Mack Lamoureux is a MacEwan University alumnus who graduated from the Bachelor of Communications program. He has previously worked at CBC, has bylines with a handful of other publications, and currently works for VICE Canada in Toronto. I got a chance to sit down with Lamoureux in August when he was back in town covering the Flat Earth International Conference for VICE. We met up at 104 Street on a Saturday while the City Market was up. After talking to him on Twitter and wandering around the market for a while, we saw each other and he introduced me to his friends, who also work in the journalism and communications fields. Lamoureux, his friend Travis McEwan — who is currently a video journalist for CBC Edmonton — and I decided to go have a beer at Yellowhead Brewery. After getting a drink, Lamoureux explained how he went from growing up in a blue collar farm family in Fort Saskatchewan to moving to Toronto to tell the news with VICE Canada.
“It’s kind of sad, my journalism origin story,” Lamoureux says. “I graduated (high school) and went into trades like everybody else did. I was an instrumentation technician for a little while, did a lot of labour jobs out on plant sites … I have a lot of respect for the industry, for the trades, but it wasn’t for me. I really liked working with my hands, but I found it boring … I didn’t really know what to do.”
For a while, Lamoureux had talked to his friends, particularly his best friend Graham, about leaving the trades to pursue another profession. He landed on journalism because writing fictional short stories was a hobby of his.
“And then one day, my best friend, he died in a car crash.” Lamoureux says. “Then I just realized, fuck what I was doing, I wasn’t happy. I applied for journalism school the next day and ended up going to Grant (MacEwan) … like a lot of other people, my fiction is shit and I wanted to write, so I was like ‘this’ll work,’ and then I found the investigations part of it, and the talking to people and the social aspect of journalism, and I really, really loved it.”
Getting a job in journalism isn’t as easy as simply deciding to get hired. Lamoureux explains that in order to get bylines and published work, he had to sacrifice his social life for a few years just to be able to build up his portfolio while freelancing, while also being able to afford rent, rice, and cat food.
“It’s an incredibly hard profession to get into to, to get your foot in, to find any sort of stability. I wouldn’t dare to guess what percentage of people who try to make it, make it. It’s probably not as bad as musicians or artists or anything, but probably not that far. So there was lots of doubts. And there was definitely lots of doubts leaving something as secure as trade work that pays really well.”
“I’m never going to make as much money as I did when I was 19, driving a train on a plant, ever in my life, unless something crazy happens and they like auction one of my stories for a movie,” Lamoureux says. “Do I want to stay in it, is the shitty pay worth it? Yeah. Yeah, totally.”
Lamoureux says he had to put in a lot of work to be able to quickly pivot from fresh graduate to working in the industry.
“There wasn’t that huge of a break between me graduating and me getting hired in the CBC. I was a pretty weird university student in the fact that I was able to parlay becoming a full-time freelancer, it becoming my full job,” Lamoureux says. “By the time that I graduated I had bylines in VICE, a few other places, I think Yards, Avenue magazine, and I was starting to make money … So it wasn’t too long that there was an associate producer for the night (shift at CBC) opened up and somebody reached out to me like ‘you’d be a good fit for the job,’ and I applied for it.”
Even after getting hired on as the nighttime associate producer at CBC Edmonton, Lamoureux still had to work hard to stand out and produce high-quality stories. Just because he had a job in the industry, the work didn’t get any easier.
“No, it wasn’t my favourite thing, it was pretty boring. But you gotta be hungrier man, you gotta,” Lamoureux says. “I don’t wanna be that cliché asshole who’s like ‘oh you know, if you have lemons, make lemonade.’ It sucked at times, and the work sucked, and it was really boring, but when you’re doing the night stuff (and) there’s no one else there really, if a story does break, you can shine.”
Lamoureux does credit his time at the CBC as major step in becoming a full-fledged journalist.
“You’re by yourself (so) you become a journalist really quick, otherwise they’re just going to fire you. So, it wasn’t my favourite part of my career, but I’m really appreciative of it, because I feel it turned me into a very good (journalist), it gave me really good habits. Habits you don’t really pick up in university until you start doing it very rigorously.”
When Lamoureux was in his second year of university, not many articles VICE Canada published had come from Edmonton at the time, so he decided to pitch a photo-essay of Big Valley Jamboree to VICE, which they accepted.
“I remember them saying something like ‘cool man, like, what crazy things are in Edmonton that we haven’t heard of?’ I was like ‘yeah, there’s crazy shit here,’ so I pitched them like something we all know about, but people outside of Edmonton don’t: the push-up guy,” Lamoureux says.
“And then in order to get that article, it was really hard because you can’t find that (guy) … I had to poster Whyte Avenue with the picture of Doug Pruden’s face, saying ‘Doug Pruden, call me, it’s a story for VICE,’ and I had my phone number under it … I got so many prank calls from assholes on Whyte. But then one day … Doug called me. I was like ‘hey man I’ve been trying to track you down. I want to write about you,’ and he was like ‘I guess.’”
“I was able to just keep pitching stories that were very unique to Edmonton,” Lamoureux says.
Eventually, Lamoureux went on to report on a wide breadth of topics from around Canada. His fascination and passion for finding unique stories and telling them properly led to him getting published by VICE on a regular basis.
“The ball just kept rolling. It just kept working, then I wrote a story about the Berenstain Bears, that fucking went viral … when I started at VICE I was introduced as the Berenstain Bears guy,” Lamoureux says.
“Do I want to stay in it, is the shitty pay worth it? Yeah. Yeah, totally.”
— Mack Lamoureux
Once he had made a name for himself through his VICE bylines, they called him and said they had an opening he should apply for. He did, and got the job.
From then on Lamoureux went from writing stories about Edmonton and the Berenstain Bears to reporting on Canada’s far-right movements, even going so far as infiltrating a meeting of the anti-immigration group Soldiers of Odin for a story.
His advice to aspiring journalists? Start now.
“Start pitching people, if they say no, whatever, they’re not going to care. They’ll say yes when they get a good idea. They’re not gonna be like ‘look at this idiot,’ they’re just going to be like ‘no,’” Lamoureux says. “Build a portfolio. When you graduate you want to have a portfolio, because if you graduate and (you’re) like ‘now is the time to start working,’ who’s going to let you work if you haven’t done it? There’s no time like the present. It’s incredibly difficult, be ready to work your ass off, but it’s possible. It’s really possible.”
Lamoureux, McEwan, and I continued to talk about the industry and some other crazy stories, like the time they were both working at CBC during the Fort McMurray fires and got a real taste of what it means to do work that mattered, or how Lamoureux had to escape the Soldiers of Odin meetup through a kitchen because he thought he was going to get stabbed or beat up. We finished our beers, and, the next day, Lamoureux flew back to Toronto to continue his work at VICE.