As we told you earlier this week, this Thursday, March 6th, ACT (AIDS Committee Toronto) hosts their annual gala and photography auction, SNAP!, to raise vital funds for their organization. This year’s honourary chair is Gemini Award-winning television personality Anne Mroczkowski, who we caught up with at the ACT headquarters to hear a little more about her involvement in the event and her remarkable career journey.
Why did you decide to get involved with SNAP!?
I was invited by a friend to participate and I accepted right away. When I was in the news business, when we were dealing with issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, we would be in the offices of ACT talking to people. Because of this, it was a community organization that I was very aware of and I understood the importance of it. I thought it could be a promising thing to bring whatever awareness my name brings to the cause, because the fundraising efforts are so important to the services and programs ACT offers.
I know you attended the preview last night; do you have your eye on any pieces in particular?
I do, actually. I grew up around Ossington and Queen and I went to Trinity Bellwoods Park every day to the community centre. There is a photograph in the silent auction by Scott McFarlane and it is of a shuttered photography studio, right on the corner, near the park. I would pass that every day of my life for years. My family and I went there for our family photographs and it would have these beautiful black and white shots in the window to lure people in. When I saw the piece, it was such a moment of nostalgia for me.
You have obviously had an incredible career. Can you describe the early years and how you got started?
I wanted to be a writer, that much I knew. I wanted to work in television news, that much I knew, but the actual notion of being on camera was not something I really addressed. It was a happy accident, but it happened in a time when TV news was blooming and really expanding, and for women, it was brand new. I mean, the first newsroom I worked in, there were no women. I was sort of the girl who run around and got coffee, and really started at the bottom. The opportunities began to open up and I started writing for the morning show. The anchor moved over to do the late news at a different station. He thought he could write the whole one-hour show himself and couldn’t and thought, I can get that girl to write for really cheap. I was at the time getting up at three in the morning to turn on the lights and get the big coffee pot going, so the idea of getting there at two in the afternoon was a bonus. Then, somewhere along the lines somebody suggested that I try reporting. I was reluctant and was happy to be behind the scenes, but I thought, sure, why not? That is how it happened. I still have people approach me and tell me that they want to do exactly what I do. They already have that ideal or goal. But it was a different time for me. It was being at a place in the evolution of television news where it was opening doors and there you were. Today, it is much more difficult and TV is on the dying end of the spectrum, not on the rising end. Now it is about social media.
So what advice would you give to people wishing to get into broadcast journalism?
To be honest, I can’t see the opportunity there. I was downsized from my last job at Global. They said they couldn’t afford a two-anchor show. So Lesley Roberts stayed. Is it a better show than when there are not two anchors? No, it isn’t. The numbers have dropped 80,000 viewers since I left in September. I am not saying that is all because of me, but that there is an exodus away from that traditional media. If you are looking for a career that you can really grow into, I don’t think TV is it. News is a really hard thing to do. You have got to love the news. You have got to be the most curious person in the world, fast and accurate. If you are really only about the screen time, or being a part of what you think is a glamourous industry, it is not that. You are standing for extended periods; you are freezing your ass off in the middle of winter, outside each day with a crowd of people. I would suggest to begin by creating your own content. I am at the end of my career now and I don’t yearn for what is behind me. And I had a fantastic run, but I can’t advise to young people that this is the proper ambition to try to fulfill.
In your entire career, was there a story that, looking back, had the greatest impact?
I was doing a series on advances in plastic and reconstructive surgery. I heard about a little boy at Sick Kids that they had worked on. They had to remove a great portion of his skull because a car hit him and his brain began to swell and they had to let his brain out, so they removed the skull but rebuilt it by removing his ribs and actually wove a skull out of ribs. This was the story and I thought it was really fascinating, but what happened is that I met the parents of this little boy and it completely changed. It was a series and it would have been a five-part documentary every day for a week, each one featuring different topics, from skin grafting to reconstructive surgery. I said no – I wanted to do the five-parter on this family, and a part of that would be on how they saved his life and what they are dealing with now in his recovery. It was so tragic; he was tapped by a car, fell over, and complained of pain in his head shortly after. They got him to a hospital, and within hours this kid is blind, he is paralyzed, and they worked feverishly to save him. His family was very Catholic and was hoping that God would save him and have him walking again. He couldn’t speak, only scream and was totally blind. There was an older son who was about 11 and he was the neglected son because the parents were so tied up with the younger one.
That family really haunted me. I remember driving home and being so affected by everything and thinking, I can go home and I can close my door on this, but this is every day with them. They called three years later – he was older, he was heavier, and they could not lift him anymore. They were really trying to teach him how to crawl, and to introduce the movements to him, but he had no idea what was happening. I got to the hospital and they had all these volunteers who were agitating his limbs, trying to set up impactful camera shots and he was screaming at the top of his lungs. I said, “I know what you want from me, but I cannot do it. You look like you are torturing the kid.” Then I learned that he died about a year later. None of the dreams and hopes of the family were realized, and he never walked or spoke again. These were the kinds of stories where you would go deep into something. You can’t do that now; there is no time for it, and there are no resources for it. And those days I was anchoring, but I could take a whole day to shoot, and then I would come and anchor the show. I had the time to write, edit and help put it together. You can’t do that now.
On the other side of things, there are also very happy stories, transplant stories, medical advances and acts of heroism. I learned a lot from 9/11. Gord Martineau and I were on the air for about 16 straight hours. They threw out all advertising and we went straight, and I kept thinking, who is watching us? This is an NYC story; everyone is on CNN, not local. That was not true. People who were freaked out by what happened tuned into us. They later told us that they watched because they needed to get this bad news from us because they trusted us and we were their go-to person. I was very surprised by that.
Any really awkward moments on camera?
I have had so many. I have had complete brain lapses, where you are starting an idea and you have the sequence of thinking, then it vanishes… what can you do? I just say, “you know what, I lost my train of thought… never mind.” The viewers are very forgiving of that. I also have really mangled words live. I called His Eminence Cardinal Carter his enema Cardinal Carter. I once reported on the Blue Jays getting their clocks cleaned… and accidentally dropped the “L” in clocks.
That’s live television for you….
Because it is live television, you are not always at your 100% best. In life, like anything, you are not always in the mood to turn it on. But you have to. It is great training because it helps in other places of life. I met so many people at the height of great moments of their lives – great highs like Olympic medal winners, but also great lows because somebody has lost someone they love. You have to try to convince them to talk to you, and that isn’t easy. They are shy or uncomfortable and you have to find a way to make them want to talk to you, and I think that is a wonderful skill to have throughout life.
Join Anne tomorrow at SNAP!
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)