Melissa Leong is a feature writer in the arts and life department of the National Post. She has covered a variety of subjects including crime, politics, terrorism and business for the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and the Post. She also teaches and performs Latin dance with Toronto’s Baila Boogaloo Dance Company.
Twitter: @lisleong, @nparts
Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be Stephen King.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
I’m still waiting for this to happen, though if I suddenly became a 64-year-old Caucasian man, it might actually warrant a horror novel.
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Work your ass off. Take criticism. I had a wonderful mentor at the Toronto Star, Bill Taylor, who used to mark up my articles with red ink. He’d tell me when my leads were crap. He was right.
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
I love magazines (The Walrus, Maclean’s, Toronto Life, The New Yorker). Whenever my Highlights magazine would come in the mail, it was like Christmas. Then when the Consumers Distributing catalog would arrive, it was really like Christmas.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
I admire humility, so I was pleased to spend an afternoon with Paul Rusesabagina, who rescued more than 1,200 people and inspired the film Hotel Rwanda.
I spoke to Chantal Kreviazuk about her family’s struggle with mental illness and she was thoughtful, sincere and inspiring. After the article was published, she invited me to a private concert and for drinks when she was in town. It’s the nicest thank you I’ve ever received for doing work that I think is important.
My most memorable experience though was at a shelter for abused nannies in Hong Kong. It was my birthday and after the interviews, the women sang and gave me a cake.
Nothing is more painful than speaking to the families of murder victims. Except maybe interviewing that guy from Entourage.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
The director of communications at the Toronto Police told me: “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Treat people the way you want to be treated.
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Build relationships. Tailor your pitches. And if my editor answers your query, please don’t pitch me, or at least let me know. You can’t sneak anything by us. We’re buds. We talk.
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
I have a lot of respect for publicists who can be open and understanding, especially when they are disappointed by a photo or headline, etc. Let’s have a conversation about your concerns. There’s no reason to be a bully.
Big egos. And foods you can neither chew nor sip. Pudding. Yogurt. Mousse. Gross.
Gherkins. And pajamas. Not necessarily together.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Best place on earth?
Taipei. There are no problems there, as Hemingway once said, though about Paris, “except where to be happiest.”
Batman. (But not when played by Val Kilmer or George Clooney.)
My NextBus. No more waiting for the TTC.
Pool or ocean?
Neither. I failed Intro to Water Skills three times.
Voicemail or email?
Email. Especially when voicemail-to-email technology makes everything so hilarious.