When media gather for major announcements by police — the search for a missing child or the hunt for a killer or the arrest of people accused of some of this country’s most notorious or heinous crimes — a recurrent feature is a female reporter, cross-legged on the floor at the front of the pack, notebook in hand.
That woman, Christie Blatchford, often asks the first question of the assembled officials, as if the room accepts she knows the tough questions everyone wants to ask.
Blatchford, a marquee columnist at National Post and the Postmedia chain, who has written for each of Toronto’s daily newspapers over decades, was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame at a gala dinner on Tuesday.
Blatchford, 68, was inducted along with fellow Postmedia journalist Lorrie Goldstein, 66, who has been a fixture at the Toronto Sun since 1978, holding most writing and editing positions, and is currently editor emeritus, columnist.
Christie put us on the map for a huge number of readers
Although Blatchford is best known for vivid and piercing columns and news scoops on cops, crimes and courts, she said her most meaningful work has been as a war correspondent.
“The most profound stories of my life, probably, the one that had the most meaning for me at the time and now, is Afghanistan,” she said Tuesday in an interview.
“It was scary, so raw and so important at the time, that nothing else will really match that experience. I loved being with the soldiers, I loved the fear, I loved the excitement, the whole thing.”
Her war reporting formed the backbone of one of her five non-fiction books, Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army, which won the Governor-General’s Literary Award in 2008.
“They enjoyed my capacity to swear,” she said of spending time with soldiers on deployment. “I could out-swear any of them and routinely did and I think that made them feel at ease.”
Her mouth, often astonishingly foul but just as likely to be remarkably kind, along with her pen, earned her a reputation for being a hard-nosed reporter in an almost Hollywood movie mold.
Blatchford, however, maintains a passion for society’s weakest, especially children. In court, typically in the front row, this tough reporter will be relentlessly grabbing at tissues, weeping as she hears evidence of children needlessly hurt.
Her columns have brought national attention to dreadful cases of child abuse and neglect.
Recently, Blatchford’s journalistic output has paused after a diagnosis of cancer; it started in a lung and metastasized to bones in her spine and hip before being detected. She is undergoing treatment in hospital and was unable to attend Tuesday’s gala.
Born in Quebec and moving to Toronto during high school, she started at the Globe and Mail in 1973, billed as Canada’s first female sports columnist at a major paper. She moved to the Toronto Star in 1977 as a features writer and then to its archrival, the Toronto Sun, in 1982.
When the National Post was being created in 1998 as a new national newspaper, Blatchford was one of the first writers hired.
Kenneth Whyte, founding editor of the Post, said he knew the fledgling paper needed writers “who could command an audience.”
“Christie put us on the map for a huge number of readers. She was passionate and intelligent about every assignment,” White said.
“She yelled at me when I edited her in ways she didn’t like, or when I didn’t give her work enough prominence in the paper, and she flashed me a couple of times when she was bored.
“There is no journalist in Canada that does what she does, the combination of reportorial skills and strong opinion and deep experience, especially in crime and justice issues. And no one outworks her.”
Her Post columns won her a National Newspaper Award.
Blatchford was poached by the Globe and Mail in 2003 before returning to write for the Post and the Postmedia chain in 2011.
She said she is drawn to crime and war stories for similar reasons: They are stories that matter.
“It’s usually about life and death, so that makes it something really important,” Blatchford said.
“It’s about processes that are important to the country, whether a military process or criminal court process, because we all depend on these fucking things to keep the balance. I don’t give a fuck about a celebrity book or any kind of other story. I care about stories that tell us why the system matters, why things are worth protecting, why the rule of law is important.”
Blatchford, said the Post’s editor-in-chief Rob Roberts, “is a larger than life figure in the Post newsroom, and in Canadian journalism.
“I was lucky enough to watch her receive the George Jonas Freedom Award in June, where I saw first-hand her impact on her readers who lined up for a chance to discuss their favourite columns,” Roberts said.
“Her speech that night offered an undistilled version of the Blatch credo: Truth always, no matter the consequences. This also describes her relationships with her editors, who love her for it.”
This is long overdue
Blatchford is one of the few women inducted into the hall,
“This is long overdue,” said Paul Godfrey, executive chairman of Postmedia. “You can always count on Christie. It doesn’t matter if she is writing about politics, about sports, the Olympics, courts, she is always on her game. She’s a game-changer in journalism.”
Godfrey also offered high praise for Goldstein: “Lorrie is, and has been, Mr. Everything at the Sun. He has been a Sun staffer for 41 years and has covered all levels of government and every tough assignment.”
Of the two hall of fame inductions, Godfrey concludes, “They both represent the best in journalism in Canada.”
Goldstein launched his career at the Toronto Sun as a general assignment reporter before covering politics at City Hall and Queen’s Park. He has since been an editor and columnist for the paper and is a regular contributor to Newstalk 1010 and National Post Radio.
He is hailed as a newsroom leader, mentor to many and a vocal tell-it-like-is columnist popular with readers.
“Lorrie is such a wealth of knowledge on so many topics — from politics on all levels to pop culture and big city issues,” said Toronto Sun deputy editor Kevin Hann. “Lorrie is a straight-shooter and he’s widely respected for it.”
Roberts said news of Blatchford’s illness has hit readers hard.
“Since she became sick, I’ve been inundated with notes from readers wondering where she’s been and when she’ll be back. I’m happy to report she is talking about filing her next column within weeks.”
Blatchford said she plans to start writing again when her treatment plan settles down.
“There are some good stories in this, I don’t mean happy stories, necessarily, although some of them are. There are an awful lot of funny things. Cancer can make you laugh,” she said.
Since 1966, the Canadian News Hall of Fame, run by The Toronto Press and Media Club, has recognized people who made significant contributions to journalism in Canada.
Blatchford and Goldstein will bring the number of inductees to 126.