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

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Readers questioned the fairness of using such an extreme close up of Pauline Marois on the front page of The Globe of Sat., Mar. 8, 2014. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Readers questioned the fairness of using such an extreme close up of Pauline Marois on the front page of The Globe of Sat., Mar. 8, 2014. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Public Editor: Uproar over an extreme close up Add to ...

Saturday’s paper prominently featured two Canadian premiers, both women. In both cases, some readers were critical of the coverage, but for very different reasons.

Above you see the very close up, life size face of Quebec Premier Pauline Marois as the Quebec election campaign builds momentum. The editors said they had a long discussion about the choice on Friday, and felt it showed a determined, battle-hardened leader. It is not a campaign shot that the candidate may want, but she looks human and tough.

One woman tweeted that the photo was “powerful”, but several other readers had a different point of view. “On Saturday you featured my Prime Minister , yes my Prime Minister our Québec Prime Minister. I am shocked and angry of the close up intentional chosen picture .You should all be ashamed of your front page,” one reader said.

Here’s another: “At first, I though the photo of Ms. Marois was just a cheap shot. No one looks good in an extreme close-up with harsh lighting. Grace Kelly would have been hideous under the same circumstances. Thinking some more, I am now convinced Ms. Marois is delighted with the photo. The photo reveals much more about English Canada and The Globe and Mail than about Ms. Marois. Not sure you will have the intended effect here. Ms. Marois may well laugh all the way to the polls.”

Another reader suggested the choice said more about the discrepancy in portraying women. “One may not like or appreciate Ms. Marois for whatever reason, but printing her face so large, with that expression, shows your newspaper's bias not only against the party she represents but also of WOMEN .

As far as I can recall, there has not been a photograph of that type , on the front of The Globe and Mail of a male politician.”

In fact, The Globe has run several very close up photos of male politicians within the past few months alone including Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama and today Pierre Karl Péladeau.

The editors understood this would be a controversial choice to show such a close up. News photos are real photos of real people, not staged or photo-shopped to show people in the best light. Along with the words “the breakup artist”, it conveyed an image of a fearless, tough leader who will be pushing hard for Quebec sovereignty.

The second Premier featured was Alberta Premier Alison Redford with both a news story in the A-section and a column in Focus on how Ms. Redford “almost became a hero for working moms and dads.”

She is a working mother as the Focus front headline says and that part of the debate is important in terms of working mothers and parents everywhere. But both the article and the headline also said incorrectly that she is a single working mother.

Several readers objected to a correction on page 2 of the same day newspaper when it was a fundamental error. “I don't think a routine corrections note is sufficient for the egregious mistake,” said one.

“You've got Alison Redford's marital status wrong – how can that possibly happen?” one reader asked.

The simple answer: human error. An incorrect assumption was made and the fact was not checked. A serious error of fact.

“[B]uried in the fine print of the corrections is the statement that a Focus column on Saturday incorrectly described Premier Allison Redford of Alberta as a single mother. In fact, it said, she is married. Think about this for a minute. The Globe knew the article was factually incorrect. It published it anyways. It printed what can only be described as a bizarre correction. Most corrections appear in a subsequent edition. This appeared in the same edition, and referred to a column on Saturday. Instead of implying it had happened on the previous Saturday, it should have said it appeared in today’s edition.

Probably, the column should not have run with such a fundamental error, but if it was to, then the correction should have appeared in large print immediately above the article,” another reader noted.

These readers raise a very interesting point and a challenge to newspapers. The Focus section is printed before the rest of the paper. The error was caught after that section was printed but before the Front section was printed. It was right to run the correction on the same day (and to immediately correct it online) and to correct the record as quickly as possible.

It is unfortunate that it wasn’t caught in time and rather than run the correction with the article, the article should have been quickly rewritten.

The Globe’s code of conduct says that all significant factual errors should be corrected on page 2 in the paper and immediately online with a note saying it has been corrected. It is much easier to draw greater attention to an error online as happened in this case. The article says clearly “includes correction” and at the very top of the article it says: “The story has been updated and corrected. An earlier version stated that Alberta Premier Alison Redford is a single parent. In fact, she is married.”

Clearly worded, transparent corrections about errors are the standard at The Globe. Sometimes issues and serious errors deserve more attention than a correction on A2 and that is in part what this blog is about: discussing significant issues raised by the readers and learning some lessons (as in never assume and check the facts) from them. Features Editor Gabe Gonda said another lesson is that the editors should have asked a colleague familiar with Alberta to check it before publication.

Oh and by the way, Saturday was also International Women’s Day.

Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

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