Claire Wählen, a reporter at iPolitics, is a new breed of journalist: one born into digital. She covers politics in Ottawa where her interests lie in national and cyber security, defence policy, terrorism and privacy.
Follow her @Claire_Wahlen.
What is it like to be an Ottawa reporter for an online publication?
It’s a unique experience, coupling online coverage with the kind of small-town-big-issues reporting that we do in Ottawa. Everyone knows everyone but sometimes the secret is who is leaving office early or how an appointee got their job. You have to do online in the same way everyone else does—visually grabbing, done quickly, and added to when the story evolves or changes. But, at the same time, because it’s Ottawa you have to go beyond what the story is today and explain what it means: being inside the bubble, you forget that not everyone knows the history behind certain political moves, so you always have to keep that context there.
How has social media changed the Canadian media landscape?
Having come in with social media, I would like to think for the better but I have little experience to compare it against. Like anything, it’s as useful as you make it. Some people use it to crowd source for ideas or stories. Others use it as a soap box to advertise themselves. I prefer the method of using social media to have a conversation. Yes, I’ll post a link to a story I wrote or a story I liked but always with a bit of context and an interest in discussing it. Sometimes it’s just a theme that I caught at an event—post it to Twitter and see what others think. I learn a lot more from talking to people in this city than I ever could have expected, but with the ability to connect to people all over the world I get such a larger context to bring back to my writing that it’s hard not to see it as a positive change.
What does a typical day look like for you?
What I love about my job (usually) is that there is no typical day. Some things are constant with politics: caucus day is Wednesday, parliamentarians are all on planes on Fridays, etc. But when it comes to reporting on politics, it’s always changing. One day you cover a committee on Parliament Hill, another day you’re at a talk at the university. Sometimes it’s a conference downtown, others times it’s calling in to a teleconference with a minister who’s overseas visiting. Sometimes you just need to hunker down, turn the Wi-Fi off, and get a lot of reading and research done. Other days it’s live tweeting Mike Duffy—you just really don’t know what to expect until the day of.
What’s your number one tip for PR people?
Mine is a personal pet peeve that, when I tell others about it, it seems a lot of people have. I really, really hate the excessive use of exclamation marks. It’s such a distracting piece of punctuation and more often than not it makes me take the sender, or at least the event or topic in question, less seriously. Use emphasis, like the exclamation mark but also ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and bold font, sparingly.
Favorite story you’ve ever worked on?
I’m going to say that my favorite “story” has been the body of coverage I did for C-51. I wrote about it in excruciating detail up until the end of committee deliberations, and think it’s still something we should be discussing at length. But with a large revamp of essential legislation, more or less our own Patriot Act, it’s been a rewarding story to look into and explain/simplify/question.
Dream story that you’d love to work on?
Glenn Greenwald came to Ottawa to speak last fall and hinted heavily that buried within the Snowden archives are toe-curling details on Canada’s use of surveillance on its citizens. To delve into that, to ensure that Canadians’ privacy isn’t being forfeited for some perceived level of security is something I hope to work on for the rest of my life—it’s an issue that cannot, in my opinion, be covered enough and a problem that right now needs more attention from the public at large.
First website you load in the morning?
Admittedly I open Twitter before I even have my first sip of coffee. I should probably break that habit, but it’s important for me to know I have or haven’t missed anything before I set the tone for my morning.
Coffee or beer?
I need a coffee to get started in the day but otherwise love a cold beer. My personal guideline is that if we’re talking and we both have a beer in our hands, everything is on background unless we’ve been very clear that it isn’t. I won’t quote you on it, but I will bug you about it the next day to get it properly on the record.