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

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Public editor: Answering reader questions on The Globe’s updated code of conduct Add to ...

On Saturday, I wrote about the updated Globe code of conduct. There were many responses from readers in my public editor inbox and also in the comments section of the blog. One particular section of the code garnered the most reaction. On the first page of the section “journalistic principles”, it says:

The credibility of the reporting, analysis and opinion in The Globe and Mail rests on solid research, clear, intelligent writing, and maintaining a reputation for honesty, accuracy, objectivity and balance. To these ends, the following rules and principles apply. A distinction must be maintained between the editorial views of The Globe and Mail and the coverage, selection, editing and play of the news.

So what exactly does that mean? Here are the comments from a few readers who challenged that section:

– “If the G&M’s code of conduct stipulates ‘accuracy, fairness and clarity’ and hopefully an absence of bias, how do you reconcile those principles with the editorial endorsement of a political party?”

– “When do you suppose The Globe & Mail will start to sign their editorials?”

– “Your bar is not set ‘very high.’ You claim to be unbiased in your coverage of politics and yet at the end of your ‘independent’ journalistic investigations you endorse a party and paternalistically tell us what our conclusions should be from your supposed independent journalism. The owners of your paper will replace any of you if you do not represent their political agenda … This is unpaid advertising, and this is why they own a media outlet. This is their right. The Sun, funnily enough, has more credo than you because it has no pretensions about being unbiased.”

– “How can you talk about a code of conduct when two of your commentary writers … are so obviously in concert with the Liberal party but make no disclosure at the beginning and end of their columns? After reading their columns for many years it is so obvious where their sympathies lie, but they both refuse to stand up and set the record straight.”

– “The Globe and Mail should make all writers disclose their positions when making comments on politics and other important issues of the day.”

– “Even while I understand the need for The Globe to survive in a community of business readers/advertisers, surely your thoughts about ‘responsible reporting’ ring a bit hollow?”

– “I am writing regarding the separation of the news and the opinion sections of The Globe and Mail. The code of conduct states that ‘A distinction must be maintained between the editorial views of The Globe and Mail and the coverage, selection, editing and play of the news.’ Does this mean that there is a clear separation between news and opinion at The Globe, as there is at other newspapers such as The New York Times?”

The last statement – that there is separation between the editorial views and the news coverage – means that these two sections cannot influence each other. It is a public vow that the news editors will not be influenced by the opinion of the newspaper in the editorials to favour one party in terms of coverage, selection and play of the news. The editorial board operates quite separately from the news operation. They write opinions with the authority of the organization on important issues every day, but it is the electoral support that really drives readers up the wall. (By the way, the editorials are unsigned because they represent the voice of the newspaper and not any individual writer.) But the code says regardless of which party is formally supported in an editorial, the news coverage will be fair and balanced.

Of course whether the news coverage is fair and balanced is subjective, and the committed political supporters will object to a perceived bias. Several readers wrote in to object to what they saw as the bias of several columnists. Columnists, of course, are paid to have strong opinions and to make the readers think and debate the issues, but they do think for themselves and don’t speak for one political party or the other.

Here’s another related question:

– “I understand the right of any news source to use its ‘editorial opinion’ as a reason for excluding the voices of some, but I have hunted high and low in search of any reference to statements by Thomas Mulcair or any other New Democrats in response to the budget. Is there no room in The Globe’s ‘guiding principles’ that would guarantee the official opposition a soupcon of opinion?”

I searched for “Mulcair” and “budget” and found this video, this story and this story.

Here’s another question from a reader:

– “I wonder what The Globe’s policy on ethical journalism is when it comes to a comment which points out how the story/reporter has either missed or misinterpreted something essential in the story. It is not an error of fact as much as an error of omission or interpretation. Are Globe reporters required to respond to this [comments] online?”

This is a great question, but more difficult to answer without knowing which story it was and what essential element was missed. It might be that the element was not known at the time and there should be a follow up story. As to the question of responding to comments online, no the reporters are not required to do so. Many will read the comments on our site and on Twitter and other social media to see what the readers are thinking, and often this will generate an idea for another story.

If you have any questions or comments on the code of conduct ,please comment below or send me an email at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

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