Renowned Canadian columnist Christie Blatchford addressed a room full of journalists on the evolution of storytelling and the future of the newspaper business during a special luncheon keynote at the INK+BEYOND newspaper conference in Charlottetown on Friday, May 30.
Blatchford wove colourful tales of her family’s experiences in the business through her speech to convey how storytelling has progressed and changed over time in Canadian newspapers.
“Ink is in my DNA. I am the third of four generations of my family in the newspaper business,” she said. “Writing is the only skill—if it is a skill—aside from teaching people to swim that I have ever possessed.
Being a reporter is the only thing that I have ever wanted to do.”
Blatchford’s grandfather was the first generation of her family to join the news business. He worked for several papers including the Vancouver Sun and the Toronto Star.
“It was then I suppose that the notion was planted in the genetic code that propels so many of us in my clan to travel the world on somebody else’s dime.”
Blatchford’s father was also an editor and her nephew Andy now works for The Canadian Press in Montreal.
Her uncle Tommy also wrote for the Star and later become the editor of the paper. She shared a fond memory of him reading over the work of an eager young reporter who demanded his work be on the front page because it was big news. Her uncle looked at his colleague and uttered his famous line, “News is what I say it is.”
Blatchford got her start in the business by publishing her own weekly newspaper in Toronto. She said she used her father’s printing press and distributed the paper to anyone who entered the local hockey rink to watch their children play.
“I wrote and recorded everything in the paper, which was great because I was always on the front page,” she laughed.
Throughout her impressive career Blatchford has written for some of Canada’s largest papers including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and the National Post. After 41 consecutive years in the newspaper industry, she still has a passion for it.
“I love this business in all its forms or as we say now across all platforms. Canadian newspapers are a bit of a miracle in the same way the Canadian army is a bit of a miracle.”
Blatchford described her experiences covering some of Canada’s biggest stories including the tears she shed during the trial of Paul Bernardo and the horrific scenes of carnage on foreign battlefields. Tears filled her eyes when she talked about Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope. These unique anecdotes helped her to define the responsibility of a journalist.
“The first definition of a reporter is as a witness. We are the witnesses. We are as responsible for what we see as we are for what we do. The problem with our business is that we don’t always know exactly what we’re seeing until later, sometimes years later. We are ultimately responsible not just to our readers, viewers and listeners, but also to the truth and to our stories.”
Blatchford openly criticized cynical and emotionless reporting.“My responsibility, a reporter’s responsibility is to write about them as though they matter because they do. Our responsibility is not to write about things as objectivity but as human beings who feel.”
She acknowledged the unstable nature of the newspaper industry, but she shed a glimmer of hope for the journalistic field.
“The forms of the craft will change, the platforms will change, but as l