Steve Paikin: 20 years at TVO
Steve Paikin started two lifelong love affairs in Hamilton — one with sports and one with news.
The former began at his West Mountain Hamilton home, where his mother read the sports section of the Globe and Mail aloud in the morning, and Paikin joined neighbourhood kids for games of street hockey and football in the evening. The latter began at The Hamilton Spectator, where Paikin worked as a summer intern between 1980 and 1982.
“As embarrassing as this is to say I’m not sure I read the front section of a newspaper before I worked at The Spec,” Paikin admits. “I used to read just the sports so working at The Spec really developed a real love for the news in me.”
As a newspaperman, he did it all — chased ambulances, wrote obituaries, covered city council. That eclecticism remains evident in what Paikin, 52, does today as anchor of TVO’s current affairs program, The Agenda with Steve Paikin. While the show is going into its seventh season, Paikin himself recently celebrated 20 years at TVO — a number he says doesn’t seem right when he looks back on it.
Paikin first joined the publicly funded educational station in 1992 after more than 10 years working first as a city hall reporter for Toronto radio station CHFI, and then as a news reporter with CBC in Toronto. He says he wouldn’t have moved away from Hamilton if he’d been able to find work here, but no one would give him a sniff, including The Spectator (“I think I have the distinction of being the only three-time summer student not offered a full-time job after it was all said and done,” he laughs of his internships.)
As it is, he lives in Toronto now, two blocks from TVO, but he visits Hamilton often. His parents (his father, Larry worked for the family steel business, Ennis-Paikin Steel Ltd., while his mother Marnie volunteered for an extensive list of organizations including the Ontario Council on University Affairs and the Ontario Human Rights Commission) still live here. His brother is in Burlington. The family attends Ticats games together, a tradition that started even before Paikin’s first game in 1968. If you follow him on Twitter, where he has 30,000-plus followers, or watch The Agenda, you’ll find regular references to his hometown. In a recent interview Paikin needled guest Jowi Taylor about not including anything from Hamilton in Six String Nation — a guitar built from 64 different pieces of Canadiana including wood from Pierre Trudeau’s paddle and Sydney Steel from Cape Breton, N.S. In 2011, Paikin brought the show to Hamilton for two days to gather feedback on provincial election issues.
If the subject matter seems diverse, it’s with good reason. Paikin says he has an insatiable curiosity. His position as anchor and senior editor at The Agenda means he gets a significant say in what they cover, so even though the show is offered by Ontario’s public broadcaster, The Agenda reflects broader interests with a focus on local, national and international issues.
“Ontarians come from everywhere in the world,” Paikin says. “So the notion that we should only be interested in what happens if it happens within the boundaries of the province of Ontario is just not on.”
Another quality that characterizes the show is the long-form treatment it gives its topics. This isn’t a news show you digest in small bites. Paikin says there are plenty of programs that give viewers three-minute stories, but if you want 15, 40 or 60 minutes devoted to an issue? “We might be it in terms of a daily show in Canada,” he says. The Agenda digs in to differentiate itself from what else is on TV, something Paikin feels they have to do to justify the public subsidy that funds the show.
The amount of work that goes into live tweeting and preparing thrice-weekly online columns and online interviews in addition to an hour-long program five nights a week is huge. “And that’s a real hour,” Paikin says. “There’s no commercial breaks and there’s no cohost and there’s no field pieces.”
Paikin says he feels he’s in the perfect situation right now. Not to suggest he’s gotten too comfortable. Even after 20 years, one of the achievements he’s most proud of is simply getting The Agenda on the air every night. “It’s not a 100-yard dash,” he says. “It’s a marathon. You’ve got to be on your game every single day.”
Trust Paikin to summarize his journalism career with a sports metaphor.
This story ran in the Hamilton Spectator.