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Public editor: Revisiting the mystery of the budget, the iPod and the tariff code

When things go wrong, it's important to look back and change your behaviour so you don't repeat the error. So, there are several things to take away from a blog post last week by University of Western Ontario business professor Mike Moffatt.

Professor Moffatt's Economy Lab post on the budget stated that the iPod faced a tariff increase effective Jan. 1, 2015. He based this on his own research of the tariff codes, including an e-mail to Canada Post about the tariff code for the device.

Professor Moffatt, who is an expert in tariffs, acknowledges that he is not a journalist. What most journalists would do if they thought they had discovered something new in a federal budget would be to ask for confirmation that their finding was true.

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His editor should have either asked him to check or asked one of the reporters to check. After the item was posted Thursday, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty sent out a note saying it was wrong and there would be no tariff on the iPods.

The Globe's business editors decided to take down the story from the website, in part because it was written so definitively. That action, taken in haste, resulted in a broken link for readers who had seen it on our site, in search engines or via social media. The next morning, I found out about the broken link on the story and suggested to one editor that we do not normally do that – unless there is a serious legal issue such as contempt of court. Generally speaking, if there is an error or a story needs clarifying, that is done in the same article with an editor's note.

While transparency is the right thing to do, a note posted Friday with the link was too definitive the other way in stating the file was incorrect when there remain many questions about the issue. The story should have stayed up with a note including the Finance Department's statement and the original post. Professor Moffatt wrote a new column a few hours later, which essentially replaced the first one, titled the mystery of the budget, the iPod and the tariff code and The Globe newspaper wrote a story about the Finance Department and Canadian Border Services statement that there would be no such tax.

If you want to write to me on this or any other subject, please do so at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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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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