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Inside The Globe

Public Editor Sylvia Stead responds to readers and gives a behind-the-scenes look

Entry archive:

Public Editor: The Globe will avoid racist term alt-right

SYLVIA STEAD

On Monday, The Globe and Mail issued this note to all editorial staff:

The term alt-right refers to a collection of groups or individuals espousing racist, fascist or white-supremacist ideologies.

We should avoid this term as much as possible.

If we must use it, in a quote, for example, we should provide a definition of the term.

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We must call the ‘alt-right’ what it is: fascist, racist, white supremacist

Sylvia Stead

Should journalists use made-up words?

Sometimes yes. Language changes constantly, and so words such as “post-truth” and “yogalates” come into the vernacular and should be used and explained until they are well understood. (Post-truth: when emotions, beliefs and even lies trump facts as the drivers of public opinion. Yogalates: yoga and Pilates combined.)

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Public Editor: Reader was right to note lack of balance

SYLVIA STEAD

Earlier this week, a reader complained about an article published online about a diamond mine in Northern Ontario. She works in the North in resources and said she knows communities are divided on the subject of development in general and its impact on indigenous people.

The article is about a diamond mine near the indigenous community of Attawapiskat. The headline says, “Diamond mines give economic sparkle to Canada’s north.”

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Public Editor: Thank you, readers, for suggesting we look at solitary confinement

SYLVIA STEAD

In June, I asked readers what issues they felt should go under the media microscope. The Globe and Mail had been honoured for its work on military men and women suffering from post-traumatic stress and from its coverage of indigenous women, but there is always much more to do.

A couple of readers suggested solitary confinement and I passed those messages on to the senior editors.

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Public Editor: Transparency with sources – and readers – is necessary

SYLVIA STEAD

Last week, The Globe and Mail ran a feature in the Life section in a series called “It Happened to Me.” It was an interview with comedian Cathy Jones about experiencing the symptoms of vaginal atrophy.

The story included an interview with Dr. Vivien Brown, an assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto and president of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. It did not reference any medication by name, although Dr. Brown did discuss various hormonal and non-hormonal treatments.

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Public Editor: This headline is not the full story

SYLVIA STEAD

They’re just a few words at the top of the articles, but headlines attract more than their share of complaints. Readers complain that they are too political or not political enough. They fail to tell the whole story, they miss the point of the story, or the tone is really off.

On Wednesday, I had a complaint about this headline: “Russia likely responsible for attack on aid convoy, U.S. says.” The reader complained that the word “likely” revealed speculation. I told him that The New York Times Service article said that Obama administration sources think there is a “high probability” the Russians were responsible. So the speculation is from government officials, not the headline writer – and I think the headline was accurate and fair.

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Public Editor: At The Globe, Dr. doesn’t just mean medical doctors

SYLVIA STEAD

A recent story about tax law was criticized for a mistake about a name by one of the story subjects and she was right.

The reporter spoke to three experts about whether Olympic medalists should be taxed for their bonuses they received if they made the podium. The experts were all referred to as Mr. or Ms. in the article even though one of them, Lindsay Tedds, is identified as associate professor at the University of Victoria’s school of public administration. She should have been described as either Prof. or Dr. on second reference.

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Public editor: Getting late evening news and photos into a newspaper

Sylvia Stead

Penny Oleksiak, the 16-year-old swimming sensation, is a shining star. Readers can’t get enough news stories, features and photos of this phenomenal athlete.

But a few readers have not been that happy with The Globe’s coverage.

Last Saturday’s front-page photo was a portrait shot by freelancer Darren Calabrese. Set against a black background, Ms. Oleksiak looks strong and confident with a serious gaze at the camera. She is wearing her Canadian racing suit with black shorts.

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Public Editor: Should The Globe fix or ban online comments?

Sylvia Stead

As a rule, journalists love feedback – concrete evidence that the fruit of their labour is not only finding an audience, but having an impact. And yet there is nothing quite as divisive as the comments that are posted directly to stories online.

For anyone not that familiar with them, think a mix of talk radio and the more heated debates conducted on social media. The views expressed are quick and, at times, emotional responses to the issue of the day. And on some subjects, such as politics and sports, they become agitated and partisan pretty quickly. (Much like the House of Commons during Question Period.)

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Public editor: A banner year for investigative journalism

Sylvia Stead

It has been a banner year for investigative journalism in Canada. Witness the recent spate of awards for work that uncovers malfeasance or shines a light on deeply ingrained societal prejudices and problems.

This is an area where the established media excel – if only because it takes time, often months of investigation, and a real commitment to get beyond the daily news.

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Public Editor: Credentials must always be checked

SYLVIA STEAD

A profile story which initially described a man as a chiropractor running a school about osteopathy was changed this week to make two significant corrections.

The story on the business education hub was part of a series about how people use their MBA. The reporter searched online for MBA and chiropractor, found Shahin Pourgol of Toronto and decided to write a profile. She then went to his school and wrote about it.

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Public Editor: We need to talk about The Donald

Sylvia Stead

It’s no surprise that politics is at the heart of some very raucous and widespread debates – and not just those about what happens in the House of Commons (such as last week’s controversial “manhandling” incident).

What journalism does for these national discussions is (hopefully) provide enough information that you can make up your own mind, as well as offer opinions that may help order those facts and shape your thinking. This is never more important than when you are about to cast a ballot.

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Public Editor: No reason to give equal time to naturopathy believers

SYLVIA STEAD

There’s a concept in journalism that is an exception to the normal practice of being balanced to all sides of an issue. Not so in stories where the views of one side are discredited for any number of reasons. To give equal say to those who deny climate change or those who suggest the moon landing was fake would be a false balance. (Here’s a link to a Columbia Journalism Review explanation of the concept.)

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Public Editor: We’re not in the unpublishing business

Sylvia Stead

So far this year, I’ve had more than a dozen requests to remove articles, photos or caption information from The Globe and Mail digital archives.

The reasons vary. Some believe that, if there is a significant error, the content should simply disappear. One reader called recently about an error in an obit – and wanted the entire obit removed.

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Public Editor: Prose must be attributed

SYLVIA STEAD

A Media Culpa blog was forwarded to me by a reader last night about an issue in Saturday’s Margaret Wente column.

The blog by Carol Wainio noted similarities in several passages in the column compared to experts’ writing.

Ms. Wainio notes that the introduction in Ms. Wente’s column is similar to that of writer Jesse Ausubel, who is director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University. While both anecdotes refer to bears, Mr. Ausubel’s talks about the first fatal bear attack in New Jersey in 150 years while Ms. Wente writes about her own community’s experience with bear sightings along with other wild animals, referring to The Creemore Echo newspaper.

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Public Editor: Inconsistent style can be confusing to readers

SYLVIA STEAD

Readers have noticed a few inconsistencies lately in whether a politician is called Dr., Ms. or Mr. They wonder what the rules are and who decides. And they wonder if the variations are due to sexism or sloppiness.

Last week, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins visited the troubled reserve of Attawapiskat, which is facing a suicide and mental health crisis. In the same article, Federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said she was heartened by the efforts to help the community.

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Public Editor: The danger of trying – and failing – to be clever in journalism

SYLVIA STEAD

On Friday afternoon, a failed attempt to be clever in a blurb on a Facebook posting sparked the wrath of many readers.

It was about an amazing survival story that showed the courage and resourcefulness of two men and a teenager lost in a blizzard on Baffin Island.

Nunavut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak, his son and nephew were lost for nine days in what Canadian Press reporter Bob Weber called “one of the most forbidding environments on Earth.”

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Public Editor: Breakfast meetings with senator OK under Globe code of conduct

SYLVIA STEAD

Last week, an arbitration review of Senate expenses by former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie cut the amount of disputed expenses owed by 14 senators.

And when the RCMP dropped its investigation of 24 out of 30 senators on expenses, the only senator who took part in the arbitration but whose case has not been dismissed by the RCMP is Colin Kenny, who sits as an independent Liberal.

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Public Editor: At times, shock does have value

SYLVIA STEAD

Spread over two pages one day last week, the photo was arresting – and unsettling.

It showed a soldier from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) – a faction in the Liberian civil war 20 years ago – executing a man at close range. According to the caption, the man had pleaded for his life before being stripped naked and shot. The image was taken a split second after the executioner fired, his stance almost casual and just one hand on his automatic weapon. His target is recoiling, and you can see a spray of blood and other, likely brain, matter.

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Public Editor: Rushing a story is the No. 1 cause of errors in journalism

SYLVIA STEAD

If there is one thing that is the root cause of most errors in journalism, it is rushing through the details. Tied in with its corollary of not checking, these are the reasons why most mistakes happen, based on my experience writing hundreds of corrections each year.

How this happens is completely understandable. A number of stories are produced and written on deadline in a very compressed timeline. In the past week, in breaking news coverage of the U.S. primaries and the debates, there were two minor mistakes. One was a reference to Dennis Kasich rather than John Kasich (the Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate), the other a reference to the August Republican convention rather than the correct month of July. In both cases, the reporters had mere minutes from the end of the event to finish writing, do a quick overview and file for digital and print. In that rush, when you are focused on the main elements of the article, you can miss the details. The same is true for the editors, who also have minutes to check and review a myriad of facts before publishing.

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