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

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Video on horse giving birth to twin fillies. (Reuters)
Video on horse giving birth to twin fillies. (Reuters)

Public editor: Certain phrases draw complaints Add to ...

A few issues have come up this week from readers who wonder why certain phrases were used in stories…

But first, one reader was shocked and not amused to see this headline on a video: Horse gives birth to twin girls.

That would be a shocker if actually true. The reader wondered, “Is this an article about some sort of interspecies surrogacy? No, it is an article about a horse that had twins, fillies presumably. I am disappointed by mistakes that happen in The Globe that are obviously the result of automatic spell checkers but they are understandable. This is a higher level of ignorance…”

The video itself reports on the horse having “twin daughters,” which is also not correct. It is wrong and fillies would have been correct.

In another case, a reader questioned a photo caption on a story in Saturday’s paper about a bus crash in California. The top of the story said: “It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 1,000 kilometres north. Those dreams shattered for some … in an explosive freeway collision that left 10 dead…” The caption on the photo described the scene showing the bus “carrying low-income high school students to Humboldt State University.”

The reader wondered about the relevance of calling the students low-income. “Does the socioeconomic status of these young people diminish the tragic impact of their deaths? Would the tragedy be any greater or more worthy if these kids came from privileged rich families?”

I felt quite the opposite. In my view, saying they were low-income was both fair and accurate and made the story more tragic because these students from an underprivileged region were on their way to visit a university to find a better future for themselves.

And finally there is the phrase “known to police.” Here’s a note from one reader: “I’ve noticed a rather disturbing trend with ‘professional’ media outlets the past decade or so; cheap tabloid-like ‘reporting’, seemingly getting worse and worse as the years go by. Whenever a person dies an ‘unnatural’ or ‘suspicious‘ death, or when our saintly police forces are involved in the slightest degree, the newspapers diligently report to the slavering public that the deceased person was ... “Known to Police”. Why? What is the point of this? It’s tragic enough that the person has lost their life, but now it must be publicized with a not-so-veiled implication that ‘they deserved it’ because they were “known to police”? Truly? There are plenty of good-hearted and good-natured people who unfortunately have criminal records.”

As with the previous example, I think it is another piece of information that can help inform the readers.

I would be interested to hear if you think this phrase should be reconsidered. Please send me an email at publiceditor@globeandmail.com on this or any other question or issue you would like to raise.

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Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

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