Thanks to technology, we’ve become accustomed to news updates on demand. Reporters abroad can file stories wirelessly to their editors, just as anyone can record video and share it with an international audience with a few taps on their smartphone.
So when readers perceive gaps or a lack of balance in The Globe’s Israel-Hamas war coverage, they may not imagine in this age of instant communication that journalists are facing serious barriers to eyewitness reporting. (I discussed the issues facing photographers and photo editors in last week’s column.) And striving for balanced coverage doesn’t necessarily result in – or require – an equal tally of words on each side of the conflict, especially on Opinion pages.
The Globe has had three correspondents on the ground. When in the field, they discuss what they will be covering each morning with foreign editor Angela Murphy. Even with their deep experience in reporting from war zones, access is a constant challenge – and what they cannot access, they cannot report.
In the newsroom, staff scour the wire services to understand what is happening more broadly and publish stories the correspondents are not able to get to. The Globe’s guidance dictates balance in news stories when reporting on deaths and injuries suffered, specifying: “Casualty figures – deaths and injuries – should always be attributed when included in stories. This can come from wire services such as the Associated Press or Reuters. Figures from combatants can also be cited. We should strive for balance and always cite figures from both sides.” Staff discuss coverage priorities and the overall mix of stories multiple times a day.
A great deal of time is spent to ensure the facts are correct, and that may mean The Globe publishes later than some other news sources. Coverage of the Gaza City hospital explosion of Oct. 17 is an example of what can go wrong in a rush to get breaking news out. Several news organizations, including The Globe, ran initial coverage with headlines that attributed the explosion to an Israeli strike. As more information became available, The Globe and others quickly updated those stories online, but incorrect details had already been allowed into the world for a couple of hours.
Six days later, The New York Times published a note explaining: “Given the sensitive nature of the news during a widening conflict, and the prominent promotion it received, Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.”
Journalists are human and, despite their training and the procedural guidance of their newsrooms, mistakes happen. The only way to address such errors is to make a correction, and communicate that correction, as soon as possible (as The Globe did here).
Articles published with the Opinion label are curated differently, and to understand why, it’s important to think about the purpose of commentary in a newspaper. Opinion offers a range of viewpoints on current events, and is meant to inspire discussion, even debate. A reader might come away from an op-ed saying, “I never thought of it that way.”
While opinions may be personal, and even intentionally controversial, they must be reasonable and supported by research. In the Saturday print section, editors often package articles on the same topic together to tell that story in a deeper, more faceted way.
The first Saturday following the Oct. 7 instigating attack centred on “Israel’s agony,” while the following week pivoted to Gaza and the humanitarian crisis. In between, editors published a deeply personal take from a Palestinian-Canadian writer. Although by the very definition of Opinion, writing balance may not be found in an individual article or single print edition, editors strive for it in the mix of articles they publish over the course of days and weeks.