A reader from Stratford, Ont., asked this question about travel articles: "Increasingly travel articles in The Globe contain the disclaimer that the writer was a guest of the featured hotel or service, but that the article was not reviewed or approved by the said hotel or service. … Why is this acceptable for travel articles, and apparently car reviewers, when it would be clearly a violation of journalistic integrity if it was done, for example, in the political realm, or for theatre reviews. How would we feel to read, 'The reviewer of the play was the guest of the Stratford Festival Theatre, but the article was not reviewed or approved by Antoni Cimolino [artistic director of the Stratford Festival]?' "
It's an excellent question. The reader is correct in noting that there are more travel articles that are funded at least in part by a travel group or hotel. Movie and theatre reviews are treated differently.
For the question of journalistic integrity, The Globe and Mail's Editorial Code of Conduct says: "The guiding principle is that editorial staff members may accept no benefit of more than nominal value offered to them because they work for the newspaper or globeandmail.com."
It also says: "Free admission to sports and entertainment events or access to professional services may be accepted for review purposes."
Finally, the code deals specifically with such cases as travel stories: "Accepting press or media rates for travel is acceptable for certain features, with the approval of a senior editor. In the interests of transparency, any story written by staff members or freelancers that is based on free or discounted travel arrangements must include a disclosure to the reader as to the discounted or free services."
It is usual practice for film reviewers to attend screenings before a movie opens and the screenings and tickets are provided to the media.
Canadian theatre critics do not generally attend previews of productions, Globe theatre critic Kelly Nestruck says, because they would not be a fair representation, as live shows usually have a few "kinks that can only be worked out in front of a live audience." Instead theatre critics will attend an official opening night, to which they are allotted two free tickets.
There is no disclosure mentioned on film and theatre reviews.
Should there be? In my view, the experience of attending a movie prescreening, for example, is quite different from being a guest on a cruise for example. The cost of a movie is modest (theatre a bit more), while the practice of prescreening for movies allows reviewers to write their article and give readers advice before the film opens.
Finally, the movie and theatre producers offer the same show to the reviewer that others will experience.
On the other hand, if a cruise company knows that the reviewer is there, the experience can be different from the one someone else would find on the same cruise. The practice of some free travel also raises the idea that the coverage can be much more positive and perhaps overlook some problems because the person is a guest.
Gabe Gonda, The Globe's head of Features and Weekend, said the travel editors try to match up writers with an expertise in an area with the free or discounted travel and that the coverage "would be far poorer without it. We try to be as discriminating as we can as editors with our subjects and we ask that our writers do the same. To be clear, we're not dealing mostly with reviews here, but with experiences."
It's important to note, as the stories say, that the travel company does not see the article beforehand or have any influence over it. The practice is transparent, which is most important, and ultimately it is up to the reader to decide how much the fact that the travel is free has affected the coverage.