In the past year, I have noticed some common threads running through the many questions and comments I receive from our readers. The specifics vary, of course, depending on what's in the news, but here are my top 5 reader concerns (and what to make of them).
1. Bias: Readers who are politically engaged can be passionate about news coverage, columns and editorials, especially during election campaigns, when media coverage matters most. At times, some of them suspect The Globe and Mail of favouring one political leader or party over the others in its reporting. In such cases, it is important that the editors know what the public thinks, through e-mails, letters to the editor or online comments.
Some readers also feel that politicians are subjected to such close scrutiny that prospective candidates lose interest in seeking public office.
But others will argue that the media have a duty to inform – even if doing so has an impact on personal privacy.
2. Online nastiness: People can be passionate, and debates, even heated ones, are good in a democratic society. But some topics attract bullies, trolls or racists, who shut down reasonable discussion. At a recent meeting of people like me, colleagues from around the world said the same subjects bring out the worst: the Middle East, immigration and women's and gay rights (in Canada, I would add First Nations).
News organizations are trying different tactics to provide open forums while keeping personal attacks and extremism at bay, but the problem persists. I hear from readers every week either wondering why online comments have been closed on some stories or why certain remarks haven't been removed.
3. Lack of coverage: This is an interesting one. Reporters strive for scoops, and can be reluctant to match someone else's. Readers don't always care who is first – but they do care if a story is missing, especially one given major play elsewhere. Even if something has been dominant online all day, if it isn't in the morning paper, readers wonder why. Many still expect top stories to be validated by appearing in print.
4. Spelling and grammar: We expect the highest standard for the written word in The Globe. Yet problems persist – misspelled names, wrong dates or the dreaded homonym errors – and rarely, as shown by the corrections in the paper, escape our eagle-eyed readers.
5. Puzzle problems: It rarely happens, but a crossword or Sudoku can go missing, be repeated or be solved incorrectly. People truly enjoy their puzzles, so if there is an error, I soon hear about it.
Are there other areas you feel need improving? Please let me know for future columns (or my online blog) at firstname.lastname@example.org.