Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, “The Questions” in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
Peter Menzies: I help people make plans for TV and radio stations and I write stories about the world, the people in it and how the world works.
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
PM: For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the search for truth. I want to know what’s really true about the world, why it’s here and why it works the way it does.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
PM: Always check and double check. There is an old phrase attributed to the Chicago city desk journalism tradition. It avoids cynicism but promotes skepticism and the use of multiple sources for information. Always check it out or, as they used to say in Chicago: “Check it out. Even if your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
Comment: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
PM: Two pieces. One is to trust that God has a purpose for me even when it’s not readily apparent. The other is to turn my shoulders, trust my swing and hit the ball.
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
PM: C. S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh, Malcolm Muggeridge, T. S. Eliot. Having spent my formative social years in England, I’m very much an anglophile. I love the beauty, depth and richness of their literary and intellectual skills. I believe that God is beauty and God is reason and that the thinkers and writers that I mentioned encapsulate that richness. There is more, but that’s the easiest way to put it.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
PM: Nothing unusual there. When I’m not travelling I work from home now so I really enjoy just sliding into my desk with coffee first thing without having to commute. I find that if I’m at my desk by 7 I can get more done by 10 than most people get done from 9 to 4. I am learning to take a break for lunch but old newspaper habits die hard.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
PM: A thesaurus, a laptop and an excellent nonsense detector.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
PM: Hmm. When I was at the Calgary Herald I moved the amount donated to its Christmas Fund for the needy from about $450,000 to almost a million dollars. And by putting together a paper that listened to people and didn’t just talk to them, I grew its circulation by 8%. Most people just don’t think that’s possible. I was delighted to prove it could be done if you really wanted to.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
PM: I’m not sure I do. I think it plans me sometimes but work and I have been working to resolve this tension for a few years now.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
PM: It is not my life, but my work is me and I am my work. At times it is too intimate but it seems to have got me this far.