In the 10 years he’s worked at CTV Vancouver, investigative reporter Jon Woodward has covered everything from gang wars to provincial politics. Before joining CTV, he also served as associate producer on The Pig Farm, a documentary on Vancouver’s missing murdered women and Robert Pickton. He spoke to LJR about his journalistic journey.
You have a degree in mathematics from UBC. How did you break into journalism?
I sent out my resumes and applied to a publication in Ontario, and they didn’t hire me, and I thought, “Oh well, maybe I won’t get anywhere in this business.” Then The Province had a sudden opening because somebody broke their leg on a ski hill, and I applied. I like to call it my big break.
You’ve worked in newspapers as well as TV. How do you like being on-air?
I appreciate that being on air gives you exposure and a platform, but for me that’s always been the price of doing business. If I didn’t have to be on-air to get what I needed done, maybe I wouldn’t. For me, the most important thing is the story and the facts that I can find out and share with people.
Who in the industry do you look up to?
In no particular order: Chad Skelton, Frances Bula, Mi-Jung Lee. Mi-Jung, I think, is a great reporter and she’s managed to take personal things that have happened to her and make incredible stories. Eric Rankin … I could keep going.
What has been your most embarrassing on-air moment?
This was early on. I watched this beluga give birth. One whale became two, and all these kids were there and I got on TV and I was just beaming. I was so happy; I just couldn’t control myself. I said so many silly things, like “as every parent knows, it took a lot to get to this point”—things that didn’t make any sense. I was just so excited.
You’ve had to work on many heavier stories as well, including the case of Vancouver’s missing murdered women.
It was pretty early on when I had exposure to the worst story I have ever done, and probably ever will, which is what happened on the Pickton farm. It was such an in-depth documentary; we had to read all the court documents. When I realized what had happened on that farm, I remember feeling very sick to my stomach. It made me care a lot more about the people it happened to, so it sticks with you. But if you don’t empathize with the people you talk to, then what good are you? You have to try and feel their pain, otherwise why are you doing what you’re doing? If it’s not someone like me who cares, then who will listen? A lot of the time, it’s nobody.
Do you still hear from Robert Pickton?
I still hear from him. It’s a funny relationship: I can’t think of another time I’ve had to talk to somebody like that. We have probably spent hours on the phone, lots of letters; I’m not totally sure I have understood him yet. I think he holds a lot back. I think there are more conversations to be had, that’s why I’ll always pick up the phone when he calls, because I don’t know if that’s the call where he’ll say something different.