Talented Parliament Hill reporter dishes out some advice

Photo by Leah Balass

Journalism students should make it a “number one priority” to get published, said Canadian Press reporter, Jennifer Ditchburn, at a news conference held recently at Concordia.

Photo by Leah Balass

Ditchburn did just that when she was a student. She knew early on that she liked to write and lost little time in pursuing her dream.

In CEGEP, she was editor-in-chief for John Abbott College’s newspaper and news editor for The Link as an undergraduate student at Concordia.

Determined to get work, Ditchburn picked up jobs wherever she could outside of her studies. She wrote for local newspapers like The Montreal Gazette, The Sherbrooke Record, and for an accounting magazine. She produced advertising supplements and worked as an editor at UPS for their employee newsletter.

Before graduating she got a part-time job at the Canadian Press, and has continued to work there, except for a few years from 2001-2006 when she was a television reporter at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She covers national politics with an emphasis on the Conservative Party of Canada and regularly contributes to television and radio programs as an expert panelist. Her first love, however, is print.

“In print, you have much more time to delve into an issue. There is more detail. I think that print reporters are the agenda-setters. We write the stories that TV picks up,” said Ditchburn. Over the years, she has won several awards such as the National Newspaper Award, Media Award for Health Reporting, and Special Mention for Excellence in Print.

Ditchburn is fluent in English, French and Spanish, and says that speaking French was a big factor in her employment opportunities, as well as her willingness to embrace social media. She first began tweeting during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where she covered short-track speed skating. She says it was not a big leap for her to develop an online presence because of her natural curiosity for pop culture, music, and social media.

In her tweets, she mixes politics, humour, entertainment, and personal stuff, including selfies. When asked about her tweeting habits, she said it is sometimes a challenge to know when to tweet or not about something.

“It’s hard. I’ve regretted things I’ve tweeted before,” she said, “I’ve deleted things after a few seconds that I should not have said.”

Her advice to students was to ask the question, “If someone was editing this tweet, would it pass?”

Still, Ditchburn does not mince words. She takes her role as watchdog of Parliament Hill seriously. One of her favorite books is Why Democracies Need An Unlovable Press by Michael Schudson.

“I think we are supposed to be shit-disturbers,” said Ditchburn. “There is an adversarial role for the press. It’s a sign of a healthy media and also a healthy democracy if you have reporters going where other people don’t want them to go, demanding answers and accountability from public bodies.”


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