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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: Why newspapers endorse political candidates

Sylvia Stead

On Saturday, The Globe and Mail’s editorial board endorsed John Tory as the next mayor of Toronto.

That led to a few questions from readers about the endorsement that I will try to answer:

1. Why endorse anyone?

Every day the editorial board writes in favour of or against public policies. The board members’ job is to study the issues behind the news articles and make reasoned argument about where government and society should be headed. Many English-language newspapers do this to advocate for improvements they want to see and as a service to readers. At The Globe, as with other newspapers, the view expressed is that of the newspaper rather than the individual writers and the aim is to have a consistent voice for the paper.

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Public editor: The trouble with online surveys

Sylvia Stead

Two readers wrote to take The Globe and Mail to task for its online survey last week on assisted dying. You see these daily questions on the homepage under “The Conversation” on the right-hand side about halfway down. Readers can click on yes, no, unsure/maybe on an issue in the news each day.

A reader in Ontario noted that last Wednesday morning, the question was about assisted dying. When he voted early that day, “it was running 80 per cent in favour after a few thousand votes.” That percentage is roughly in line with what published polls have demonstrated in terms of Canadians’ views. But by Thursday, he said, the numbers “showed 72 per cent against assisted dying. … I surmise that some group against this initiative got wind of your poll and had its members go to your website to vote. Can’t blame them for trying to exert their influence, however if my surmise is correct your polls will fast become useless.”

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Public editor: Advice from a long-time writer of letters to the editor

Sylvia Stead

For a full year, Esther Shannon tried a little experiment. She wrote a letter to the editor to The Globe and Mail six days a week for 12 months. Of those 312 e-mails sent, she had 11 published in the paper, an enviable record given the high number of letters received each day.

At the end of the year, she sent an e-mail to the letters editor explaining that her year-long project had come to an end. “My project was simply about daily writing within certain parameters. While the project began on impulse, I’m pleased that I managed to keep it going for a year and equally pleased that it’s now finished.”

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Public editor: The story behind a clarification

Sylvia Stead

The Globe and Mail has clarified a story on the Mississauga mayoral race that was in the paper on Saturday. It is an important race (as all elections are), but it is particularly interesting because Hazel McCallion, who has been mayor for 36 years, is not on the ballot.

The story is on the two major candidates, Bonnie Crombie and Steve Mahoney, who are locked in a tight race.

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Public editor: Without the media, some things would never be revealed

Sylvia Stead

This week, The Globe and Mail and other media published a story about the police investigation into a video that allegedly showed Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.

The articles were based on an Information to Obtain (ITO), which outlines the reasons the police have for seeking a search warrant. In this case, the police alleged the video could “provide evidence of … drug possession against Robert Ford.”

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Public editor: The Globe’s rating systems explained

Sylvia Stead

A reader wrote to us this week confused about the star rating system used in The Globe and Mail. “The number of stars at the top of the Leslieville restaurant review – this has to be an error. Only 1.5 stars? That’s NOT a recommendation. Yet the story seems to be saying it’s a good place to eat. Sounds like it should be at least 2, if not 3.”

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Public editor: Militaristic metaphors not helpful to people with cancer

Sylvia Stead

In the stories about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis, many people are talking about his “fight” and his “battle” against the disease and noting his strong personality.

But are these militaristic metaphors really helpful to people across the country who are dealing with various forms of cancer?

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Public editor: Why sometimes it’s okay for a travel writer to take a free trip

Sylvia Stead

A reader from Stratford, Ont., asked this question about travel articles: “Increasingly travel articles in The Globe contain the disclaimer that the writer was a guest of the featured hotel or service, but that the article was not reviewed or approved by the said hotel or service. … Why is this acceptable for travel articles, and apparently car reviewers, when it would be clearly a violation of journalistic integrity if it was done, for example, in the political realm, or for theatre reviews. How would we feel to read, ‘The reviewer of the play was the guest of the Stratford Festival Theatre, but the article was not reviewed or approved by Antoni Cimolino [artistic director of the Stratford Festival]?’ ”

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Public editor: More effort needed to run photos of women

Sylvia Stead

A reader from London, Ont., wrote this week to say she was annoyed with the weekend photo essay on the Toronto International Film Festival that featured eight photos: four centred on male stars, two fan photos and two showing the shoes of women stars.

“Two female stars and only their feet. Come on! Haven’t we got past the days when women are portrayed as clothes horses? You can do much better than that. Review the whole front section of the Saturday paper and you will notice a similar lack of effort to portray women’s faces – oh, except the gamine on the front page. Your unconscious omission has significant consequences. Both men and women are seeing with their eyes that only men are newsworthy. Shame!”

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Public editor: Why some words have accents in The Globe and others don’t

Sylvia Stead

I regularly hear from readers who complain that The Globe and Mail misses accents on Spanish, German or several other languages. They argue especially that an accent is often part of a name and is well known with someone like Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, which includes a tilde on the “n” in Pena.

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Public editor: Why Rob Ford makes balanced coverage difficult

SYLVIA STEAD

In a normal election campaign of a few weeks duration, The Globe and Mail and other media do their best to level the playing field in terms of news coverage. Editors monitor the number and relative prominence of stories and photos on the major party leaders and the Prime Minister or Premiers. News media have a responsibility to inform the public about their voting choices but also to present a balanced picture.

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Public editor: Globe stories on suicide show restraint

Sylvia Stead

I heard this week from both health-care professionals and readers about the coverage of Robin Williams’s suicide after my earlier blog and it reinforced to me that the writers must always think of the audience. The readership reflects society and many are personally dealing with depression and other illnesses.

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Public editor: Coverage should treat suicide as a public health issue

SYLVIA STEAD

Every suicide is a tragedy. It shows how hard life can be for some people, how much they struggle with finding joy and happiness and how unrelenting mental illness can be. And it causes a great deal of pain to many people who loved that person and tried to help.

In the case of Robin Williams’s suicide, it is a very wide tragedy because so many people loved his humour and sense of fun, but also a very wide opportunity for the media to talk about this public health issue.

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Public editor: Crowd estimate depends on your point of view

SYLVIA STEAD

So, just how many people were at two recent events in the country? The short answer is, it depends on a rough estimate and who is doing the estimate.

One reader was annoyed that a story on a poll mentioning Ford Fest said hundreds of people showed up to get free food and shake hands with the Toronto mayor.

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Obituaries pay tribute to notable lives but often with errors difficult to avoid

SYLVIA STEAD

Of all the pages in a newspaper, the obituary page is the most likely to be kept, framed and shared. To have an obituary in The Globe is a tribute to those who have lived notable lives, and the writers and editors hate to see a mistake mar that honour.

And yet, despite great care, there are errors. In the past year, out of 325 errors of all types in the paper and online, nine were in obituaries. Some were minor, such as an incorrect year for a certain prize won. Others are more personal and regrettable, such as an incorrect family connection or whether someone was indeed the first to accomplish a great deed.

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Globe readers often catch errors that others miss

Sylvia Stead

Globe and Mail readers are a smart bunch. They are well-educated, well-read and they spot errors that others don’t.

Several times, I have passed on reader queries about possible errors to both Canadian and world wire services and the editors for those services often say that only Globe readers had noticed the error.

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Public editor: Headlines are hard to write, but they must be precise

Sylvia Stead

The Middle East is a complex, complicated and very sensitive part of the world for news coverage. So news media must be careful to get the facts right and be cognizant of balance at all times.

On Monday, The Globe and Mail made a mistake in its front-page headline. It said, “Defying Hamas, thousands flee Gaza.”

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Public editor: Wording about adoptive children was insensitive

Sylvia Stead

An article about the Houston-area shooting that left two adults and four children dead this week prompted a reader to wonder why the story drew a distinction between biological and adopted children.

The article said, “All of the children were theirs, while two were adopted.”

As an adoptive parent, the reader said, “I shuddered when I read this, in particular the ‘while two were adopted.’ ”

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Public editor: The caption on this photo isn’t bull

Sylvia Stead

Globe and Mail readers are having a bit of fun with a photograph in Wednesday’s newspaper showing “a cow” jumping over revellers in the bullring in Pamplona, Spain, during the annual running of the bulls festival.

The photo has a headline saying, “The cow jumped over the crowd,” and shows a large animal with horns leaping over people.

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Public editor: No excuse for the wrong illustration

Sylvia Stead

On Monday, The Globe and Mail ran a feature with the headline: Habits of highly successful people: Traci Melchor in its Life & Arts section. The quotes from Ms. Melchor, a star journalist and now one of the hosts of CTV’s The Social, clearly show her incredible drive and positive attitude.

The problem was, the article was accompanied by a drawing, done by a freelance artist, of another very successful TV journalist, Cityline’s Tracy Moore.

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