As public editor, I hear from thousands of readers each year. Most want to point out errors or omissions. They might say more coverage is needed on a subject, or they believe there is political bias; others helpfully point out a mistake of fact or grammar or just a typo.
This year has been different in so many ways, including reader contacts. Yes, I still hear from those who suggest story ideas and note mistakes and that is greatly appreciated. But this year, I also heard from dozens – especially during the first wave of the pandemic – who were grateful for the science-based reporting and columns, and the daily online dashboard showing COVID-19 stats across the country.
Here’s what a few said:
“We so appreciate your accurate news. Even our nephews in the U.S. trust our Globe for info. Sometimes I think it is the glue to our country. Keep up the good work.”
“Thanks to you and all the journalists at the G&M. Your coverage of the COVID-19 crisis has been comprehensive, timely and thought-provoking. I turn to the online version multiple times a day.”
“Thank you to you and all the Globe staff for continuing to work and provide excellent coverage of the COVID-19 crisis. I read the Globe online every day for factual information. I hope other subscribers are also letting you and the publisher know that we are grateful for this necessary work in tough times.”
Those e-mails were shared with and appreciated by all the staff working from home, so thank you.
Due to the great interest in all things COVID-19 and higher readership, I replied to about 20 per cent more comments or complaints from readers in the past year, although the level of corrections was stable, between 400 and 500 for paper and online.
Names, titles and numbers are the most common errors, and names, in particular, should never be wrong. A misspelled name is always a significant error. More care needs to be taken, asking the person how to spell their name and how they want to be identified.
More thought should be given to numbers as well. When a mid-sized company is bought out by a larger company, is the cost really $132-billion? No, it was million. And, conversely, when a major international company reports its revenue, is it really $15-million? No, it was billion.
Some things can appear wrong, but they are right, such as a headline about a recipe for the Inedible Seven-Layer Dip by chef Matty Matheson. Several readers said, surely you mean incredible? But no, chef’s humour, that was the name of the dip and it looked good.
Corrections are written for significant factual errors and the practice is to say what was wrong and what was right. Just to show you how clever Globe readers are, one wrote in to ask me why that format wasn’t followed for one correction. It was related to a profile of the new federal Green Party leader Annamie Paul, showcasing her political and personal background. The piece mistakenly called her “the fourth woman to lead a political party in the country’s history…”
That was clearly wrong – especially if you look at provincial leaders of the past. So the correction needed to say federal leader and that she wasn’t the fourth.
“I greatly appreciate that The Globe takes the trouble to publish corrections, but I am puzzled (not for the first time) by the format policy being followed – today’s corrections are a good example. … How many women have in fact lead a political party?” a reader asked.
But a discussion of what was the true number quickly became bogged down. Do you count interim or acting female leaders? Do you count just major parties or parties with elected representation?
So rather than get into that fascinating debate in a tiny correction, we simply said she was not the fourth woman to lead a federal party. Perhaps that was a missed opportunity to review all the female party leaders over the years.
It’s readers such as this one who keep us on our toes. Best wishes to all of you for a better 2021 and please keep your thoughts coming in, either by using the “report an error” button on all online articles or by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org