“The truth is out there,” Calum Agnew says with a laugh quoting the line from the title sequence of the TV show The X Files. The truth is out there and he knows how to find it.
Calum is currently studying law at the University of Toronto. But before he began that (his third degree) he had an internship and a job that were all about seeking the truth.
When he graduated from King’s Calum wrangled an internship at the magazine The Walrus as a fact checker. It wasn’t a glamorous job but it fit his personality. “I’m naturally curious,” he says. The rigour suited him just fine.
“Is this the case or is this not the case,” was the question he says he had to ask himself for every fact in every sentence. “That was the magazine’s whole approach to fact checking. You could have something straightforward that you wouldn’t think had relevance in the story like, ‘He ordered his steak rare and when he cut into it blood came out of it’. You’d have check maybe eight things in that sentence. It was over the top.”
From The Walrus Calum went on to the University of Cambridge earning a Master’s degree in the history and philosophy of science with first-class honours. Some of his colleagues told him about a business intelligence, risk management and cyber security company in London called S-RM. He landed a job with them and worked alongside, among others, former soldiers and employees of the British security services.
“I have to talk in broad strokes because of confidentiality,” Calum says about his work but he gives an example.
“An investment bank might be looking to work on a merger between two companies in a developing market. They would want to know who the shareholders are, whether either of the companies had been involved in any kind of behavior that might be suspect. They want to know the history of the companies, who founded them. They want to know all there is to know about who they are going into business with.”
Calum would dig into huge international databases, comb through annual reports, read archived news stories, searching and searching, trying to find the story.
“When you crack something, when you know two things are connected and then maybe on page 45 of a 100 page annual report you find the connection–there’s a lot of adrenaline. Having a background in fact checking is great. It teaches you to be explicit about what is unclear, to reflect accurately your certainties, what you have found out.”
Calum says it was important work, sometimes with high financial stakes. And while he left it to pursue his law degree he does think it’s the kind of work he’d like to do again. But for now his curiosity, the skills he brought from King’s—writing and thinking critically—along with his experience at S-RM are focused on the law.
“Going through the evidence, constructing the narrative that you then have to sell to the court—that’s what really gets me going. I am interested in the story.”
The story and the truth.
Posted: Jan. 2018