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Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

Our CSEC exclusive: the story behind the story

Categories: Canada, Journalism, Politics

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Benjamin Franklin wryly suggested that hard work is the mother of good fortune.

In so doing he foreshadowed the formula followed by Greg Weston and Valerie Boyer that propelled their formidable journalism into a higher orbit this week.

The redoubtable reporter-producer duo had been researching, interviewing and preparing a pair of stories on the super-secret Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) for weeks. They decided to pursue the stories to cast light on the shadowy spooks at CSEC on the heels of a torrent of revelations from U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden.

They were encouraged - provoked may be the better word - to go after this story by Washington correspondent Neil Macdonald, who was puzzled by the paucity of scrutiny CSEC and CSIS were getting in Canada.

So off went Greg and Valerie in pursuit of insightful journalism about the spymasters who never speak and who are never seen.

When their tracking landed them the first-ever interview with John Adams, the ramrod-straight recently retired military man who headed CSEC, they were intrepid enough to squeeze news out of him. Great start.

When they scored the first ever walk-about on the grounds of the new billion-dollar building that will soon house CSEC, their news-packed package was complete.

Story outlines were prepared. Shot-listing began. The first online story was bashed out and prepared for editors. Wrestling over roll-out was about to begin.

That was when fate intervened.

The day before their first story was about to be launched, new documents from Snowden implicated CSEC in what instantly became an embarrassing spying incident in Brazil. All of a sudden Weston and Boyer had a monster meat-hook for their stories.

So what did they do? They went into hurry-up offence.

Roll-out was catapulted forward to take advantage of events in Brazil. The leisurely plan to prepare scripts for radio and television pieces became a breathless sprint. Tom Parry ably assisted with the construction of a radio script. Cameramen Christian Patry meticulously filed cleverly framed images as deadlines loomed. And the entire package was expertly edited by Patrice Doucet.

So when our competitors struggled to repackage stories based on events that had occurred 24 hours earlier in Brazil, CBC was able to lead its web and broadcast coverage with new, exclusive, insightful and contextual reporting about CSEC that was unmatchable.

Franklin would have undoubtedly clucked his approval with another of his adages:

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

Rob Russo
Ottawa Bureau Chief
CBC News


Tags: How We Work, Investigative

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