Media, Darling: Christopher Frey

Christopher Frey grew up in Toronto, and got a degree in Religious Studies from U of T. After graduating and earning money through medical experiments to finance short films, he lived in Osaka, Japan for almost two years; then came back to Toronto to co-found and edit Outpost Magazine (for more years than he cares to mention). 

Frey is a two-time National Magazine Award winner. Since 2006, he’s been freelancing for the likes of The Walrus, Azure, Canadian Geographic, the Globe and Mail, CBC Radio and Monocle. All this was done while being mostly itinerant, traveling abroad and researching his non-fiction book Broken Atlas, which will be published next year by Random House. Frey is currently the Editorial Director of the Toronto Standard and Toronto correspondent for Monocle. Toronto Standard has earned 5 nominations and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards, more than any other online-only publication. Winners will be announced in late October.

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
First, I wanted to be a writer. Then I realized what really appealed to me more broadly was telling stories and sharing concepts or ideas or other peoples’ experiences. Which also meant figuring out that writing isn’t always the best way to tell a story or idea, that depending on the particularity of the subject matter, another medium might be more suitable — say, a photo, film, a song, a poem instead of prose, an illustration or graphic.

I got into magazines and became an editor because I felt it was the best way to combine most of these things. And I loved collaborating with other people in creating the package it all comes in. Now because of hypertextuality, and the ability to embed sound, video and animation, it’s the web, minus the tactility and portability. I guess the next thing is to see where tablets take us… But I still do love print magazines dearly.

Where would you like to be five years from now?
Writing and making documentaries, dividing my time between Toronto and Brazil — probably Rio, but Sao Paulo has better food and my friends there are comparatively more sane. Or Istanbul.

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Write something every day, develop a routine. Read as broadly as possible. Learn another language or two. Travel. Or at least walk a lot, and learn to observe.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
The New Yorker, The Economist, Monocle, BLDGBlog, Design Observer, Foreign Policy magazine, Q and Ideas on CBC Radio.

Best interview you’ve ever had?
Tie: David Byrne and artist Vik Muniz.

Henry Rollins for The Varsity at U of T. This was twenty years ago, long before Rollins became a talk show host. I was a huge Black Flag fan as a teenager but figured he’d be difficult. His best friend had just been killed when the two of them were ambushed outside their home. When the phone interview started I was getting nothing but angry, monosyllabic answers. 

Then I noticed a handbook to depression on the desk I was using and it contained a depression questionnaire — a checklist to determine how clinically serious one’s depression. I asked Henry if I could give him the questionnaire and he agreed. So I still got single word yes or no answers, but at least I was able to shape the article into something revealing based on what he gave me. It turned out that he was moderately optimistic after all.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
As for something someone said to me personally, nothing comes to mind. But there’s this bit from a George Saunders essay: “Fuck concepts. Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Oy vey, I could use some rules.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Think like a journalist.

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
I’ve been mostly focused on international reporting for the past four years, so I hadn’t had much recent experience with PR pros until we started the Standard. I can say honesty goes far — both in terms of being up-front about whether an interview request can be accommodated, or when asked to describe off-the-cuff what it is they’re promoting. 

It’s not about decoding whether they themselves like something or not, just whether it’s a right fit for us. Having said that, I’ve liked working with Virginia Kelly, Debra Goldblatt and Rebecca Webster all of whom are not just charming but very knowledgeable about what it is they’re representing.

I hate?

A lack of generosity and openness.

I love?
Haruki Murakami, being in a canoe, playing hockey, the movie Reds, mountain biking with my friend Lorne Bridgman, Japan and Brazil, JG Ballard, William Eggleston, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Caetano Veloso. Improvising in the kitchen. The core writers who have bought into the vision we have for the
Toronto Standard. The last few pages of the James Joyce short story The Dead which pretty much says everything that will ever need to be said. I should probably add my parents and friends because I don’t see any of them nearly enough. I am a bad man.

Simon Reynolds’
Retromania, Luc Sante’s Low Life (for the third time), Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.

Best place on earth?
I haven’t found it yet. But right now I’m missing this record store-cum-live performance space in Rio’s Lapa neighbourhood called Plano B.

Dinner guest?
Filmmaker and video artist Chris Marker.

Ryszard Kupisinski.

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
I use apps, but I can’t think in terms of one being my ‘favourite’.

Pool or ocean?

Voicemail or email?
Normally, when I think of people communicating with me, I’d say email. But these days, as an editor and journalist with deadlines, I often find myself hectoring writers to just pick up the damn phone and call somebody already.


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