Money expert, Financial Post and CTV's The Social
Interview by Daniela Olariu, (School of Journalism ’17)
Melissa Leong , School of Journalism '12, is a personal finance writer, on-air personality, speaker and bestselling author. She’s the author of the feel-good finance guide, Happy Go Money (external link) and is the resident money expert on Canada’s leading daytime talk show, The Social on CTV.
What year did you graduate from the School of Journalism?
I graduated from the undergraduate program in 2002 and majored in newspaper journalism (when you had to choose a major — newspaper, magazine or broadcast) because I thought newspapers would last until infinity.
What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in journalism school?
I was an earnest 18-year-old who wanted to change the world. I remember living at Pitman Hall, reading Martha Gellhorn’s biography, subsisting off of instant noodles and dreaming of being embedded as a war correspondent.
How did that vision change as the years went by?
Now I’m an earnest 38-year-old who wants to change the world. I just do it by empowering people with money savvy. And I still love instant noodles.
Thinking back to your first year self, how do you think she would react to where you are now?
Eighteen-year-old Melissa would be blown away by the adventures ahead. And I hope she’d dial down on her self-doubt but keep the hard work on max.
What do you think the School of Journalism experience offers that you can’t get anywhere else?
The tremendous opportunity for on-the-ground experience and access to world-class experts and mentors.
What have you done since graduating/how did you arrive at your current position?
Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked in almost every section of the newspaper. I’ve covered crime, politics, terrorism, arts and business for the National Post, the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. I’ve profiled survivors of the Rwandan genocide, investigated nanny abuse in Hong Kong and interviewed thousands of subjects, including heads of state, royalty and celebrities such as Hugh Jackman and Carrie Fisher. After a stint as personal finance reporter for the Financial Post, I now appear as the resident money expert on CTV’s The Social, serve as a keynote speaker and share my money tips on my own Instagram feed as well as radio and TV, including BNN and CBC Radio. My feel-good finance guide, Happy Go Money, was published in January by ECW Press.
Can you talk about the biggest:
1) accomplishments you’ve made?
2) challenges you’ve faced in your career?
My biggest accomplishments have been overcoming challenges. I’ve been thrust into many roles and beats as a journalist. Not all of which, I’ve enjoyed. But I tried to approach each job with a willingness to learn. If you never accept new challenges, how do you know that you won’t succeed? On my first day as a business reporter at the Financial Post, I thought an executive was referring to hard-shelled chocolates in a conference call and he ridiculed me: “M&A…mergers and acquisitions.” Every journey begins with a Day One.
What’s one of your favourite memories from j-school?
I loved working on The Ryersonian* and forming bonds with the other people on the masthead. I also loved having a meal card. After the cafeteria staff kept sneaking me two chicken kievs at dinner, I gained 15 pounds in three months and popped the button off of my jeans like it was a bullet.
Any memorable School of Journalism professors during your time at the university?
Even after I had graduated, Peter Bakogeorge always took an active interest in how my career was shaping up. For that, I’ve always been grateful.
What advice would you give to current journalism students? Bring the hustle. As a young reporter, I worked 12-hour days, I sought mentors to give me cutting criticism, I always did the extra interview, knocked on one more door, made one more phone call. I still do that today. That’s how you develop a reputation — by bringing your best to every job that you do. There are people who I met as an intern, as a mentee two decades ago who remember me and who’ve reached out to support me today.
*The name of the publication has since been changed as has the name of the university. You can read more about the philosophy behind this name change at Toronto Metropolitan University's Next Chapter.