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

Entry archive:

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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Public Editor: Vulgar? Inoffensive? It depends on how some words are used

SYLVIA STEAD

Some words and phrases will offend some readers. Yesterday, it was a “pretty prime minister” and separately a “union boss.” Months ago, it was “tuchuses.”

Such words are often used to add a little colour and flair in an article, to use less formal language and simply to have a little fun.

On Thursday, Simon Houpt wrote about how media in the United States, feeling exhausted by Donald Trump, seem thrilled to have a distraction with the visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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Public Editor: A parliamentary committee to save the news? Good luck with that

SYLVIA STEAD

This week in Ottawa, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage began to study how Canadians “are informed about local and regional experiences” by the media, whether broadcasting, digital or print.

It’s a noble mission, fuelled by a concern over protecting Canadian content while local newspapers are closing, newsrooms merging and jobs in journalism are being lost. But is it also mission impossible?

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Public Editor: Ghomeshi coverage was warranted, necessary

Sylvia Stead

The Jian Ghomeshi trial on charges of sexual assault and choking has concluded and we won’t know the verdict until March 24 when Justice William B. Horkins rules in front of what no doubt will be a throng of journalists and others ready to tweet, report and broadcast every small detail.

Not only has the trial garnered much attention, so too has the media coverage of it. A university class I spoke to Thursday wondered why columnists are expressing such strong opinions on a criminal court case.

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Public editor: Caution should be exercised in coverage of Zika virus

SYLVIA STEAD

The Zika virus and the health fears have grabbed the attention of the public and the media. While the interest is there, there have also been calls to use caution in the coverage of the virus and its link to serious birth defects such as microcephaly (babies born with smaller heads and brains).

“I see that GAM is not going nuts with Zika, while [broadcast media] are doing lots of ‘Canada scared’ stories. I applaud the decision-making not to frighten. Is this a conscious decision?” one reader asked.

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Public Editor: Media hurting but still producing memorable journalism

Sylvia Stead

It has been a bad week for journalism: 200 jobs lost in the broadcast and publishing wings of Rogers Media, and the closing of one of the nation’s oldest daily newspapers.

The Guelph Mercury would have celebrated its 150th anniversary along with Canada next year, and its demise set off a flurry of comments from shocked and saddened members of its staff, past as well as present.

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Public Editor: The perils of relying on anonymous sources

Sylvia Stead

On Wednesday, the lawyer for the man charged in an impaired driving crash that killed three young children – Daniel Neville-Lake, 9, his brother Harrison, 5, and sister Milly, 2 – and their grandfather Gary Neville, said his client will plead guilty as a demonstration of his remorse.

Lawyer Brian Greenspan then held a brief scrum outside the Newmarket, Ont., courthouse to explain what had happened and answer any questions.

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Public Editor: Why The Globe has to be shown the errors of its way

Sylvia Stead

First the good news. The growing volume of material The Globe publishes – especially online – has not led to an increase in the number of errors being made. Two years ago saw a notable decline in published corrections and, now that this year is drawing to a close, I see there are still around 40 a month, down from the previous 50 to 60.

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Public Editor: Sexy, game changer, plus other clichés and overworked phrases

Sylvia Stead

Recently, I wrote about the clichés and overworked phrases that drive readers up the wall. It sure resonated with our audience, who sent a bucketful of irritants my way.

Let’s start with one phrase that writers should stop using. It’s been used 19 times in The Globe in the past year -- “falls on deaf ears.” A mother of a deaf university graduate wrote in to say it is “always in a negative context, suggesting those who are in fact deaf … cannot think or are unwilling or unable to respond to ideas or engage in real debate. This loose derogatory language creates the impression that deafness creates a simple, incapable and illiterate mind.”

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Public Editor: Readers question relevance of Trudeau nannies story

Sylvia Stead

A few readers this week have wondered why the media, including The Globe and Mail, have been picking on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the nanny issue.

“Trudeau Nannies !!!!!!!!!!!!!” shouted the subject line from one reader’s e-mail.

“Who is managing the Globe and Mail these days and what is wrong with his/her thought process? Is there nothing else to report on but this kind of nonsense?” one said.

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Public Editor: A ‘mastermind’ can be a criminal or a terrorist, too

Sylvia Stead

What’s in a word? More than it may seem. Journalists are constantly reminded that their audience cares greatly about how stories are told.

For example, there was a flurry on social media after intelligence officials referred to Abdelhamid Abaaoud as the “mastermind” of the Paris attacks. People objected to the word and wanted The Globe to ban it from descriptions of terror suspects. (The one in question died a few days later in a police raid.)

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Public Editor: The Globe’s baby boomer series sparks intergenerational debate

SYLVIA STEAD

On Saturday, the centrepiece on the front page of The Globe and Mail pointed to an excellent series called “The Boomer Shift” in Report on Business.

The articles weren’t just for baby boomers but for society at large. The stories were about how this dramatic shift in demographics will reshape our economy and whether governments and Canadians are really ready for the expected economic downturn. The series continues this week.

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Public Editor: A mountain of election coverage that covered all the bases

Sylvia Stead

Next week Justin Trudeau will be sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister, but the dust has yet to settle on the lengthy – and fascinating – campaign that brought him to power.

[Read The Globe’s digital timeline of the election campaign.]

The 78 days of electioneering spanned three long weekends, and generated a veritable mountain of coverage. This newspaper alone published no fewer than 231 news and analysis articles, 134 photos and 122 columns, with even more material appearing online.

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Public Editor: Keeping up with the Trudeaus – names and titles

SYLVIA STEAD

Here’s a little style and spelling test. Two of these recent references are correct and one is wrong. Can you guess which?

1. Hadrien Trudeau

2. Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau

3. The Trudeaus are Canada’s “first family.”

Answers:

1. Justin Trudeau’s youngest child with wife Sophie Grégoire is Hadrien, with an “e,” not an “a.” On Saturday, Oct. 3, a photo caption used the incorrect “a” spelling, but the feature by Ian Brown on Mr. Trudeau properly used the “e.”

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