“Global has completely transformed in the past five or six years, moving to a digital production process. The network has three major production facilities in Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto; and the control room for our daily news broadcast at 6pm is in Edmonton. There was a period of adjustment at first, but we have the benefit of having the most talented producers and technicians gathered in one major facility. The support they provide us in terms of visuals and editing is terrific.” I’m visiting with Jamie Orchard, the ‘face’ of Global Television in Montreal and the News Anchor for the station’s six pm daily newscast.

Jamie takes me on a tour of the station’s downtown offices and studios at the corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine in downtown Montreal, introducing me to the station’s General Manager Karen MacDonald, another one of several Day One employees who have been with the station since its 1997 launch in Montreal. Jamie explains the impact that technology and social media have made on her work. “My job has changed completely in the past five or six years. We are fully digital and we’re in the avant-garde of using technology to give us an edge in a highly competitive business. What this means in practical terms is that we can react immediately and in real-time to breaking news. Part of my daily routine is to be on Facebook and Twitter. Video clips can be edited almost instantaneously. This is standard procedure in Europe, but it’s still new in Canada.”

“My job is to deliver the news at 6 o’clock with integrity and accuracy. It’s a way of providing an understanding of the events that surround us. We’re hyper-local – we can do that because the national news comes on right after us. Communication is still the essence of what we do.”

Reacting to my observation that there seems to be a great sense of camaraderie, she comments; “Yes – we have a small and highly effective group here. You could say that we’re lean and ‘nice’.
Jamie is one of the best-known media personalities in Montreal, one of the reasons she was selected to introduce Oprah at the mega-star’s April appearance at The Bell Centre. Her journey has taken her from South Shore Brossard to McGill and Concordia, to British Columbia and back to Montreal.

“When I was 9 years old I knew that I wanted a media career. My Dad was a news hound. We had the evening news on every night during supper. Reading the newspaper was also an important of his evening.” Jamie continues, “Maybe as a young person, that’s how I got the notion that news was important, and it was something that I wanted to do. I was quiet and shy, and I thought I was going to be a writer, but television was also in the back of my mind.”

“I moved out on my own at 17. At the time, my parents and I weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. Perhaps I had a little growing up to do. I continued my schooling, but I worked as at the Magic Pan, starting off washing dishes, then as a waitress, and finally as a manager of one of the restaurants.”

While Jamie eventually graduated from the highly regarded journalism program at Concordia, it didn’t start off well. “I wasn’t accepted at first and had to go on a waiting list. I did get into McGill, where I was taking an English degree with a focus on media theory. However, it wasn’t my real goal, and I’m afraid my marks reflected that. I was standing in line for second year registration, thinking that I really didn’t want to do this, and on a whim I stepped out of the line and called Lindsay Chrysler at Concordia.” It proved to be a fortuitous call.

“Lindsay told me that they had tried to reach me to tell me that I had been accepted from the waiting list to enter Concordia’s journalism program! I had moved and my number had changed.” Jamie was now into the three year program, where many of the teachers were (and still are) working journalists in broadcast and print. “Both Lindsay and Bob McDevitt were very encouraging and helpful.” Indeed, McDevitt later provided a reference that would bring Jamie back to Montreal from British Columbia.

Jamie did well at Concordia, and enjoyed some very positive internships at The Gazette and Mix 96 radio; and graduated in ’91. “CBC had just made massive cutbacks, and there were a lot of very experienced people looking for jobs in Montreal. It wasn’t a good time for a new graduate to be looking for work in this market.” Jamie had a sister living in Vancouver, and she felt that there might be better opportunities in BC. She sent out 56 applications – but the telephone didn’t ring. “I shared an apartment, was serving pizzas and literally cleaning the toilets in the pizza shop.”

However, a program director at a Vernon radio station in BC’s Okanogan Valley believed that his station would benefit from having a woman on air. “I got the job! He told me I’d need my own car to drive to the assignments and cover breaking news stories”. There were just two problems – Jamie didn’t have a driver’s license or own a car. This would have stopped the job before it even started. She told her new employer that she needed a couple of weeks to give notice to her employer, and get herself out to Vernon.

“I called my Dad, and asked him for a loan to buy a used car. Until then, it was the only time I had asked him for help, and he agreed. Then I signed up for driving lessons, passed my test and headed up to Vernon in this old Toyota Tercel that I bought for $2,000.” On the drive through the mountains, Jamie noticed that the steering seemed wobbly, but she pushed on – anxious to get to her first broadcast job. “The guy who sold me the car had a pang of conscience, and subsequently called me to tell me that the front struts were badly rusted. Fortunately, they held together on the mountain highway – but I did have to spend another $500 to make the car safe to drive. My Dad came through again.”

Jamie noted that while she was realizing her dream of starting her broadcast career, she wasn’t going to get rich on her $13,500 income. She had to be very careful with her money. “I rented from a lady who owned an apple orchard. She had cabins for the apple pickers, and when I arrived in September most of the pickers had left. So I lived in a picker’s cabin in the midst of an apple orchard for only $200 a month, and she was very kind to me.”

“I did everything in Vernon. I read the news, went out to do interviews and really met a lot of people in the community. Every time there was a chance to go on air – I took it. They say it takes time for broadcasters to ‘find’ their voices, and I ‘found’ my voice in Vernon”.

Meanwhile, back in Montreal the job market was beginning to loosen up. Terry Dimonte had moved to Mix 96 from CHOM. Andrew Carter (now the morning man on CJAD) was the News Director and CHOM and Oldies 990. They needed a news reader for the two stations on Greene Avenue, and Andrew called Bob McDevitt for some recommendations. McDevitt suggested Jamie.

“It was a chance to further my career, and also to come back to Montreal. I read the news, did reporting and even filled in on traffic if they need me.” Once again, Jamie took every opportunity to get herself behind a microphone. She spent two years at CHOM, and her friends and colleagues were suggesting that she try television.

“The CBC was the first place I called. It happened that they needed someone to do the weather. I really wanted to continue in the news, and they said that if I started with the weather assignment that I’d eventually be able to do news. I was working with Dennis Trudeau on Newswatch, and it was a good learning experience.” However, there was a problem. Jamie had become very popular as the ‘Weather Lady’ and the folks at CBC didn’t want to tinker with a successful format. Jamie was becoming increasingly frustrated.

CTV was starting an entertainment show called Take One as part of their evening news broadcast, and they needed a host for the daily 4 minute segment. While not ‘the news’ it was a solid opportunity to do live television and to be a part of the larger news show. “I was live every night for 3 ½ years, interviewing everyone from Dustin Hoffman to The Dali Lama.” Jamie was also in the right place at the right time. “Sometimes I’d fill in if someone was ill or on holiday. I got to be news anchor on weekends. It was really good –even though I’d be working seven days a week.” Still there was some frustration on Jamie’s part at not being able to do more news. “One of the problems was that Take One was really popular, and the station had signed a large sponsorship contract with Bell. Naturally, they didn’t want to go to Bell and tell them that the anchor of ‘their’ show was moving to news.”

While anxious to get more airtime as a news anchor, the Montreal broadcast market opened considerable in 1997 when Global TV came to Quebec, with Montreal as its hub. However, their licence called for alternative programming, which meant that instead of a nightly news report, the station launched with a magazine styled show, with Jamie Orchard as the host. “It was hard to leave CTV – I’d been there nearly 4 years and it’s a close knit group. However, ‘Global Tonight’ was the kind of opportunity that you don’t pass up.” Unfortunately, the show only lasted 6 months.

“They kept the news team together, and moved us to a morning time slot. Jamie anchored This Morning Live, which was a big show spanning a 2 hour time span; and featured news, interviews and entertainment. “We were live every day, and it was a big task to fill that time.” After two and a half years, and with the show in a healthy #1 ratings position, the opportunity came to move to the 6 pm evening news as the senior anchor and editor.

While she is not editorializing, you can see that Jamie has opinions about the items she is covering. “Bill Haugland at CTV advised me to ‘always be yourself’. I’m an emotional person, and you can see in my eyes that there are issues and items that affect me. I work with The Missing Children’s Network, and when I’m doing a story about a pedophile that gets a light sentence you’ll see that I don’t agree.”

In addition to The Missing Children’s Network, Jamie has worked actively for The Action Centre in LaSalle and the Generations Foundation which provides breakfast and lunch programs for school children.

Part of Jamie’s daily routine to prepare for being on-camera is to have her hair done at O Coiffure & Spa in Oglivy’s, a short walk from her office and studios. Our conversation continues amidst the hubbub and chatter of the salon. She rotates amongst the stylists, who jokingly tell me that they’ll tell me about the ‘B side’ of Jamie – there are no secrets in a hair salon.

“One of the big changes we dealt with was the bankruptcy of CanWest, the company that owned Global. Shaw Communications purchased ‘us’ and made the decision to invest heavily in new technology.”
Even as her career developed, Jamie and her partner Jean Luc made time to have two boys. “I had my children late in life, and I took nearly a year of maternity leave for each one. I wanted to enjoy being a new mother to its fullest, and also to provide the best care that I could for my babies. The company was really good about that, and it illustrates how we support each other at Global Montreal. We did a series on working moms called ‘Mom’s the Word’ as part of my coming back from my second maternity leave. It kind of eased me back into it.”

“I feel comfortable in Montreal, I love this city – even with its challenges. I don’t have any desire to go to a bigger market like Toronto. We’re spending some time in the Townships this summer, and that’s not something you can easily do in Toronto. I came in this morning as Jean Luc is down there with the boys this week.”

“I’m very proud of our coverage and reflection of Montreal, of our communities where our viewers live. We work hard to bring more than one source to a story. I’m proud of our reporters that go out and do two and three times the interviews that our competitors do in order to provide Montrealers with a well-researched and balanced coverage of the day’s news.” It’s easy to understand why The Board of Trade named her a Woman Of Influence.

Jamie Orchard can be seen on Global News weekdays at 6pm.

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