring Dave, Morley and their family, or stories he curated through the Vinyl Cafe Story Exchange.

His work went beyond the Vinyl Cafe though – he taught journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto (the inspiration for the Story Exchange, as he wrote in 2003) and did stories for CBC’s various programs, on radio and television, putting a different lens on stories.

He was the man who epitomized the connection of Canada and its culture to the world, using the simplest of mediums, telling unique stories to have the most impact. Yet, I suspect his finest contribution will be beyond his curation of Canadian life – but how along the way he showcased the importance of telling these stories, why these stories are important, and that journalism can go beyond the norm of established expectations.

When he spoke to graduates at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2012, he spoke of his early career beginnings – concerns of confidence in himself, fumbling around as he called it. He got a job at a summer camp and found a way to give back to the greater good. He then found journalism – albeit being shy and too scared to volunteer at the newspaper or campus radio station.

But as his confidence grew, he wanted to give journalism a try, something he wanted to do. He went to work for the CBC in Montreal, and threw his heart and soul into it. That gave him comfort amidst anything that came with it. It was a lesson he instilled in his students at Ryerson, and is a lesson that is important to bring to this and the next generation of journalists.

He encouraged the students at the ceremony to follow their hearts, and said if you want to be successful, find successful people, and hitch a ride.

“I know these are hard times, but times are always hard in one way or another, so don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention to your heart, which is deep inside of you, so you’ll have to pay deep attention. Find your heart’s desire. If you follow your heart or your instincts, you will be happy where you end up, even if you have no idea how or why you get there.”

It is a lesson that is necessary, today, tomorrow, and in the days, months and years to come.

Thank you, Stuart. So long for now.

This piece was amended at 11:17pm CT on February 15 for clarity.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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