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2015 Breaking News, Medium Newsroom finalist

Parliament Hill Siege

 

About the Project

Only minutes after Michael Zehaf Bibeau brazenly shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on the steps of the National War Memorial on Oct. 22, reporters from the Ottawa bureau of The Canadian Press, as well as CP’s small digital team in Toronto, had swung into action – filing information and tweeting from the scene; writing compelling accounts from the Ottawa office; and quickly transmitting photographs, video and audio to our clients. The team’s comprehensive package was accessed by readers, viewers and listeners on a variety of platforms, not only keeping them informed moment-by-moment, but also providing them with some of the most memorable and original stories of the incident.

Canadian Press reporters Steve Rennie, Jennifer Ditchburn, Jim Bronskill and Andy Blatchford were immediately dispatched to the National War Memorial when word of the shooting first hit the CP newsroom. Moments later, Lina Dib from La Presse Canadienne called in from Parliament Hill, reporting calmly and firmly that multiple gun shots were being fired through the halls outside the room she was in. Dib then climbed out a window and down some scaffolding to resume her reporting, even as reporter Murray Brewster was able to rush out of the CP newsroom before it was locked down, interviewing eye-witnesses just moments after the gun fire had stopped.

They tweeted from the scene, shot video, collected audio and participated in radio interviews. Joan Bryden, Lee-Anne Goodman and Stephanie Levitz began working the phones along with Bruce Cheadle, who was delegated to write the running leads based on information from all of CP’s sources.
In Toronto, the Digital Desk of Megan Leach, Mary Gazze, Lucas Timmons and Sean Vokey worked at breakneck speed to curate information from the field and via social media, and create maps and photo galleries in real time. They also liaised with dozens of clients to ensure CP’s digital content was reaching all platforms effectively and quickly.

here was a great deal of misinformation and conjecture on the airwaves but despite intense competitive pressures, CP only posted multiple-sourced information and direct eyewitness accounts. The result, in retrospect, holds up remarkably well when compared with the official police accounts shared soon after the shooting.

CP was cited frequently on television and radio as a voice of authenticity and a source of reliable news at a time when there was so much uncertainty. On Parliament Hill, MPs who had barricaded themselves into their caucus rooms relied on CP’s tweets and stories to keep abreast of the events outside.

The stories avoided hyperbole and breathlessness during an unprecedented attack, and by day’s end the final version of the story remains an accurate, vivid and tightly told account of an historic day on Parliament Hill.

The coverage did not end there. In the tension-filled day immediately after the shooting, the Ottawa bureau also published a standout pair of original stories that were widely shared and discussed across the country.

Laura Eggertson’s poignant, simply written story about the selfless bystanders who tried to resuscitate Cirillo was an impactful piece of journalism. Eggertson’s exclusive piece provided rich details that struck an emotional chord with readers, especially lawyer Barbara Winters’ words to Cirillo, “You are so loved.”

Ditchburn interviewed many Members of Parliament in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, collecting their dramatic stories over 24 hours and writing a narrative piece that took readers into their caucus rooms. She learned that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had stood waiting for some time in a closet, that some Conservatives had made a mad dash in the midst of the shooting, and that MPs meeting there that day were convinced that the gunfire in the hallway was the sound of a group of assailants bent on killing them. Her research led to one of the most salient questions posed at the RCMP news conference on Oct. 23: why weren’t there any police in the room with Harper at the time?

While Ditchburn was on the Hill, Goodman and Blatchford set to work finding out more about the shooter. Goodman interviewed numerous acquaintances of Zehaf-Bibeau at the homeless shelter where he had stayed, painstakingly piecing together a picture of a troubled and angry man. Blatchford mined his contacts in the Montreal Muslim community to learn about the shooter’s childhood and his family.

In the frenetic and fearful hours after the shooting, CP staked its claim as the most reliable source of breaking news in the country. In the aftermath, the Ottawa bureau kept at it, exposing the most intimate and important details of a tragedy that continues to ripple through Parliament Hill today.