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Public Editor: Passionate debate by Globe readers is invigorating

Let's look at a few examples of the great debates taking place among readers who post comments on the articles on – and what makes them stand out.

Great debates are often feisty, sometimes angry and always passionate. They become passionate because people care so much about the issue. It is a hallmark of a democratic society that such debates are encouraged as the best way to air all viewpoints and get to the bottom of what matters to people.

I covered Ontario politics for many years for The Globe and Mail. Most days during Question Period, when the politicians were playing for the media and the cameras, the questions were pointed and partisan. And this was a good thing because it held the political leaders' feet to the fire. Opposition MPPs tried to knock cabinet ministers off their message track with new information based on their research or a clever way of asking a question that often elicited something new. If you've never been to see these debates, you really should go.

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This week, there have been a few good examples in comments posted to that have raised great issues and have seen hard fights in the corners.

In the first case, The Globe and Mail's editorial board called on the newly re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone pipeline. These days, rather than just print a few letters in praise or (mostly) opposing the viewpoint, e-mails flood in with very passionate criticism against the editorial. (By the way this is a new feature, a morning online editorial called First Take.)

The top-rated comment online took aim at the editorial asking: "Why on earth would the 'time' to approve the pipeline be immediately after an election? I don't care much for politicians who think like that, and I certainly have even less patien(ce) for journalists who approve and actually have the lack of decency to encourage such disreputable behaviour. Always on guard for democracy, eh?"

Here's another commenter who took aim at the editorial: "I guess Hurricane Sandy was a chimera and global warming a hoax . . . or the writer of the piece has not a clue about the effects global warming is having on our planet. Must be nice to live in a bubble of your own imagination."

No doubt Keystone will continue to be a live issue, and it is invigorating to see the passion and fury around such an important issue to Canada.

Much debate also surrounded one of this week's Hot Button blog, a feature which reflects the buzz and chatter in social media. The post by Erin Anderssen made the point that while many are snickering about the alleged drunken performance by ABC's Diane Sawyer during U.S. election coverage, maybe she was simply exhausted or had health issues instead.

For days this was the most popular story on the site. The top comment on it (voted by readers with the thumbs-up feature) agreed. "Perhaps we should hold judgment until we know the facts. Is she diabetic? Was she having a blood sugar problem? Was she so exhausted that she couldn't function? If she truly was drunk, she needs help and shouldn't lose a wonderful career because of this one incident."

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The second highest-rated comment said: "Slurred speech and other such behaviour can be a sign of stroke as well which is not funny at all...."

Despite the differences in these two examples, in both cases you see readers engaging in thoughtful, often passionate, debate.

If you want to comment on what makes a good debate, please do so below. If you want to e-mail me on this or any other issue, please send a note to

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More


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