Julie Bristow was always interested in politics. One of her uncles was Michael Pitfield, for a time the most important public servant in Ottawa, so she grew up with swirls of conversations about what was happening in Ottawa. It seemed natural to concentrate in Political Science for a B.A. she completed in 1986.
Since then, she has been head of current affairs for CBC, and is now executive director of a division called “Studio and Unscripted Programming” – responsible for the development and production of programs that include talk shows, lifestyle and reality programming, variety arts and music, sports and comedy.
Soon after starting work for an investment company, where she realized how much she liked research, the idea of pursing a career in journalism got planted in her head. She started at Global as a researcher on business stories, and before long switched over to CBC and worked on Venture – an important early business-related program on TV.
After that, she had a variety of creative and producing roles for other programs and rose to responsibility over investigative journalism programs like The Fifth Estate. “The challenge was to find ways of ensuring that tough stories got done: you have to be good at dealing with lawyers, protecting sources – my job was to make sure that they got the right support.”
More recently, her producer portfolio includes a range that extends from Battle of the Blades to George Stroumboulopouolos Tonight to Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister. This she does with two daughters at home, and running long distance (including marathons) with a friend she first met in a U of T politics class.
What about her undergraduate years. “I think that experience really opened up my brain – to reading, to talking about people interested in learning, to a kind of thinking that is critical to success, to handling large amounts of information, and to writing.” “The most important is the open mind, being able to tap into different disciplines, to think expansively.”
She talks about how critical it is to be able to write effectively, for everything that she does. “You need sophisticated communication skills for any job – you need to be clear in organizing thoughts, and you need to write in ways that are not ambiguous: I can’t imagine any senior job anywhere that doesn’t demand that you be a good communicator.”