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(Kevin Van Paassen)
(Kevin Van Paassen)

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Comment Q&A Add to ...

Guy Nicholson: Hello, I'm Guy Nicholson, the online editor for Globe Comment. Have you ever wondered how Globe and Mail editors choose guest contributors or evaluate letter submissions? How editorial board writers come to a position, or where illustrators find their cartoon ideas? Comment editor Natasha Hassan and editorial board editor John Geiger were with us on Wednesday, July 22, to field reader questions about their sections.

Natasha Hassan is Comment editor of The Globe and Mail. She joined The Globe in early 2005 as bureaus editor for the Report on Business, where she was responsible for the section's national and international news coverage. Ms. Hassan came to The Globe from the National Post, where she held numerous positions, most notably Comment editor from the paper's inception in 1998 till 2004. She was also a senior editor and editorial writer with the former Financial Post before the launch of the National Post. Prior to her career in journalism, Ms. Hassan worked as research co-ordinator for the Centre for International Studies.

John Geiger, The Globe's Editorial Board editor, won a 2008 National Newspaper Awards Citation of Merit. He studied history and political science at the University of Alberta, and is the bestselling author of The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible, which is being published in 14 countries this year. His four other books of non-fiction include the international bestseller Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition. Mr. Geiger has lectured widely, including presenting talks at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine - University of London and the 2009 ideaCity conference. He is a Senior Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, as well as being a Governor of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

A transcript of our discussion:

Guy Nicholson: Perhaps we could start by asking our featured editors about the essence of what they do. Natasha and John, what misperceptions do the public generally hold about your sections?

John Geiger: Thanks Guy. I oversee the Editorial Board, which is made up of editorial writers Sean Fine, Gerald Owen and Adam Radwanski. I also write editorials regularly. Occasionally, the board will borrow writers from other sections of the newspaper, to fill a vacancy or bring a particular expertise to the table. The editor-in-chief, John Stackhouse, is part of the board and participates in its meetings, particularly when major issues are being discussed. As readers know, editorials are unsigned. They represent the view of the board collectively, and speak for the newspaper.

In answer to the second part of your question regarding misconceptions, I am often surprised that some readers will take issue with the "right" of newspapers to take editorial positions. This complaint is usually registered when The Globe makes a political endorsement, such as in support of Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the last federal election. There is a view that newspapers should only be non-partisan observers. Of course that's true in terms of news coverage, but there's a long and proud history of newspapers weighing in with editorials. The editorial board often campaigns on certain subjects, and on occasion seeks to lead national debates.

In terms of a lesser misconception, I am often offered "editorials" by freelancers. The Globe and Mail does not accept freelance submissions for editorials, and in fact this is a common error. These freelance pieces are intended as columns, and they fall under Natasha, who edits the Comment (op-ed) page. Editorials are not the opinion of an individual but of the newspaper, and these are matters that are obviously decided in house, by the Editorial Board.

Natasha Hassan: Well Guy, the essence of what we strive to do every day is create the most compelling page of commentary for our readers - both in terms of substance and style.

The Globe and Mail is aided in this effort by our regular columnists. Margaret Wente never ceases to provoke and enlighten. The authority of Jeffrey Simpson and mischievousness of Rex Murphy keep readers alert and informed. Lawrence Martin, Rick Salutin, John Ibbitson and Lysiane Gagnon add spice and variety with their weekly contributions.

Around these columnists we build an op-ed page with submissions from outside contributors. We receive around 40 unsolicited submissions a day and we also commission columns so the competition is fierce for a very limited amount of space on the printed page. What do we look for in these 750-word submissions? Variety and timeliness, a strong argument, a fresh opinion, clear writing. News-worthiness is a plus. Credentials help. What we don't look for is ideological boilerplate, bureaucratic jargon, convoluted thinking.

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