Jesse Brown (journalist)

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Jesse Brown
Born Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Residence Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater McGill University[1]
Occupation Journalist, media personality, businessperson
Known for Reporting on the trial of Jian Ghomeshi

Jesse Benjamin Brown is a Canadian journalist, media personality, and businessperson. His journalistic activity is mostly channeled through Canadaland, a talk show podcast he started in autumn 2013 that has by late 2014 expanded into a crowdfunded media site, which solicits donations in order to fund operations.

Brown is best known for his October 2014 investigative reports with Kevin Donovan, published by the Toronto Star, that focus on various women who claimed to have endured non-consensual violent conduct and workplace sexual harassment from the well-known Canadian radio and television personality Jian Ghomeshi.[2][3] Ghomeshi was later acquitted of all charges at his trial.

Early life[edit]

Born to a Canadian Jewish family and raised in Toronto, Brown attended Northern Secondary School. He got his first experience with the media at the age of sixteen, interning at local radio station Q107's promotions department through his high school's co-op program.[4]

At seventeen, inspired by punk zines and "too many" viewings of Pump Up the Volume,[5] Brown started Punch, an underground student newspaper that raised a commotion by running a piece evaluating the school's teachers based on a survey of hundred students Brown interviewed.[6] He ended up getting disciplined by the school's principal while the entire episode raised enough controversy to be featured on Metro Morning, a CBLA-FM radio programme then-hosted by Andy Barrie, where young Brown got invited to give his side of the story.[6] Based on the publicity it received via the controversy, the paper expanded to become a Toronto-wide underground project that ran for a few years.

During mid-to-late 1990s, Brown moved to Montreal in order to attend McGill University. Outside of classes, he freelanced for various outlets including Vice, a magazine that recently transformed from a government-funded Voice of Montreal community multicultural media project. He also engaged in elaborate pranks on local mainstream media organizations such as putting out a press-release from a fictitious dot-com company about a fictitious product, Babytalk, that "empowers Canadian infants to communicate with Japanese, Australian, and German tots" and helps them "make friends all over the world and learn valuable job skills sure to aid them in the new-economy job market". CFCF, CTV's affiliate in Montreal, shot a piece on the fake product by the non-existent company featuring a woman with her 2-year-old baby (both arranged for by Brown) that aired on the station's 6 p.m. daily newscast.[7]

Media career[edit]

Between 2003 and 2004, Brown wrote a humour column in the Saturday Night magazine in Toronto. Simultaneously, he continued setting up pranks that served as fodder for the column. In 2003, using a pseudonym Stuart Neihardt, Brown staged a media hoax that several Canadian publications fell for and reported on as news[8] by publicizing the launch of Stu, a "regular guy magazine for the adequate man" envisioned as an antidote to then popular lad magazines such as FHM and Maxim.[9]

CBC Radio[edit]

Brown joined CBC Radio in 2004 as a chase producer, gathering stories, booking guests, and preparing material for various programs. He got hired to the network by Michael Enright who felt the young man's humour and irreverence would be a welcome addition to CBC Radio's creative process.

In summer 2006, Brown started hosting The Contrarians, a 30-minute weekly show on CBC Radio One devoted to discussion of unpopular ideas in the Canadian context "that just might be right". It consisted of Brown championing a controversial argument each episode to see if it had merit. The topics covered included a thesis that "multiculturalism doesn't work, we just eat each other's sandwiches", a claim that feminism had basically achieved all its goals, a rejection of the widely held view that Canada is a 'good guy' on the global scene, etc.[10] It aired Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. with a repeat the following day at 7:30 p.m.[11] The show ended once the new season began in the fall. According to Brown, the CBC brass didn't cancel the show due to being unhappy with its content, but because of catching wind of how difficult its production process was.[10] Brown described his experience on the show as "very difficult" because the management wanted the show to be edgy and really push buttons while the different producers he was being paired with were uncomfortable with the subject matter because it often contradicted their personal convictions. He talked of the show's executive producer Lynda Shorten who simultaneously ran The Sunday Edition facing a near mutiny from her colleagues over the feminism episode and the relationship between the two souring as a result as he no longer enjoyed her support within the building.[10]

Almost a decade later, in mid-January 2015, as his crowdfunded media criticism website Canadaland began getting a higher profile in the wake of its Jian Ghomeshi and Amanda Lang bombshells, an occurrence from Brown's own professional past on The Contrarians was scrutinized by The Globe and Mail's Simon Houpt.[12] In his piece on the emerging crowdfunded podcaster, Houpt characterizes Brown as having "a track record of playing fast and loose with facts", in support offering a claim that Brown "faked a scene for The Contrarians' pilot" and that the show's producers "hit the roof" upon discovering what had happened. Once the Globe piece was published, Brown took to Twitter to protest Houpt's description and characterization of the event.[13][14] Brown released their unedited e-mail interview from the day before, where Brown describes having a friend re-record a line from a remote segment in which audio had been badly recorded when originally uttered by a local Little Italy butcher; the email goes on to recount that Brown himself informed the show's executive producer Lynda Shorten of the post-recorded audio, that the episode never aired, and that it was later entirely re-recorded because of the issue— none of which was mentioned in Houpt's Globe piece.[10]

Search Engine[edit]

Together with Geoff Siskind and Andrew Parker, Brown created Search Engine, a weekly 30-minute radio program that started airing on CBC Radio One in September 2007. Hosted by Brown and airing Thursdays at 11:30 a.m., the show explored the effects of the Internet on politics and culture while fostering a bit of a collaborative community through its online blog.

CBC cancelled Search Engine in June 2008 as a separate program on its radio schedule, leading to the show's reformatting into a podcast distributed by the CBC while Brown additionally started contributing tech-related material as a feature supplement to other CBC Radio shows such as Metro Morning, The Point, and The Sunday Edition.[15] By spring 2009, in the wake of the corporation's budget cuts, CBC Radio fully terminated its association with Search Engine.

The podcast continued, however, from May 2009, now distributed online by TVOntario, a broadcast network owned by the Government of Ontario.[16][17] After 177 podcasts on, Search Engine ended in July 2012. and Toronto Life[edit]

In February 2011, Brown began[18] a tech blog on the Maclean's web site.[19] Focusing on the influence of technology on politics and culture rather than merely on presenting the latest gadgets, he documented and opined on issues around WikiLeaks, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), CSEC unwarranted spying of Canadians, cyber-bullying, etc.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, Julian Assange has been a repeated target of Brown's condemnation and personal attacks. Calling Assange a "douchey ideologue",[20] a "greedy, paranoid fame-whore",[21] a "Chomsky-quoting grad school student you avoid talking to at parties",[22] and an "epic donkey lusting for celebrity"[23] while mockingly referencing his physical appearance[21][22] and personal hygiene,[21] Brown harshly criticized the WikiLeaks founder over the manner in which his organization gathers and distributes information[20][23][24] and the way he presents himself in public.[25] Specific things Brown took issue with include what he saw to be Assange's tendency to blame the U.S.[21][26] and the Jews,[21][27] his "cozy relations with despots like Alexander Lukashenko",[21][28] his 2012 "trumped up schlock of a TV show on a Kremlin-backed TV propaganda unit" whose first episode saw him interview Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and "accept Nasrallah's answers about the future of Middle East without bringing up that Hezbollah’s charter calls explicitly for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic State",[25] his decision to put up a paywall on the WikiLeaks website,[23] etc. By April 2013, Brown seemingly started coming around on Assange, praising him and WikiLeaks for republishing the Kissinger cables and creating the Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy (PlusD).[29][30]

The blog ended in November 2013. In his last post, Brown expressed regret over his writing about Assange, saying "I was half-right, but all wrong" and expanding: "Assange is as I described him, but who cares? Wikileaks has continued to do important work, releasing the Kissinger cables and aiding with the Edward Snowden NSA leaks. By taking aim at Assange, I was guilty of the very thing I was accusing him of: distracting the public from what’s important".[31]

None of Brown's online writings in his two and a half years at Maclean's made the then weekly magazine's print issue.[32] Summarizing his 2011-2013 Maclean's experience during a discussion on an October 2016 Canadaland podcast, Brown said: "They had an in-house distinction — a caste system if you will — with magazine writers on one hand getting paid a certain wage and web bloggers on the other getting a contract wage that's a quarter of that. The web for them was always the ugly stepchild product — an afterthought — because you can't not have a website so they just got some kids to write some stuff. It was frustrating only contributing to the online product because sometimes I'd look at the traffic, which at that time the contributors could still actually look at, and I saw that some of the web-only content was doing better online than the stuff that had first appeared in the magazine ... and this always fell upon deaf ears".[32]

Brown simultaneously reported for the Toronto Life monthly magazine on digital tech topics from late 2011 until mid 2013.[33]

Keenly interested in media criticism, Brown has frequently been expressing dismay at how little of it there is in Canada, pointing to the fact there are no Canadian equivalents of On the Media, Gawker, The Media Show, Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, Media Watch, Listening Post, etc.[34] Condemning the Canadian media as "more of a club than an industry" he feels its lack of self-analysis to be the direct consequence of it being far too insular, rife with inbreeding, and heavily concentrated in Toronto, leading to a reluctance on the part of Canadian reporters to publicly criticize their colleagues.[34]


Having unsuccessfully pitched Canadian media criticism proposals to different mainstream news organizations, Brown launched his own podcast and blog called Canadaland in October 2013.[34] After the initial launch of the Canadaland podcast, it has since expanded to become a podcast network. Five new shows have been added discussing a variety of current events and other subjects.[35]

Jian Ghomeshi[edit]

Ghomeshi thought the material [which he showed to his CBC bosses on 23 October] — reportedly a video of him at a BDSM club, evidence of consensual stuff (plus all of the evidence he was pretty sure I had so he had to come clean with it) — would exonerate him in the eyes of the CBC and that they would stand by him "against this podcaster who had clearly signaled that an expose was on the way". But here's the thing — I wasn't talking about Jian on that 20 October podcast. I was talking about another CBC personality Terry Milewski who Glenn Greenwald says sat on Snowden leaks about spying in Canada for months on end instead of reporting them. That was my "monster story"! The Jian story had been sitting on ice. The Star wouldn't run it because my sources were all anonymous; Vice wouldn't run it for the same reason. It was not imminent, it was not gonna drop. Here's why it did. Right after Jian got fired, I heard about it from a source and tweeted the news and I suggested that I knew why he was fired, which I did. Well, he took that as another clear sign from me that I was about to unload everything I had on, which he thought I had previously promised on the show. And so he posted that Facebook confessional, warning his legions of fans about the "smear job that was coming from this freelance writer guy and the jilted ex". And once he did that, once he went public, the Star could, too. Before Jian's Facebook post, the Star editor-in-chief Michael Cooke felt that our investigation was un-publishable (I strongly disagreed with that position, by the way), but afterwards it was a no-brainer — he had to run it. Because Jian published — we published. If he hadn't — we wouldn't have.[36]

Jesse Brown on the circumstances surrounding the Toronto Star's decision to publish his and Kevin Donovan's accusatory investigative report on Jian Ghomeshi

Brown received his biggest exposure in late October 2014, teaming up with the Toronto Star investigative reporter Kevin Donovan to report after months of investigation on allegations of non-consensual violence committed by the CBC radio and television host Jian Ghomeshi against various women.[2][3]

While an investigation by Brown had been on since March 2014, the story began breaking on Friday afternoon, 24 October 2014. In a tweet just before 4 p.m. EST,[37] citing a "highly credible source within the CBC", Brown was the first to report on Jian Ghomeshi's "indefinite leave" from the Canadian public broadcaster. Though the CBC immediately denied this via a tweet from its head of public affairs Chuck Thompson,[38] Brown continued tweeting about there being "much more to this than I can report at this moment" before further indicating that the situation is unrelated to the recent passing of Ghomeshi's father as many had already assumed.[39] By 5:30 PM EST, the CBC confirmed the news of Ghomeshi's "undetermined leave for personal issues" to The Canadian Press news agency[40][41] with even Ghomeshi himself tweeting within thirty minutes about "taking some much needed personal time".[42][43]

Two days later, Sunday, 26 October, around noon, CBC put out a surprise short statement about being "saddened to announce its relationship with Jian Ghomeshi has come to an end".[44]

After 5 p.m. EST, Ghomeshi posted a long statement on his Facebook account, informing the public he's been fired from the CBC "because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer". Revealing his interest in a variety of mutually agreed upon and consensual activities in the bedroom, the well-known radio host further described the 'jilted ex' as a woman in her late 20s he started casually seeing two years ago and has engaged in forms of consensual BDSM with before eventually ending their on-and-off relationship at the beginning of 2014. Ghomeshi also talked of a "campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization" against him that he claims began in spring 2014 when a woman begun anonymously reaching out to other women he had dated to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with him. Though not mentioning Brown by name, Ghomeshi's statement refers to the journalist as a "freelance writer who was known not to be a fan of mine", further claiming someone has been "colluding with him to find corroborators to build a case to defame me".[45][46]

Responding to media inquires later in the day, CBC head of public affairs Chuck Thompson said "information came to (CBC’s) attention recently that in CBC’s judgment precludes us from continuing our relationship with Jian Ghomeshi" while Ghomeshi's legal representatives Dentons Canada LLP announced intention to file a suit against the CBC for breach of confidence and bad faith as soon as courts open on Monday morning, seeking $50 million in general and punitive damages.[47]

That Sunday evening, the Star web site ran Brown's and Donovan's report on three anonymous women claiming Ghomeshi subjected them to sexual violence while a fourth woman, a CBC co-worker, alleged workplace sexual harassment.[2] It was accompanied by the Toronto Star editor-in-chief Michael Cooke's note titled "Why the Star chose to publish Jian Ghomeshi allegations".[48] The report made the paper's front page below the fold the following day under the headline "CBC fires Ghomeshi over sex allegations"[49] as Ghomeshi filed a CAD$55-million lawsuit that afternoon, suing his former employer CBC for "defamation, breach of confidence and punitive damages".[50] The story immediately became major news across Canada; various aspects began to be dissected and commented on extensively in the country's media. Over the next few days, as more anonymous women came forward with accusations of violence against Ghomeshi, another report from Brown and Donovan got posted online by the Star on Wednesday night, 29 October — featuring the very first alleged victim who decided to reveal her identity, Canadian actress Lucy DeCoutere.[3] Next morning, the report made the Star's front page above the fold under the headline "Jian Ghomeshi slapped, choked me, actress says".[51]

Ghomeshi was later acquitted of all charges at his trial in March 2016, with the judge describing the accusers as "deceptive and manipulative".[52]

Business career[edit]

In parallel with journalism, Brown established an IT startup.[53] In 2007, together with a high school friend, cartoonist Jacob Blackstock,[54][55] he co-founded Bitstrips, a company that developed Bitmoji web app allowing users to create animated avatars of themselves. By late 2012, the application expanded to Facebook and additionally to mobile platforms during fall 2013.

Brown continued as the Bitstrips' co-owner and in November 2013 the company attracted a $3 million investment from Horizons Ventures, a venture capital firm owned by Sir Li Ka-shing.[56][57] In October 2014, the company announced new $8 million funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.[58] With becoming available on iOS and Android, the application found immediate success in the Apple App Store, reportedly ranking consistently in the top 10 utility apps.[55] It gained further publicity throughout 2015 after managing to get celebrities such as Seth Rogen,[59] John Mayer,[60] Victoria Beckham,[61][62] Lena Dunham,[63] and Zach Braff[64] to use or mention its service.[55]

Bitstrips was bought by Snapchat in March 2016 for a sum reported to be US$100 million.[65] Brown has never publicly disclosed his share of profits from the sale. [66]


Brown is married to Katie Minsky [67] and has two children.


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  2. ^ a b c Brown, Jesse (26 October 2014). "CBC fires Jian Ghomeshi over sex allegations". Toronto Star. Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Brown, Jesse (29 October 2014). "Jian Ghomeshi: 8 women accuse former CBC host of violence, sexual abuse or harassment". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Brown, Jesse (21 October 2013). "Intern Trouble". Canadaland. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
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  11. ^ "Our Public Airwaves Newsletter". 10 October 2006. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  12. ^ Houpt, Simon (16 January 2015). "Journalist Jesse Brown is quick to expose the failures of Canadian media. But what about his own?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
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  16. ^ "Search Engine podcast on TVO". Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  17. ^ Search Engine podcast on Archived 2014-12-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Waiting for yesterday’s technology;, 10 February 2011
  19. ^ "Posts by Jesse Brown -". Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  20. ^ a b Brown, Jesse (27 July 2011). "Got news to leak? Get lost. Whatever happened to the Wikileaks revolution?". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Jesse (5 March 2012). "It's too bad Julian Assange is such an ass. Transparency should be the goal of WikiLeaks, not feeding Assange's ego". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  22. ^ a b Brown, Jesse (4 September 2012). "From Assange to the Pirate Bay, hacker witch hunt only creates martyrs. And publicizing the technologies they use". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  23. ^ a b c Brown, Jesse (12 October 2012). "Anonymous breaks up with Wikileaks. There's a paywall between them now". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  24. ^ Brown, Jesse (31 August 2011). "Julian Assange has lost everything. Why the leak of unredacted cables means WikiLeaks has outlived its usefulness". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Brown, Jesse (20 April 2012). "How Julian Assange became what he hated: a TV guy. He's using all the tricks of his hated mainstream media–and can't get a headline". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  26. ^ Suroor, Hasan (29 February 2012). "Assange claims secret U.S. indictment against him". The Hindu. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  27. ^ Preston, James (1 March 2011). "Assange blames "Jewish" journalists for negative coverage". New Statesman. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  28. ^ Komireddi, Kapil (1 March 2012). "Julian Assange and Europe's Last Dictator". New Statesman. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  29. ^ "Full-text search". Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  30. ^ Brown, Jesse (8 April 2013). "Wikileaks does history with the 'Kissinger Cables'. Jesse Brown on the group's latest effort: turning existing cables into a searchable database". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  31. ^ Brown, Jesse (15 November 2013). "My last post". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  32. ^ a b Brown, Jesse (6 October 2016). "SHORT CUTS – Print Divas and Wankers on the Web". Canadaland. Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
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  35. ^ Canadaland. "Canadaland Podcasts". 
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  39. ^ "Jesse Brown on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
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  41. ^ "Michael Bolen on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  42. ^ "5:47 PM - 24 Oct 2014 tweet by Jian Ghomeshi". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  43. ^ Ahearn, Victoria (24 October 2014). "Ghomeshi says he's taking 'much needed personal time' away from CBC". The Canadian Press. Archived from the original on 8 December 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  44. ^ "Statement by CBC regarding Jian Ghomeshi". CNW Group. 26 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  45. ^ Facebook post by Jian Ghomeshi;Sunday, 26 October 2014 at 5:11pm
  46. ^ "Jian Ghomeshi's full Facebook post: 'a campaign of false allegations' at fault". Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  47. ^ Donovan, Kevin (26 October 2014). "CBC cuts ties with Jian Ghomeshi after receiving "information" about Q host". Toronto Star. Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  48. ^ Cooke, Michael (26 October 2014). "Why the Star chose to publish Jian Ghomeshi allegations". Toronto Star. Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  49. ^ "Michael Cooke on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  50. ^ Hasham, Alyshah (27 October 2014). "Jian Ghomeshi files $55M lawsuit against CBC". Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  51. ^ "Michael Cooke on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  52. ^ "Jian Ghomeshi to take time to 'reflect and move forward' following acquittal". CBC News. Retrieved 2018-03-11. 
  53. ^ Brown, Jesse. "Canadaland disclosure page". Canadaland. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  54. ^ Korducki, Kelli (3 March 2010). "Kids Get Creative (and Hilarious) with Bitstrips for Schools". Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  55. ^ a b c Tweedie, Steven (5 April 2015). "Meet the man who wants to turn you into your own emoji". Business Insider. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  56. ^ WSJ staff (5 November 2013). "Bitstrips Gets High-Profile Backer". Wall Street Journal blog. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  57. ^ Karstens-Smith, Gemma (17 December 2013). "Toronto-based Bitstrips gets $3 million investment". Toronto Star. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  58. ^ Bader, Daniel (29 October 2014). "Bitstrips raises $8M Series B round with Horizons Ventures and Kleiner Perkins ahead of new emoji app launch". Retrieved 10 October 2016. 
  59. ^ "Seth Rogen on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  60. ^ "John Mayer on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  61. ^ Caffyn, Grace (21 July 2016). "Why Snapchat bought Bitmoji, and what brands should know". Digiday. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  62. ^ "Victoria Beckham on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  63. ^ "Lena Dunham on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  64. ^ "Zach Braff on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  65. ^ Crook, Jordan (25 March 2016). "Snapchat reportedly acquires Bitmoji maker Bitstrips for $100 million". Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  66. ^ "Why Is Canadian Media Ignoring the $100M Sale of a Toronto Startup?". 29 March 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 
  67. ^ "Weddings 2012: Jesse Brown's story of 21st-century matchmaking (offline)". 1 March 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2018. 

External links[edit]