One of the great pleasures — and what in many ways I miss most — of my time at the Ottawa Citizen was working with Glen McGregor. The press gallery is a herd animal even at the best of times, but Glen is one of the few members who refuses to run with the crowd. Not, I think, out of any great contrarian disposition. It’s just more that Glen thinks about journalism in a different way than most of his colleagues on the Hill. He is endlessly creative, relentlessly funny, and deeply inquisitive. He has a way of taking the smallest nugget of off-beat information and turning it into a dynamite story. (Not always a front page story, but that’s a complaint for another time).
That alone would be enough to make him one of the best in the business, but add to that his skills, almost unique in Canada as far as I can tell, at computer-assisted reporting, and you have one of the most fearsome journalistic weapons in the country. More times than I could count, Glen would present me with a cool story that he’d worked up by taking data from some public website or another and putting it through some neat filter or another. “How’d you do that?” I’d ask. “Ah, it was easy, I just wrote a little script for scraping the data…” he’d start.
If it was easy, more journalists would do it. But they –we — don’t, which is why Glen and his hot room colleague Stephen Maher won a much, much deserved award this past weekend from the Canadian Association of Journalists. It was in the category of Computer Assisted Reporting, for the work they did showing that a disproportionate share of the federal stimulus money was spent in ridings held by Conservative MPs.
Oh, and did I mention that Glen is also one of the leaders in bringing the tools of social media into the newsroom? He was, among other things, the first journalist in Canada to live-tweet from a courtroom, obtaining permission to do so from the trial of Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien last summer. I have to say that I never in a million years thought the judge would go for it. Glen just asked, and just did it.
What is derisively called (around here, and pretty much everywhere else you’ll find a comment board) the “MSM” takes a lot of criticism. If we had more reporters like Glen McGregor working in newsrooms across the country, a lot less of that criticism would be deserved.