Saskatoon StarPhoenix's first female editor-in-chief moving to the U of S

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post's editor-in-chief is turning the page on her career after nearly three decades in the newspaper industry. 

Heather Persson spent almost 3 decades in newspaper industry

Heather Persson, shown here at the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards, has spent almost three decades in the newspaper industry. (Rob Delparte)

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post's editor-in-chief is turning the page on her career after nearly three decades in the newspaper industry.

Heather Persson is stepping down after six years at the helm of the two papers to take a job at the University of Saskatchewan as director. research profile and impact. 

Persson is the only woman to hold the editor-in-chief position at The StarPhoenix in the paper's 100-year history. 

"The impulse is not to make a big deal out of it," Persson told Saskatoon Morning's Leisha Grebinski Friday, thinking back to when she was appointed to the top job in 2014. "But then the reaction I got, especially from some younger women who really celebrated it and were happy about it, helped me engage with it as well and just sort of mark it as a breakthrough in the industry and for the ladies."

Persson grew up in Weyburn and was a reporter for the Weyburn Review.

She attended Spring Arbor University in Michigan and went on to become the editor of the Salmon Arm Observer in B.C.

Persson moved back to Saskatchewan to become managing editor at the Prince Albert Herald before coming to the StarPhoenix in 2007.

In 2018, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award for editorial writing. 

Persson said she decided to take on the position at the U of S because it is important to keep moving forward.

"I love the papers. I love the industry. I've got ink flowing in my veins I think," Persson said. "But it's really important that we all, even in the middle of the pandemic … that we all keep moving forward and looking to change and grow."

Persson says the newspaper industry has changed dramatically during her almost 30-year career, especially as it grappled with where it fit into the digital world.

"What hasn't changed is a dedication to the truth, to good storytelling and to making sure that we are introducing people to members of their community and marking important milestones," Persson said.

"I think another important task for newspapers is investigative work and also keeping government accountable. So no matter what platform we're using and no matter what changes we're making, what new skills we need, that core of storytelling and that mission hasn't changed."

Heather Persson along with Kevin Mitchell (left) and Kayle Neis (right) at the National Newspaper Awards in 2018. (Rob Delparte)

A couple of stories that are etched into her memory are the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and the Gerald Stanley trial.

"[The] Broncos crash ... was such an enormous moment for the province. And I'm still so proud of how our staff responded to tell those stories with respect and care," Persson said.

"And, for me, I think the Gerald Stanley trial and that moment in the province will always stay with me.

"We learned a lot about maybe how we need to change, about some risks that are there and really some things we need to work on. And I think that's probably the story that will always haunt me the most. I'm still trying to learn from it."

While she was the first female editor-in-chief at the StarPhoenix, Persson credits the previous generation for breaking the gender ceiling, including Janice Dockham, who was the first female editor at the Leader-Post.

"I really think a lot of the heavy lifting was done by the generation right before me. I hear some of their stories ... they had to be very strong and stand their ground," Persson said.

She said there is still work to be done.

"We need to be strong and stick together and celebrate the victories when they come up."

Persson takes up her new position at the U of S in January.

With files from Saskatoon Morning