Laidlaw is one of the National Magazine Awards top nominated creators this year.
This story was funded by the J-Source Patreon campaign
By Payge Woodard
As a child, Katherine Laidlaw pored over the pages of her parent’s edition of the Toronto Star.
“They would be like, ‘What’s wrong with our child?’,” Laidlaw said with a laugh. She loved the paper’s kid section, Starship.
But it wasn’t for another two years that Laidlaw said she graduated to real dork status.
Taking lined paper, she created her own newspaper for her siblings and other neighbourhood kids.
Complete with news on fashion and neighbourhood happenings, The Joicey Times even included horoscopes which Laidlaw remembers using to tease her younger sister who’d been going through a clumsy phase. The horoscope for her sister’s astrological sign warned to beware of spilled milk.
“I’m sure some of the other horoscopes were a little nicer,” she said.
Despite her days publishing her own paper, Laidlaw didn’t plan to pursue a career in journalism. But when she joined the school paper at Queen’s University something unexpected happened.
Laidlaw was working on a story about The Grad Pub, a campus bar the school planned to renovate. Before renovations began, the proposal had to be approved by the city.
“It was a really mundane story but I just went at this story like crazy. I was like, I’m going to write the best city permit approval meeting story ever,” said Laidlaw.
Once her interest in journalism was sparked, Laidlaw discovered she enjoyed writing about more than just the campus pub. She’s now kept busy writing stories for publications like The Walrus and Toronto Life.
Her work as an editor and a writer has been recognized by the National Magazine Awards. She was nominated for two writing awards, and was the handling editor on six other pieces. As a result, Laidlaw is one of the awards top nominated creators this year.
Two of her articles published by The Walrus last year have been nominated. “The Verdict,” a collection of stories about sexual assault is nominated for the one of a kind award, a category for articles where the content or style is so unique it doesn’t fit within any other category.
“The Verdict’s” nomination was especially meaningful to Laidlaw. The article isn’t a traditional magazine style piece. It moves through seven stories of sexual assault and each victim’s experience with the justice system.
Laidlaw interviewed 15 women while working on the piece. Hearing their stories took more of a toll on her than she expected.
“Writing that story was actually kind of a motherfucker,” said Laidlaw.
“I was in a bit of a funk for a couple of weeks.”
Readers reached out to Laidlaw after the piece was published, telling her it was meaningful to see others had similar experiences.
“I think it’s important for people to be able to see their experiences reflected and feel a little less alone,” Laidlaw said.
The piece was also read aloud during a parliamentary committee meeting as part of a discussion on sexual assault justice strategies. “It was great to see you can write about something really hard and have it mean something to people.
Her second nominated piece, “This Will End Well,” a feature on a daredevil ice climber turning 50, is nominated for best profile.
Laidlaw spent four days getting to know Will Gadd, the story’s main character. But before she began to interview Gadd, he had to run off to a meeting.
“He just left me in his house, we didn’t even know each other,” said Laidlaw. “I really resisted the urge to see what’s in the bathroom cabinet.”
The longform feature was a perfect fit for Laidlaw, who said lengthy pieces allow her to flex her writing muscles. The journalist views writing like a game of Tetris, saying she enjoys working all the information she gathers into something logical.
Writing is Laidlaw’s current focus as she takes a break as an editor at The Walrus. She said editing is more of a challenge than reporting.
“I’m a person who likes to hang out by myself and as an editor you don’t do that. You’re in an office full of people.”
Navigating writers’ sensitivities while ensuring the magazine gets what it wants can be difficult, Laidlaw said, but she enjoys pitch meetings with writers.
“Those meetings are just really full of possibility.”
As she explores her own writing, Laidlaw wants to work on more profiles and crime stories however, she has one dream article in mind.
“I’m on the hunt for the most perfect, epic nature crime story.”