Patti Sonntag has ventured far from her Fernie roots, but has not forgotten them. The journalist, who was raised in Fernie, just won one of Canada’s most prestigious awards for journalism.
Sonntag won the Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Journalism Education. She won the fellowship for her proposal to investigate Canada’s fossil fuel industry and its effects on the political landscape. She will be teaching students at Concordia University how to use the Corporate Mapping Project database for 14 weeks in the fall semester.
“It’s an academic project called the Corporate Mapping Project, which explores the influence of fossil fuels on Canadian political life,” Sonntag told The Free Press. “I’m going to be teaching students to use that database and our investigation will certainly be in that area.”
Sontag now works for the New York Times as a managing editor of the news services division. She says there are three other managing editors in her division that cover a wide array of stories.
“I’m really proud to work with such a group of excellent people,” she said.
Sonntag says she took a winding path to get to the Times, and spent a few years travelling before embarking on a career path.
“I knew I wanted to write. I didn’t know how a person went about that. I spent a few years knocking around in the Middle East and Asia and eventually I realized that school was an answer,” she said. “I wasn’t sure where a person should go to school for what I wanted to do so I took my parents car and I drove across the country.”
According to Sonntag, she was looking for a place that felt right. She drove to the East Coast, checking out cities along the way. After exploring Halifax, she travelled south and first discovered New York City.
“I went to a few art galleries and I was like, okay this is the place. This is it,” she said.
Running low on funds, Sonntag drove north from NYC and found herself in Montreal. That is how she decided to obtain her education at Concordia University in Montreal. Going to school in Montreal allowed her to network and meet people in New York City, where she wanted to return. Sonntag was able to complete internships at The New Yorker and a division of the New York Times, which later led to job opportunities.
“I was meeting people in New York and I had mentors who told me what I needed to do next and then I was very, very lucky and extraordinarily hardworking,” she said in regards to her dream coming to fruition.
While Sonntag calls NYC home, she does think of Fernie and her parents, who are still Fernie residents, often.
“I find city life pretty difficult. I miss trees,” she said, adding her last visit to the area was during the holiday season.
Her parents were both teachers at Fernie Secondary School and have been beacons of support for Sonntag.
“My parents were really supportive, with all of that time in Asia,” she said. “Everything I do is inspired or informed by Fernie, especially my reporting on natural resources, and I miss it every day.”