Journalist Noah Richler has been through many pivotal moments in his life – from running for a seat in the House of Commons, to giving up heroin – so it’s no surprise that his most recent venture captures other people’s watershed moments.
Earlier this year, The Walrus magazine launched its latest podcast, Pivot, which Richler hosts and produces. In its first four episodes, Richler interviewed notable Canadians, such as former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, skating stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and social activist Judy Rebick.
Richler says that every episode reveals how “people manage the circumstances they are dealt,” and pointed to his talk with Mulcair on how to handle defeat. Richler can relate: he ran for the NDP seat in Toronto’s St. Paul riding during the 2015 federal election and came in third.
The following year, he published his memoir, The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.
“For me, recovering from that loss was so daunting,” says Richler, “and with Tom, I knew the stakes were much higher for him as the NDP leader. What did he learn from that low point?”
The debut episode sets the tone for the podcast’s theme: Richler learns how award-winning photographer Louie Palo was forever changed by the horrific violence he captured in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
As much as those shocking moments can influence us, what about a loss that feels random? Richler will explore the curse of dementia later this season, when he interviews writer Graeme Gibson, who rarely speaks publicly, due to his mental health challenges.
Pivot is Richler’s second leap into podcasting, although he’s been working in radio for decades. He went overseas to produce radio programs for the BBC and then led the CBC Ideas team for several years. His first podcast, which was produced in partnership with the publisher House of Anansi, featured interviews with writers “about anything except what they are or will be working on,” as Richler puts it.
What draws him to telling stories through radio journalism? “I like that it’s a selfless medium and not made by people who want to be in front of a camera,” Richler says. “Radio is about nursing other people’s ideas and putting yourself in the background.”
Richler follows that maxim through most of Pivot episodes that have been released so far, but in episode four – titled “The Selves We Leave Behind” – Richler reveals a dark chapter of his life that he first made public in his 2016 memoir.
“Before 20 … I was a heroin user,” Richler says on the podcast. “And I had a personality that travelled comfortably through various addictions and was on the verge of another.”
After he quit heroin, he looked back at his younger self and saw a stranger. Only when he made that pivot did he shed the uncomfortable skin of his former self.
Such a peek behind the curtain of the podcast’s host isn’t common in Canadian journalism, but Richler is seeking to bridge what he sees as a widening gap.
“With the world rife with bad news, let’s celebrate our common humanity, and let’s celebrate how we can find a win after a loss,” he says.