Annie Hylton (HS’01)

 Annie Hylton (HS’01)

Given her love of writing, research and interpersonal connection, Annie Hylton’s career as an investigative journalist is an ideal fit. But it wasn’t her first calling. She initially worked as a non-practising lawyer in non-government organizations and academia, focusing on armed conflict and women’s rights issues. When she began studies toward a PhD in international law, she quickly became disenchanted: “The reason I’d gotten into law was to do humanitarian work and—naive as it sounds—to make an impact in the world.” Instead, she explains, “I found myself sitting behind my computer and writing very theoretical texts and not connecting on a human level with people.”

Hylton realized that investigative journalism offered another way to meet her ultimate goal of impacting policy and affecting change. Through long-form, narrative writing, she aims to create empathy and illustrate the human stakes behind key policy debates, particularly in the areas of gender, migration, human rights and conflict.

What she appreciates most about her field is the opportunity it affords to untangle complex issues impacting people who are often invisible to the public. “There are very few professions where you can so deeply immerse yourself in someone else’s world and have them welcome you. It’s such a gift and an honour to follow someone along often their most painful but also their most beautiful journeys,” she says.

Although Hylton has worked in post-conflict and precarious locales in the Middle East, Central America and Africa, it is a Canadian story that has affected her most profoundly. In 2020, during the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, she followed a family on a quest for justice for their missing loved one. The article she wrote for The Walrus explores the impact of the larger policy issue on one family. “It was such a meaningful experience and deeply tragic. And I think just being able to immerse in their world and understand what it’s like to live through that kind of grief and pain with no closure and put your faith in institutions that constantly fail you was really eye opening,” she explains.

Because there are few opportunities in newsrooms to do the in-depth, longer-term projects that Hylton is passionate about, she has chosen to work independently. She writes for magazines in the U.S. and Canada, such as The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New Republic and the Walrus, plus the UK publications London Review of Books and Esquire, UK. She also teaches investigative journalism at Sciences Po Paris in France to help sustain her journalistic work.

Hylton’s academic career has been varied. She started with a bachelor of commerce degree from McGill University, then went on to a law degree from the University of Saskatchewan, a master of laws degree in international humanitarian law and human rights from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and a master of science degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She also graduated from Columbia University’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

After serving as an adjunct assistant professor at the journalism school at Columbia in 2017, Hylton leveraged that experience to get the teaching gig in France, where her husband is from. The Sciences Po’s anglophone journalism program is internationally known: “It’s a prestigious program that I’m so honoured to get to teach in. Students come from all over the world who are looking to learn journalism and international affairs. It’s a very cool place to be.”

Hylton loves living in Paris, particularly being immersed in the history, architecture and culture. “Everything is possible while also being manageable. It’s not a sprawling city like New York—you don’t have the feeling of having to hustle 24/7. People take the time to enjoy food and wine and conversation,” she says. While she appreciates the work/life balance aspect of French culture, she misses “the genuine connection you make with people anywhere you go in Canada, the kindness that I experience every time I come back. It’s something that’s very rare, and that I deeply miss on a daily basis.”

Looking back on her time at Luther College, Hylton credits the high school’s academic rigour in preparing her to excel at a university like McGill. “Without that, I never would have gotten into law school. [Going to Luther] was one of the key early career decisions I made,” she says. She also recognizes a teacher who made a major impact on her life: “My all-time favourite teacher was Mr. Anderson, who taught me how to be a good writer, how to edit, edit, edit, and how to structure sentences and paragraphs. I don’t know if I would be where I am today without him.”