Earlier today the Globe and Mail had one of these truly terrible “balanced” articles about the proposed federal crime bill. The headline screamed: Quebec expert backs Tory crime bill amid U.S. warning on sentencing. (Image below)
So who was this expert you might ask? A university professor with years of research on the subject? Maybe some breakthrough research by a young grad student? How about a researcher from a think tank that has been investigated the issue?
Wrong on all accounts. It was, in fact, former Justice Minister Marc Bellemare from the province of Quebec. Of course, you might say… “being a Justice Minister problem should make you an expert.” If only this were the case. If Minister Vic Toews has taught us anything it is that you definitely don’t have to be an expert in something to become a Minister. Nor does being a Minister make you an expert. But the real kicker is that Marc Bellemare was minister for just under a year. Sworn in on April 29th 2003 he resigned on April 27th 2004. Of course, the article makes no reference to the current Justice Minister of Quebec, Jean-Marc Fournier, who is both opposed to the Crime bill and has been minister since August 11th, 2010. That’s a year and a half longer making him 50% more of an expert than Bellemare!
I suspect one of two things happened (both of which I now know are wrong – see update below). Either the Globe reporter simple used language that came packaged in a press release that referred to Marc Bellemare as an expert or worse, in pursuit of “balance” the journalist felt compelled to label Bellemare’s an expert given the second part focused on how a large number of US republican “tough on crime” legislators who created mandatory minimum sentences in the 90s are trying to role them back because they have been a total failure in addressing crime and a disaster financially.
Of course Globe and Mail readers noticed the problem with the “expert” right away. The most voted for comment was the following one (yes, I voted too, might have been my first time):
And slightly further done was a better comment pointing out some further idiotic ideas the Minister had for reforming the justice system.
More interesting is that sometime in the later afternoon EST the Globe changed its landing page, acknowledging the “expert’s” true credentials.
I think this speaks volumes about the Globe – in a good way. Nobody is perfect, we make mistakes. Sun prides itself on getting facts wrong to tell a story and the Globe is demonstrating that they take the opposite tact. So this post isn’t to say “the globe messed up,” it’s about how newspaper can and should react to feedback from readers. It doesn’t mean you change everything all the time, but there are times when the feedback points to changes that will bring about greater clarity. It also says a lot about the power of the audience.
However, it is worth noting, the headline on the story page… remains unchanged.
I’ve made some errors of my own in the above post. I assumed above that the journalist had chosen the headline, this is, in fact, not true. As one of the editors from the Globe has pointed out to me on twitter, it was the editor who made the choice. Any assignment of blame on the journalist is misplaced, I definitely apologize for that on my part.
The Globe has amped up its deceptive headlines considerably in recent months along the lines of the New York Post and Sun Media. This appears to be a strategic move for whatever reason I cannot fathom. Surely the paper realizes that its editorial policy is the farthest right on any other Canadian publication. It used to be that the reportage was free of editorializing, giving the paper a ‘fair and balanced’ appearance. With this shift to editorializing headlines in favour of the right, the Globe has taken another step towards irrelevancy. You’d think that in light of the 90% of Canadian media being conservative, the Globe could market very favourably to the starved progressive market. I guess it’s just a matter of ideology at the top trumping the better judgement of the rest of the staff. Kind of like the Conservative party.
“So this post isn’t to say “the Globe messed up,” it’s about how
newspaper can and should react to feedback from readers. It doesn’t mean
you change everything all the time, but there are times when the
feedback points to changes that will bring about greater clarity.”
Scott Rosenberg has been thinking and talking about newspaper corrections for some time now — have you heard of his initiative http://mediabugs.org/ , which is a bugtracker for mass media? Another example: http://www.wordyard.com/2011/07/28/the-case-of-the-new-york-times-terror-error/