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Featured Leader: Paula Carlson

Paula Carlson

Editor of the Year leads veteran staff toward excellence

The Local Media Association recently named Paula Carlson Editor of the Year. Carlson is the editor of The Surrey-North Delta Leader, a twice-weekly publication in Western Canada's fastest-growing city.

The Leader is part of the Black Press group of newspapers, the largest independently owned newspaper company in Canada, with more than 150 titles in print and online.

Carlson started her career at the newspaper in 1994 as a cub reporter fresh out of J-school and was appointed editor in 2009.

In the course of her 20-year career at The Leader, Carlson has won approximately 50 awards in local, provincial, national and North American-wide competitions. She has garnered honours for hard news, feature writing, investigative reporting, commentary, design and layout, and newspaper general excellence.

The Leader consistently places extremely well in annual editorial competitions, and 2014 was a highlight — with the newspaper earning 24 awards in provincial, national and North American-wide contests, including being named the best community newspaper in B.C. by the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association.

The Leader also maintains an active web presence at

Carlson explains how she has been able to keep her staff consistently wired-in on Surrey and the North Delta area for such a long time:

NL: You and your staff won several awards in the recent Local Media Association contest. What factors have helped your staff do such quality work?

PC: The Leader is fortunate to have an experienced newsroom — our four reporters and two photojournalists have each been here at least 20 years. I'm in my 21st year here and started out as a reporter.

Because of the familiarity that comes from working together for so long, as well as being exposed to a variety of stories over the years, we've learned best practices as a team and are able to run like a well-oiled machine — particularly during breaking news. Having that depth of experience also means we can provide valuable context and a sense of history.

We try to produce at least one or two enterprise-style series each year in order to drill down into a particular issue. One of the strengths of The Leader is its ability to be ultra-local. We cover the issues the bigger dailies don't.

Despite the length of time on the job, everyone in the newsroom has retained the key qualities needed to put out a good newspaper: a keen curiosity in current events, the desire to get the news fast and get it right, and a genuine interest in telling the stories of the people who live and work in our community.

My team also keeps on top of current technologies, such as useful smartphone apps, online storytelling tools (interactive maps, SoundClouds, etc.), and — in the case of one enterprising photographer — drones. Some reporters are more “techie” than others and willingly share their knowledge with the group. One even gives webinars for the Black Press chain.

NL: Describe your style of newsroom management.

PC: I like using a collaborative approach. Editorial meetings often evolve into brainstorming sessions that result in unique ideas for stories or a series that gets in front of the particular issue at hand. Reporters cover their “beats,” but are also expected to come up with their own story ideas.

With the changes in the industry in recent years, it's also been necessary to foster a “cross-pollination” of skills in the newsroom, with photographers taking on writing and pagination duties, and reporters shooting video.

The Leader often takes in journalism students for internships, and while I provide most of the guidance and feedback, interns also spend time with reporters/photographers to pick up on-the-job tips.

NL: Beyond the awards, what are some of the things you have accomplished while serving as editor for your paper, and what do you still plan to accomplish?

PC: As the industry continues to undergo enormous change, I'm proud The Leader has maintained its standard of journalistic excellence despite layoffs, dwindling resources and a smaller news hole.

Great photos, solid storytelling and lively debate on our opinion pages are still at the core of our print product. And The Leader's online and social media presence are known as the community's go-to sources for breaking news.

Going forward, I plan to continue The Leader's tradition of presenting timely, accurate and engaging stories about the people, events and issues that are important to the residents and businesses of Surrey and North Delta.

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