By Josh Wingrove
Christie Blatchford hated eternal virgins, those who feign virginity throughout adolescence.
It was just one of the topics of her 1972 Eyeopener columns, in which she dealt with love, identity, and even a white supremicist Toronto mayoral candidate.
“It was the first time I had the freedom to test my voice, to have a voice,” Blatchford said. “It was because of the courage or experience I got at the Eyeopener that I started doing some freelance columns.”
At 53, Blatchford is still at the top of her game. She is the crown jewel of the Globe and Mail–a columnist with as much celebrity as her material. And her style has not changed since her Ryerson days.
As she tackles issues such as love, law, ladies hockey and, more recently, Lord Stanley’s cup. Blatchford moved to her current Globe and Mail position as a columnist and court reporter in the fall of 2003.
Blatchford had been at the National Post since its founding in 1998, taking what she called a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to be involved with the startup of a national newspaper.
“When (the National Post) started off, she was convinced they were gonna do some great journalism,” said Jojo Chintoh, Blatchford’s long-time friend and former Eyeopener associate. He believes the appeal of a new publication and the potential for greatness lured Blatchford from the Toronto Sun.
“That’s one thing that drives Christie: Great journalism.”
Five years at the National Post changed Christie’s mind about the paper. She said she was ready to leave the Post behind when Globe editor-in-chief Ed Greenspon first contacted her by email.
“I courted her, like you court somebody you want to consummate a relationship with,” Greenspon said. “In this case a journalistic relationship, and I won my girl.”
In the heat of Toronto’s newspaper wars, Blatchford’s decision to jump ship could have proven a crippling blow to the fledgling Post. “I did feel as though the Globe wanted me, but that wasn’t why I came here,” Blatchford said. “Rather because I wanted to work for a serious newspaper which valued excellence. The Post no longer fit that bill, and the Globe did.”
“We’re all thinking out new ways to tell our stories. It’s a very cluttered media environment,” Greenspon said. “She has that very, very particular Christie voice of hers, which, in a world of clutter, stands out in the crowd.”
Greenspon believes that having big name writers is critical for success in the competitive Toronto newspaper environment.
“Any celebrity, either Rosie (DiManno, Toronto Star columnist) or I enjoy is purely because we’ve been around a long time and have always been columnists,” Blatchford said. “I think it’s important for newspapers to have strong voices.”
Blatchford’s voice is strong as any, and she’s not afraid to use it. She believes journalists, no matter how big a name, are only as good as what they produce each day. “I’ve been in the business for 25 years and I keep thinking, ‘What have I done today?'” Blatchford said.
As she recovers from the intense climax of Toronto’s biggest court case of the year, the recently dismissed Johnathan trial, Blatchford resents what she considers an off-week. An off week for Christie Blatchford?
Three articles, totalling 2,512 words. “I’m thinking ‘Fuck, they’re going to forget me. They won’t remember I can do good work,'” Blatchford said.
The trial dealt with three teenage boys charged with the 2003 murder of a 12-year-old boy known only as Johnathan, found in his crawlspace, covered with 71 stab wounds.
“My work ethic is driven by my monumental insecurity, as it is for most people,” Blatchford said, adding that journalists seem to be most insecure. “I always feel like I have to prove myself all over again.”
Blatchford admits that doing what she loves has impeded her social life at times, but it’s a small price to pay. She has been married twice and never had children. She has no regrets, flatly stating that it would be hard to do the job like she does and raise kids.
“It’s a calling. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It takes up way too much of my life, probably,” she said. “I’ve never been able to achieve balance in my life. But I like my life, so I guess that’s OK.”
“She’s just a wonderful, good woman. She doesn’t live on her looks like some other bitches do. She lives on her talent,” Chintoh said. “If you like Christie, you like her brain. You like her style. You like her honesty.”
Blatchford has always been a columnist, and her articles, whether court reporting or opinion pieces, often feature personal anecdotes and a conversational style of writing. “She’s not a reporter, she’s a columnist,” said Tony Coté, columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and Christie’s Eyeopener editor in 1973.
“She really gets heart, soul and guts into the stories. Sometimes too much guts for me.”
Greenspon disagrees, saying he hired Blatchford for her reporting ability. He thinks her writing prioritizes the facts and the story, a stark contrast to criticisms that Blatchford has her own set of rules.
“In everything she does you see the reporting values in it,” Greenspon said. “She doesn’t have her own ego, if you will, vault over the importance of the subjects which she’s covering. I think that’s where people cross the line, when they become more important than the story, and I don’t think Christie makes that mistake at all.”
Regardless of the stories or the voice, ultimately Blatchford says writing comes down to one thing. “I try to get the reader to read me,” she said. “And that’s the goal.” “Our business has to entertain, as well as inform. If we’re not entertaining in the way we write or what we report on, the people aren’t going to read us,” Coté said. “Christie is an entertaining type of writer.”
“It’s important to be read,” Blatchford said. “I try to make it interesting and approachable, not entertaining as much.”
“I just know that I read her stuff. That to me is the counter, is do I read it or don’t I read it,” Coté said. “If you read her stuff, then I guess she’s got what I’m looking for.”
And read they do. A woman who has been courted by the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, the National Post and, more recently, the Globe and Mail must have a readership. And every week that readership will read about the nation’s pressing court cases, albeit somewhat overplayed as other journalists latch onto the publicity the Globe gives Blatchford.
“In the Toronto market, you have your stars,” Coté said. “And you have to promote them.”
The Globe promotes Blatchford well. You can link directly to her articles on the main Globe and Mail webpage, a feature given to no other writers. She gets plenty of space in the paper itself, running a baby photo of herself the size of a mouse pad on Jan. 22 of this year.
But it’s Greenspon’s decision to publicize his courted courtroom jewel, and Christie’s only goal is to be read. Even if some of the readers are eternal virgins.