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‘Philosopher journalist’ Andrew Potter leaves the newsroom to return to academia

Outgoing Ottawa Citizen editor to lead McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada.

BY SHAWNA WAGMAN | FEB 23 2016
Photo credit: Thomas Dagg
Journalist Andrew Potter, who will join McGill in August, reads the Ottawa Citizen in the newspaper’s printing plant. Photo credit: Thomas Dagg

“I really feel like I’ve won the lottery,” says Andrew Potter, who steps down as the editor of the Ottawa Citizen in February to become director of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada. The post, which he begins Aug. 1, brings Dr. Potter back to his undergraduate alma mater and comes with an associate professor appointment (designated as “professional” and not tenure-track). “I am going from one of the best jobs in Canadian journalism to one of the best jobs in Canadian arts and letters,” he says.

Dr. Potter leaves the paper at a time of budget cuts and layoffs, which he witnessed first-hand while helping to oversee the recent merger of the Citizen’s newsroom with that of the Ottawa Sun. He expects the transition to his new home at McGill will be an adjustment – the last time he taught a university course was as a lecturer at Université du Québec à Montréal in 2005. “It’s going to be interesting to see what’s changed, what the atmosphere is like,” he says.

It was as a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Toronto and a postdoc at Université de Montréal when Dr. Potter says he became more focused on journalism than academic publishing. His ambition to become a “philosopher journalist” led him to write columns for Maclean’s magazine and eventually to publish books for popular au­diences (including 2004’s The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed, co-written with U of T professor Joseph Heath). Dr. Potter would later return to his hometown of Ottawa as an op-ed writer and national editor at the Citizen.

In a statement, Hudson Meadwell, interim dean of McGill’s faculty of arts, says that Dr. Potter brings “an unusual combination of academic credentials and national visibility as a commentator on political and cultural issues. His reputation as a public intellectual in Canada and his experience as an editor at a major metropolitan newspaper will be great assets for the university.”

In support of the McGill institute’s mission to “promote a better understanding of Canada through the study of our heritage” and to “enhance informed discussion of public policy,” Dr. Potter sees his new role as continuing a skill he cultivated as a journalist: the ability to communicate academic ideas and research to a general audience. “Now I’ll be doing it from the other side,” he says. “As an editor, I was trying to draw in academic voices. At the institute, I want to start pushing them out.”

 

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