2012 NMAs: Investigative Reporting

In the investigative reporting category, writers get all Woodward and Bernstein, which can mean playing the Access to Information Act–game, interviewing scores of people or getting shot at.

Alison Motluk’s examination of the cluster fudge that lead to Stephen Harper pulling the plug on Canada’s production of medical isotopes (“A Political Meltdown,” The Walrus) is more of an access-to-information adventure. She does an excellent job of untangling the mess that began with Brian Mulroney’s government in its rush to privatize parts of Canada’s nuclear infrastructure.

Also from The Walrus is Arno Kopecky’s “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay.” Kopecky travels to Columbia to find out what is behind the growing numbers of desplazados, people displaced from the countryside by private militias. There’s a Canadian connection lurking behind this displacement: Canadian mining companies. The article is a stunning look at the structural violence in Columbia and how it affects the people within Kopecky’s story. And the writer finds himself in the middle of a shoot out. And then a prank! This story is the best read of the bunch.

Actually, there are two more stories about Canadian mining companies behaving badly: “19 Villagers Dead/$155 Million Profit” and  “Where Asbestos is Just a Fact of Life” (both Report on Business). The former looks at Barrick Gold Corp.’s gold mine in Tanzania, while the latter chronicles the history of asbestos mining in Canada and the effect of our country’s dodgy export in India. The portion of the asbestos article that focuses on Quebec was written by John Gray and the reporting from India came from Stephanie Nolen. With both journalists on the ground in their respective locations, their coverage of the asbestos issue is rich and thorough.

For more on nukes, there’s Valérie Borde’s “Gentilly, la centrale de tous les soupçons,” which tries to find out if the Gentilly 2 reactor in Quebec is worth renovating. The coverage is encyclopedic and there’s even a Simpsons reference. (It can’t be good if your reactor is compared to the one Homer works in.)

Claude Adams writes about the strange and ultimately tragic story of Beverley Giesbrecht, a Vancouver businesswoman who converted to Islam and was kidnapped in Pakistan (“The Hostage,” Vancouver Magazine).

In Maisonneuve, Selena Ross delves into the corruption and violence that’s a part of the snow-removal industry in Montreal (“Getting Plowed”). Paging David Simon, you should totally build your next HBO series from this article. You’re welcome. (I can’t wait to see my executive-producer credit.) Also note, this story has won a Canadian Association of Journalists award.

Do not read “Cockpit Crisis” by Chris Sorensen (Maclean’s) if you have any hang-ups about flying.

In “Nice Place for a Mall” (Report on Business), John Lorinc creates a compelling narrative that covers all the players—both for and against—in the development of a big-box mall in Salmon Arm, B.C. The story’s “bad guy,” Mitch Goldhar, owner and developer of SmartCentres, gets a very nuanced treatment.

Rounding out the list is “Lobbyists and Lip Service” by Jeff Gailus (Alberta Views). Gailus has the most energetic prose of the bunch, which he employs in his look at the world of lobbying within the Alberta government. He takes the province’s lobbyist registry for a spin and finds that things are less-than transparent.

While this category is loaded with fine stories of investigative reporting, many are exceptional in different ways. There is the paper-trail research by Motluk that probably required Buddha-like serenity in the face of access-to-information frustration. There’s the great storytelling by Kopecky. There’s the heavy-firepower reporting of Gray and Nolen. There’s the sharp prose of Gailus. What do the judges want to honour? I’m guessing they’ll go for Gray and Nolen’s asbestos story. Their work is also nominated in four other categories (politics and public interest, business, health and medicine, and science, technology and the environment). It’s a strong one.

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