If my inbox is any measure, Canadians are certainly feeling passionate about the federal election. Some say they believe The Globe and Mail's coverage has been slanted.
Here are two examples:
Why, they ask, was The Globe focusing on the trial of Senator Mike Duffy during the campaign, and giving the opposition leaders so much space to attack Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, when the case itself is not an election issue.
The answer is that it is an ongoing criminal trial with heavy political overtones and has offered insight into how the Prime Minister's Office is run. That requires coverage – journalists have the right and an obligation to ask pertinent and probing questions, whether they relate directly to the party's platform or not. News doesn't stop during a campaign.
Others want to know why The Globe didn't cover the Conservative supporter so furious at coverage of the Duffy trial that he shouted profanities at reporters covering Mr. Harper before being eased away by the party's staff. One reader asked if the story was deliberately ignored to help the Conservative Leader, but deputy Globe editor Sinclair Stewart says the paper's election focus remains on the parties, the issues and the leaders – not on offstage antics such as this. And I agree; this story was a sideshow.
This sort of criticism of media coverage has been going on for years, says Paul Nesbitt-Larking, a professor of political science at Huron University College in London, Ont.
He suspects that most media organizations hear from partisans, rather than the undecided. Those staunch supporters, he says, will seize on one part of coverage that they feel is negative and hurts their cause. "They tend to not see anything that is positive … and partisans want it all to be."
So does it really matter what the media say? According to Prof. Nesbitt-Larking, while media coverage can have an impact – amplifying some messages, for example – "a lot of research suggests less impact and less effect than might be suspected by some."
In my view, The Globe and Mail's impact should be in offering the news and views you need to make an informed choice. Sometimes, it means feature articles or opinions you won't like. One reader told me that, while he generally found "the newspaper's perspectives to provide insights (and facts) on topics to be both fair and multisided," he strongly objected to a recent column entitled "Harper hysteria a sign of closed liberal minds" because in his view it "deflect(s) attention from the issues that need to be discussed and examined, and focus(es) on the electoral persona of the current Prime Minister or his opponents."
While you are being bombarded with political advertising and one-sided rhetoric from all parties, the media need to offer an independent voice. In fact, its editorial code requires that The Globe maintain a reputation for "honesty, accuracy, objectivity and balance." At no time is this more important than during an election campaign.
That is why I, along with two Globe editors, am monitoring how much news coverage and how many photos are devoted to the various parties and leaders. We are watching for balance in terms of overall coverage, where it plays within the paper and the number of photos.
After the election, I will report on how well The Globe performed, with a few caveats. Separate news events such as the Duffy trial, which has been covered extensively, will not be counted.
Also, I certainly don't expect an exactly equal number of stories and photos, but rather fair and balanced coverage. Newsworthiness must be considered. For example, if one party were to have serious issues and start dropping in the polls, it would receive more coverage, although not the kind it probably wants.
In the U.S. presidential campaign, the Republican race has seen one candidate receive more attention on the nightly news than his 16 rivals combined. An analysis for CNN's Reliable Sources showed that talk about Donald Trump occupied a total of 36 minutes and 30 seconds on nightly newscasts by NBC, ABC and CBS. The next-closest candidate was Jeb Bush, who received merely nine minutes and 22 seconds.
That overweighting of coverage on Mr. Trump in the early days as a neophyte politician could be damaging in the long run. "A cult of personality can be more pronounced for a new and exciting personality," Prof. Nesbitt-Larking says, "but once the campaign goes wrong, you can see an equal and opposite campaign of denigration."
That is not what is happening in Canada where the amount of coverage drawn by the three main parties, at least, has been fairly close so far. The coming weeks will see the passions, the rhetoric and the complaints ratcheted up, so the need for impartial, balanced and comprehensive coverage of the important topics is all the more important.
Hysteria, profanities and Mike Duffy notwithstanding, it will be a fascinating campaign – and closely watched, by Globe readers at least.