Patricia Graham

December 1, 2010

Not many women have been in charge of a metro daily. Who inspired you? Did you have mentors, or journalistic heroes?

I started in law before I moved into journalism. I think I’ve borrowed bits and pieces from a lot of people along the way. One of my first inspirations was William Shirer, the foreign correspondent. Katherine Graham, who was the owner of the Washington Post. And of course Oprah—I think she’s amazing for what she’s accomplished.

You’ve been at the Sun since 1991. In what ways has the city changed since then?

Back when I started, the political climate in the province was polarized and confrontational. We seem to be back in that mode now, unfortunately—a lot of politics is about politics, rather than getting things done. I’d say the most significant change in Vancouver has been the increased influence we’re seeing from China and Taiwan and Hong Kong. I’ve spent some time studying Mandarin because of it.

Does the Sun do a good job of covering the Chinese community and its role in the city?

We’re definitely not where we need to be. We’re always looking for bilingual people, but we have a very low turnover rate in our staff and we’re limited by our labour contract in how much we can do with freelancers. The Chinese are a community of newspaper readers, so it’s all the more frustrating that we’re not doing a better job of connecting with them.

How has the newspaper business changed?

It’s amazing how much it’s changed. When I think back to my predecessor as editor-in-chief, Neil Reynolds—his job was basically about putting out the paper each day. Mine is about transforming the newsroom, developing the website, thinking about content management systems and new media and new platforms.

How are you incorporating new media at the Sun?

When writers are working on a story, they might send out a call by Twitter—what issues should be raised? Who should be contacted? We create Twitter lists, so that people can follow breaking news. For our Haiti coverage, with the wire services not up to speed, we found social media very useful. It’s so important that we now ask all our writers to engage with our readers through their blogs.

Is it happening in a big way?

Traffic-wise, our most popular blog is Kim Bolan’s “The Big Scoop,” which is closely followed by police and lawyers and gang members. There’s a real conversation going on there in the commons. And she definitely gets material for her beat from the dialogue she’s created with the various people who read her blog.

From a business pespective, how do you monetize all that reader engagement and social media din?

That’s the question, isn’t it. Our approach has been to embrace the available tools and experiment with them. We recently freshened up our beats, and beat applicants were told that the major part of their plan had to do with digital. We feel that you must be in the game, but you must also be strategic—not jump in too far, too fast.

In recent years, scores of papers have shut down. Are you confident there will be print newspapers well into the future?

They’re not going to go away in my lifetime. That said, the digital piece is becoming the mass medium and print is becoming a niche product. The printed page has become just one of several ways that people can access information.

Is the Sun developing an iPad application?

Yes, it will be launched in the near future. I think tablets are really going to catch on because they’re the perfect mix between the website and the conventional newspaper feel. All the big Postmedia metro dailies are busy figuring out what kind of content will work best, how often we should update, and so on. It’s an exciting learning experience. And a challenging time.—Gary Stephen Ross

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