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Inside The Globe

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

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Public editor: Do comments expire and other reader questions of the week Add to ...

Here are two questions received from readers late last week with the answers below.

Q: I would like to know what The Globe and Mail does to the publicly posted comments in response to its online news articles. Are these archived in any way? If they are kept, how long are they kept publicly available? If they are deleted, when are they deleted?

A:From Jim Sheppard, executive editor of globeandmail.com: The comments are permanently attached to the articles so if an article lives forever (as much of globeandmail.com content does), they will live forever as well. The rules are different with wire copy from agencies used by The Globe and some of them do expire, along with their comments.

Q. It would be useful to know more about the processes, and checks and balances, followed by professional journalists employed by serious news organizations when they investigate and report the news. It would also be a helpful substantive reply to those legions of folks who are alleging media malfeasance and biased, unfair reporting on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his family… Could you spell out what is considered industry “best practices”?

A: This question arose from my blog last week about why comments are closed for legal reasons when journalists are free to write about the issues. The answer in that blog was that journalists have been trained on what they can say and they have editors to back them up.

It begins with university programs, where most journalists coming into the business are trained. This includes print, online, broadcast and magazine journalists, who all receive basic training in libel laws and any limitations on freedom of the press, including publication bans and contempt of court. Christopher Waddell, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, said that not only do all undergraduate and masters students take a mandatory course, there are regular updates whenever a court ruling affects a journalist’s work, such as the ability to protect sources.

“The definition of what it means to publish and broadcast is broadening. It starts with bloggers and social media, and many students are active before they become journalists. The issues of libel and slander do apply to everybody, now that we are all journalists and everyone should know the law,” Professor Waddell said.

From that starting point, organizations such as The Globe and Mail offers not only regular training to incoming summer staff and permanent staff, but it also offers courses when a court ruling updates the law.

For example, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2009 on its responsible communication defence, Globe lawyers held updated training sessions to all staff so they would understand the court’s reasoning and ruling. In addition, The Globe has a handbook, “The Editorial Code of Conduct”, which is given to all editorial employees and outlines best practices in terms of coverage and reporting.

If you have a question on this or anything else related to The Globe and Mail’s journalism, please comment below or send me an email at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

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