What happened to Joe Warmington’s hat?

The long-time Toronto Sun reporter, and veteran "Night Scrawler," dishes on his trademark fedora

Regular Toronto Sun readers may have noticed something off. Well, maybe you think a bunch of things are off about the Toronto Sun. But nothing stands out quite like the staff photo for 20-year Sun veteran Joe Warmington. Warmington is hatless. We repeat: hatless.

Best known for penning the long-running Night Scrawler column from 1999 to 2005 – though he still publishes occasional Scrawler and Saturday Scrawler pieces – Warmington’s staff picture used to feature the dogged reporter sporting a black fedora, cocked across his forehead like something out of an old film noir. But the fedora is no more. At least not online.

Does this constitute a rebranding for Warmington? A retirement of the Night Scrawler persona? An attempt by the Sun to legitimize their online pay-wall by making their reporters seem less caricatured? We don’t know. So we called Warmington, who talked eagerly, and at length, about the history of his trademark headwear – and its possible future.

So what happened with your fedora in your online staff picture?

I still have the fedora in the paper. Even the picture that’s online is an older picture. We haven’t upgraded that stuff in a while. There was a movement to move me away from [the hat].

When did you first start wearing it?

That was sort of for the Night Scrawler [column], and I did that from 1999 to 2005. We did a bunch of pictures at the time, and one of them was with the hat. Then I started wearing the hat out there, to go with it. It sort of put me in character. I became the Night Scrawler, which felt different from a newspaper reporter. When I graduated out of Scrawler in 2005, I became a city columnist. So it was like, “What do you do?” Do you move away from the hat?” It was always more of a night thing. This is just hearsay, but I think some of the brass liked it and thought it was cool. And the readers liked it. So I started wearing the fedora. But my life has changed here a little bit. I have a little boy now and I’m no longer that night guy. I don’t know why it’s not online. I’m sort of leaning towards, now that you pointed it out, having a discussion about it. I kind of like the fedora. [Not wearing it] gives me some anonymity, too. Nobody really recognizes me without it.

The fedora gives you an old school, 1940s reporter look, with the press ticket in the band and the whole deal.

It’s a caricature. The caricature is Scrawler. I was pretty friendly with it, but I was a real reporter too. It was kind of a reporter-slash-columnist thing. It was me pretending to be an old school, 40s-style reporter. But then when we switched to the city column, we didn’t know what to do.

Does the introduction of the Sun+ paywall have anything to do with it? When people are paying a premium for content, maybe they don’t want a caricature. Maybe they want the real Joe.

I never really thought about it like that, about the Sun+ thing. But you raise an interesting point. I don’t think people think that hard on it. The Scrawler was the real Joe, but it was a different beat. I needed that caricature for the night, because you kind of needed to suit up and go out and do it. It helps identify me when I go places. It was a calling card. I do a lot of serious stuff. I try to be down the middle and fair. I’m not a partisan person. It’s a weird place to be. What do you think?

I was more just taken aback when I looked online and you weren’t wearing it. I didn’t even recognize you. But I can see how for some readers, now that you’re doing more straight-ahead city reporting, a guy in a fedora may seem a bit too jokey or caricatured.

Well I definitely lived the life as the Scrawler at the time. I had a downtown condo, and I lived it. I don’t have that any more. I’ve settled down. I have a son that’s seven months old. But I definitely feel like an old time reporter. I started in 1984, so I am a bit of a throwback for today’s game, in terms of the BlackBerry and all that. I didn’t touch a computer until I was 20 years old. I identify with that character. I’m not ready to walk away from it. I’m going to have a discussion about it, and see if I stick with it. Some people want me to stick with it. And some people think it’s moronic and juvenile.

Have you been wearing the same hat since 1999?

No, I have a number of hats. People give me hats, too. It’s a Biltmore hat. When I did the Scrawler I had, maybe, 15 of them. They’d get stolen. I’d go into a place and people would grab it and not give it back. Other ones would just take a beating. It’s amazing the beatings they took. Sometimes when I go down a to Leafs game without it, because I don’t want to be that, but still want to be a reporter, people do recognize me and ask, “Where’s your hat? Where’s your hat?”

So it’s not a Sun+ premium? If I buy an account I wont get the picture of you with the hat?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything about the business side of this stuff. I stay out of that…Although I’ve been doing a lot more television now, on SUN News Network, and a lot of radio, and I still identify on my show as the Scrawler. So I guess it is a bit of an identity crisis. You’ve done me a favour. I need to settle this. What character am I? I mean, I say the Scrawler was a character. But it really was me. I put on a long coat and a fedora and went out the door of the condo with my camera, and I definitely kicked into that person, that alter ego, if you will. I’m sure that’s how a police officer feels. It’s like putting on a uniform.

It’s nice to have options. You can be Bruce Wayne or you can be Batman.

Yeah, it’s kind of like that. You need that balance to do the Scrawler. I think of myself as almost one of the original bloggers. Even though it wasn’t a blog blog. I hadn’t heard of blogs when I started it, but I was doing it very blog-ish without knowing it. I’m kind of unusual in that I don’t mind hearing all points of view, because I don’t think any one of them has got it figured out yet. Somehow, in all of that, it’s nice to be that serious reporter when you’re working on a serious story, then to flip over and loosen up. I don’t know if any of that makes sense…A don’t forget, all of this was invented by Mike Strobel, who is now kind of our Scrawler, ironically. And if you look at Strobel’s picture, he always has his glasses on.

You should pass your hat off to Strobel. He can inherit your legacy.

Well you know what? I’ve seen people try to do the Scrawler. Not just that hat: the look, the whole thing, the way I did it. It’s all part of a style. It’s an approach. The hat allows you to, kind of, I don’t know…it’s just so bloody serious sometimes. And they do look cool, you gotta admit, when you look back at those old movies and see those reporters wearing the hats. Though I think they look cooler than I ever did.

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