The late summer sun set slowly behind the trees. I sat patiently on the campus grounds of UVic, scrolling through a list of old text messages, when suddenly the temperature dropped and a cool breeze shocked me out of a daze. Not realizing what time it was, I jumped up. With evening classes about to begin, I made my way to the Clearihue building for my class: Freelance Journalism in 2014. The hallways were nearly bare and the voices of the students faded off into the distance as they left the building for the night. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to meet a man who would influence my life greatly.
I arrived half an hour early, eager to start the class. I had always dreamed of being a journalist and tonight was going to be the perfect opportunity to get my foot in the door with someone who was living that very dream. My mind raced with a million questions, ready to pick my instructor’s brain. Just before seven o’clock, Greg Pratt walked in the door. I was expecting an older gentleman in a suit, possibly wearing an “Anthony Eden” and holding a saddlebag briefcase—or something. I must have been watching too much Boardwalk Empire. Instead, Pratt appeared to be an average guy: a young, slender man in his thirties with a yellow polo shirt, dark hair, glasses and a bushy black beard that might’ve out-weighed him.
In class, Pratt taught us about finding a specific niche. Differentiating between different kinds of journalism, he said, helps writers figure out where certain story ideas should go. Working as an editor, he sees a lot of “lazy” writing and a large number of writers who don’t follow through with their work. To be a great journalist, you have to step up and prove to your editor that you’re worth their precious time. As in any profession, it’s not all fun and games, and Pratt’s had his ups and downs. Butting heads with an editor can be detrimental. He’s has actually stepped away from a few projects because of personality clashes.
When our final class had ended, the students started to applaud. Pratt humbly told us, “Oh, come on don’t clap.” and grinned as we all had a laugh. Pratt encouraged us to find a subject of interest, but I still wanted to know more about Pratt and the world of freelancing. It was at that moment I realised how I could have the best of both worlds. Before I knew it, I was getting off a cramped bus beside Camosun in the pouring rain with my tape recorder ready to go. I splashed through the puddles on the sidewalk with excitement towards the Nexus office. I finally felt like a real journalist.
Pratt is the current editor of Nexus magazine at Camosun College, but he began his career by writing band reviews. Being a part of the heavy metal music scene in Victoria at a young age, Pratt started, like so many of us, by writing what he knew. Back then his life consisted of interviewing band members, hosting a death metal radio show and working at a vitamin shop to make ends meet. He initially went to Camosun for two years to do a university transfer program into journalism, but because he saw no reason to wait until graduation to start working, his freelancing career started to take off. He decided to leave school, and he hasn’t looked back since. He may think about going back school one day but with a full time job as an editor, a time consuming freelancing career and the occasional teaching gig, he doesn’t have the flexibility for it. He also has two young children to raise, his six year old daughter Josie and his son, Charlie who’s only three.
“I began writing for Offbeat,” recalls Pratt, “and then out of the blue one day I decided to approach two large national magazines: Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles and Exclaim! I asked them if they needed someone new to write heavy metal reviews and they both said yes, which horrified me because I had no idea what I was doing.”
The heavy metal band reviews led to interviewing bands for both publications. He started writing for Business Examiner shortly after that and then began actively pitching to Boulevard and YAM If that wasn’t enough of a work load, he then landed
a part time job at Nexus at the same time, working his way up the ladder as a layout editor. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what the topic was or if the article strayed away from his niche, Pratt began writing anything from concert reviews to business articles and even the occasional opinion piece.
“Next thing you know I’m writing about business stuff which then led to writing these 2 000 word features for Douglas magazine,” he said.
It’s not always an easy road.
[pullquote]“The great promise of the Internet to democratize media is certainly being fulfilled. A lot of websites that don’t have editors, such as blogs, have this kind of ‘pseudo-journalism’ that really takes away from the real good journalism that’s out there.”[/pullquote]
In a Nexus article he once wrote, called “Goo Goo Dolls make Victoria women scream with limp rock,” Greg recalls being surrounded by middle-aged women at a concert and that they were all singing off-key. The article ended up sending the wrong message and impacted some people quite negatively. In the same article, he makes a reference to washing dishes at 2 p.m. and compares that action to the Goo Goo Dolls “soft” melodic music, which has changed a lot over the years. He says, “Even when you’re an editor, you should have another editor look at your work. That title will haunt me until the day I die.”
Pratt tried to convey the actual message he was trying to send after a couple of fans commented in their own defense. He really likes the Goo Goo Dolls, and he gave them a good review; he’s just noticed their music has become quite mellow. Sarcasm and wit can be difficult to deliver properly, and it’s not always wise to get involved in the realm of trolls and flame wars online. Not everyone is going to like what you write. A thick skin is good thing to have on occasion; a second pair of eyes wouldn’t hurt either.
Pratt’s not a huge social media campaigner, either. He says, “The great promise of the Internet to democratize media is certainly being fulfilled. A lot of websites that don’t have editors, such as blogs, have this kind of ‘pseudo journalism’ that really takes away from the real good journalism that’s out there.”
Pratt admits he has always been a shy and introverted person which he struggled with in the beginning of his career. It took him years to get comfortable talking to people during interviews. When I asked him how he got into teaching, he told me that he sought out new work opportunities because his hours were being cut back during the summer, which caused a bit of a financial struggle.
“I approached the university with a course on the history of heavy metal. I thought I could offer a very intelligent take on heavy metal and to my amazement, they said yes,” Pratt says, smiling and shrugging his shoulders.
He admits he would get so nervous before class sometimes that he would start shaking, but eventually he got over that feeling and became more comfortable in the classroom setting. He then began teaching at community centres and Camosun College as well. When he spoke about teaching students, he lit right up and says that now he absolutely loves it.
The Victoria journalism scene
In one of our journalism classes, we met John Threlfall. He came in as a guest speaker to talk about the do’s and don’ts of journalism. Threlfall is the former Monday Magazine editor-in-chief, an instructor at UVic, and has been a freelance journalist for more than 20 years. Once I discovered the work history and bond between Pratt and Threlfall, I was intrigued and wanted to hear more of their story. Pratt and Threlfall met through Monday Magazine when Threlfall was working as a calendar editor there. He needed someone to write a piece and had originally asked Jason Schreurs who was working as an editor at Nexus with Pratt at the time. Schreurs wasn’t able to write it, so he recommended Pratt because he knew he did quality work as a writer and was also looking to expand.
I sat down with Threlfall in his office at UVic to ask him what it was like to work with Pratt. He said, “Even when he was younger he always carried himself very professionally, delivered on time, hit his word count and gave you what you wanted which is every editor’s dream. The other good thing about him is that he doesn’t stick to his niche, which makes him so versatile. Good journalism skills really apply whether you’re writing to your niche or to your career in general.”
Threlfall couldn’t remember the name of the band that Pratt interviewed for Monday, but what he did remember was that the article was so good that he didn’t have to edit anything. He said, “It was an incredibly solid piece; I don’t think I had to do a single thing to his first band review.”
Threlfall said Pratt was so reliable that he became a regular freelancer and music writer for Monday. Shortly after that, when Pratt was writing for Business Examiner, he was hired as a proofreader for Monday as well. That was the point when the two journalists really got to know each other.
“It was great to have him on the ground, looking at the stories and being able to go through everything. A lot of what I base my lectures on when I talk about freelancing is actually experiences I had with Greg and how good he was at doing everything so naturally. If he didn’t know something, he would never let on that he didn’t know. He would just do his research.”
[pullquote]In an industry that is full of egos and cut-throat attitudes, Greg really stands out as a genuine guy.[/pullquote]
Threlfall was also impressed by Pratt’s range of musical interests. “I let him guide his own music selections because he was so great at writing about the up-and-coming bands. Greg was really good about not pushing too much metal as well. He also wrote fun comparison pieces where he would interview two bands, compare their answers, and put them into a chart or graph.”
My conversation with Threlfall eventually turned to Pratt’s love for heavy metal. “The music that he loves seems to be so opposite from the person he is, which shows the stereotypes of ‘metalheads’ so to speak, because he is so passionate about that kind of music. Whenever you talk to Greg he’s got this crazy music playing in the back,” he joked, waving his hand in the air.
“In the writing world, generally speaking, it is usually so isolating normally because you’re sitting in a room writing by yourself, so to have that supportive relationship with another writer who you respect and is on a similar level as you is really fantastic,” said Threlfall, leaning back in his chair. “I’ve really enjoyed watching him develop as a writer, and he is just such a nice guy.”
I nodded in agreement. There was a pause for a moment while Threlfall’s eyes lowered. A big grin spread across his face. Finally he looked up at me with his eyebrows raised and said, “You know what the best thing is about Greg? He is taking on a mentoring relationship to young writers like yourself; he wants to help the next generation and he doesn’t care about competition. In an industry that is full of egos and cut-throat attitudes, Greg really stands out as a genuine guy.”
Pratt recently went down to California and interviewed band members from NOFX, Foo Fighters, Strung Out and many more, most of whom are bands Pratt has loved since he was a teenager. He’s writing for a documentary on the record label Fat Wreck Chords, which is a punk rock label. The team making the movie tracked him down and hired him as the Head Writer because of a story he wrote for Exclaim! about the history of Propagandhi, a band who were once on Fat Wreck Chords. Pratt says the trip was one of the best weeks of his life.
Pratt really knows his stuff, and the trait I like most about him? He’s real. He says it like it is without beating around the bush. I look up to Pratt the way he looked up to Threlfall, and he has really inspired me to follow my dream to become the successful journalist I’ve always wanted to be.