Q & A
with Pamela Wallin
An illustrious career in radio, print, and television—including familiar programs like Canada AM, Question Period and Prime Time News—has earned Pamela Wallin (BA’74*) a reputation as one of Canada’s most recognizable media figures. Her interest and focus on politics and foreign policy throughout her career led to her appointments as Consel General of Canada in New York after 9/11 and to the Senate of Canada in 2009.
G&W:How did you get interested in journalism?
PM: I am the accidental journalist. After graduating, a friend from university called me and said the host of his open-line radio show, Radio Noon on CBC, had fallen ill. I had done some public speaking in university, so he asked me. When you’re young and foolish you say yes to these things! But that’s when I knew this is what I was meant to do. I went back home, packed my things and stayed in journalism the next 30 years.
G&W: Did being from small town Saskatchewan present itself as a challenge?
PM:No, it was a benefit. I think there is a much larger sense of trust in a small town. It was a place where you could still be curious. My parents were very open and encouraged curiosity—which is the single most important aspect of journalism. you can learn to do the research, learn some of the techniques and learn the skills. But if you are not naturally curious as a human being it’s hard to recreate that. So, I credit the time and place I grew up.
G&W: Was it hard to transition to different mediums— radio, print and TV?
PM: Not really because my pursuit was always the same. If you are genuinely curious and you believe it’s your job to provide context so others can chose more wisely—which I believe is the basic definition of a journalist—then it matters not to me where I did it. The first time I did Question Period I was asked if I was afraid of the camera. I kind of panicked, and thought I must have done something really wrong. I said “No, I’m sorry. I forgot it was there.” I was told I should think about getting into TV because the camera is a barrier for many people. I was driven more by the content than the form.
G&W: Any interviews stand out for you?
PM: I always liked the interview that just finished—until the next one, and I found that person more interesting. It’s not necessarily the famous or the politician that’s the most rewarding. It’s some individual who learned life lessons and knows how to share that and is willing to share that. you’ve got to give them the comfort and the ability to do that, to provide the forum to share that experience and that information. It may be an ordinary person who did an extraordinary thing, and the latter was always more interesting to me.
G&W: What are your thoughts on how technology has changed journalism and the media?
PM: It’s very hard to define media now. Our biggest problem right now is there is no way to verify all the fascinating information. you can make yourself endlessly well informed about things, but you really don’t know if the information you are getting is true. Something like Wikipedia that allows people to participate directly—while in theory is a great idea, perhaps even the ultimate in democratic form—but has become somewhat of a negative force, often perpetuating information that anybody can construct but nobody checks. I hope it’s forcing people back to more reliable sources.
G&W: How do you feel your career has prepared you for your role as senator?
PM: The basic skills you learn as a journalist—creating and making sure you are providing context for others to choose wisely—serves me well. In the senate, the committee structure is important because we can take more time than the House of Commons to look at issues, to bring to bear your experiences, to collect and assess information, providing context and value for the end user.
G&W: Any advice for aspiring journalists in the information age?
PM: Don’t ever lose sight of what your responsibility is—there is an expectation that what you say is true. you have to be able to provide people with context. Be as straight as you can be. Do your homework for every story.
* Degree obtained at University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus. In 1974 the University of Regina was established as an independent degree granting university.