“I may be the last living person to have worked my way up the ranks from the exalted position of typesetter to editor-in-chief at a major daily newspaper,” says Lucinda Chodan, who two months ago left a 20-year run at the Montreal Gazette to assume the editorial helm at Victoria’s Times Colonist (TC).
“I may be the last living person to have worked my way up the ranks from the exalted position of typesetter to editor-in-chief at a major daily newspaper,” says Lucinda Chodan, who two months ago left a 20-year run at the Montreal Gazette to assume the editorial helm at Victoria’s Times Colonist (TC). “It was a different world when I started in the business. For instance, my first writing job was at the Edmonton Sun in 1979 and it came about quite abruptly one night just before deadline when the paper’s arts editor marched into the composing room where I was a proofreader and said, ‘You seem to know quite a bit about the arts; if I fire our regular guy, do you think you can do his job?’” Two days later the guy in question had been fired and Chodan was interviewing a Monte Carlo-based drag queen ballet troupe. And speaking of “different worlds,” isn’t CanWest’s Victorian outpost in the tea-and-crumpet capital of Canada a bit of a step down from the cosmopolitan nerve centre at the Gazette? “My colleagues don’t seem to be viewing it that way,” says Chodan. “On the day that I landed the job at TC it was -37 in Montreal. The only ribbing I received was along the lines of ‘can you take me with you as a crocus reporter?’ ” The TC, to its credit, has a growing circulation – unlike many shrinking dailies in North America. Also, Chodan says her predecessor at the paper, Andrew Phillips (now editor-in-chief at the Gazette) significantly ramped up the TC’s provincial politics coverage to the point where the TC now has more reporters in the Ledge than any other B.C. publication. But Chodan won’t say in what other ways she may change the Garden City’s paper. “I’m not one of these people who comes into a place and starts stomping around and throwing everything up in the air.” We suspect she may beef up the music coverage, for her other love – outside of the scribe tribe – is music. In fact, in 1986 she won a National Newspaper Award for her story about American jazz sax player Pepper Adams. “He had come to Montreal to do some recording with the Denny Christianson Big Band, a Quebec ensemble. He needed the money for his cancer treatments. When he passed away later that year I contributed half my prize money to cancer research.” Chodan is herself a musician, a folk song composer married to bluegrass-picker Dave Clarke of the folk-country trio Steel Rail. It’s hard to believe she has found time to write songs given her aggressive climb up the Gazette ladder. “I worked in every department except sports.” The 49-year-old news hound is proud of the sections she introduced to the Montreal paper – WomanNews, eXpress and Weekender. She’s looking forward to the circus sideshow that is B.C. politics, although she admits Quebec politics isn’t always entirely rational either. She says it will be a relief and a challenge for her to shift gears out of La Belle Province’s linguistic ping pong match. “When I lived in Alberta I used to peek over the Rockies to watch the fascinating cauldron that is B.C. politics. I watched with awe as the winds of change blew through this province every other election.”