Last Tuesday evening I learned some new things from Jesse Brown: he and a friend made the song that opens his show Canadaland, News Canada—which provides free editorial content—sources articles from the federal government and, well, that’s about it.
“The news, Jian and me: a conversation with Jesse Brown,” was advertised as two hours of in-depth discussion about the Canadaland host’s work, especially what went into breaking the Ghomeshi story.
Instead, as these things often do, it turned into a conversation of how great he is. When asked how he finds his stories, Brown said they “just come” to him. The moderators asked if swearing is part of his brand and wondered if he’d welcome fame. The talk turned into “My show, me and me.” And it’s not all Brown’s fault. What is he supposed to do when questions like these are lobbed up like softballs other than knock them out of the park?
Brown is a polarizing figure. On an episode of Canadaland’s “Short Cuts,” The Globe and Mail’s senior media writer Simon Houpt spoke about his recent feature on Brown’s track record of playing “fast and loose” with facts. Another journalist told Houpt, in reaction to the piece, “It’s as if people decided they were a ‘Jesse’ or a ‘Globe.’” To some, Brown is a saviour. To others, a danger. To more: a jerk. And he knows it.
“As a friend,” Corey Mintz wrote in the Toronto Star, “I feel qualified to say that Jesse Brown is a smug, loud-mouthed, know-it-all who’s easy to dislike.” Brown himself freely admits he’s “unapologetically sensational.” Certainly, writing that Amanda Lang undertook a “shocking campaign” sounds more like something on Upworthy than a news site. But as a crowdfunded journalist, he needs to grab attention somehow. Getting people to objectively scrutinize their favourite media personnel is difficult. The only way people are going to notice you today is if you shove yourself in front of their faces. “The work speaks for itself” adage doesn’t hold true anymore.
Brown is also often asked to speak about himself, and in many interviews, mentions how thrilling it is to be Canada’s only media critic. In his “Nobody’s a Critic” piece in The Walrus, he wrote, “Although we have a few media reporters, our attempts at substantive criticism never last long.” (Although the Review has been around since 1984.)
The self-promotion is paying off. Brown has became something of a celebrity and support for Canadaland has reached almost $10,000 a month. He also told the audience Tuesday night that he’s getting more tips than ever, which is deserved. He’s dug up important stories. His podcasts are often honest and thoughtful. But like anyone, Brown’s reporting isn’t perfect—he’s been accused of jumping to conclusions and has his own critics.
So what is Jesse Brown? He’s a saviour to those who’ve ignored the media reporters working in Canada before 2013. A danger to those in the press with secrets that affect their work. And to many, a jerk. He’s a mix of all three. He’s a good journalist.