Tag Archives: globe and mail

Media Watch: The Globe and Mail’s Shifting Headline

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):

comment-1

And slightly further done was a better comment pointing out some further idiotic ideas the Minister had for reforming the justice system.

comment-two

More interesting is that sometime in the later afternoon EST the Globe changed its landing page, acknowledging the “expert’s” true credentials.

GM-landing-page

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.

7:14pm Update

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.

How the Globe Editorial Board is Misleading You About Journalism

It was completely fascinating to read the Globe and Mail’s editorial board crow over its “victory” last week regarding the protection of confidential news sources.

Standing up for newshounds!” screamed the headlines, with a bold opening paragraph proclaiming:

The Supreme Court of Canada demonstrated respect and understanding on Friday for news reporting that depends on confidential sources. It set an appropriately high bar for judges who may wish to order journalists to reveal those sources, in civil or criminal cases. The court has in effect given the organized news media the tools to do investigative journalism in the public interest. [Emphasis mine.]

Wow, organized media has been *given tools* to protect the public interest? Yes! (According to the G&M…) Well, if this is true… Cue self-congratulatory text that plays into the trope (and myth) that traditional news media is essential for democracy!

In an era in which every blogger is a self-proclaimed journalist, the court clearly puts great stock in the organized media’s ability to probe behind the closed doors of powerful institutions. [Emphasis mine.]

The Supreme Court – again, according to the G&M – has ruled. Only journalists for the big news companies are real journalists that can enjoy the protection of the court.

This, if it were true, would be really big news. It might even justify such self-congratulatory rhetoric. The ruling however, is not this cut and dry. In truth, it provides no real new tools; the Globe‘s lawyers extracted little from the courts in the form of new protections; and the protections that do exist exist for everyone, not just journalists.

As a result, what is really disappointing about all this is that the Globe‘s editorial is at best misleading, attempting to lure Canadians into believing that traditional news media companies enjoy rights that are special and unique to them (and further, implies those rights are new). At worst, the piece suggests the editorial board clings to a world before the web – confined to an outdated worldview where “creators” who could legitimately report on or talk about the news were separated from “consumers” who passively absorb it. Previously, this worldview was made possible by the technology of the printing press, which kept production in the hands of a few; now that publishing is available to virtually anyone, the Globe‘s editorial board seems interested in finding a new way to limit this freedom – when they should be expanding it – by attempting to cast the law as a restrictive force whose benefits are enjoyed by only a few (them) and not everyone (us). It’s a dark perspective for the country’s leading editorial board to take.

Intrigued? I hope so, because what the ruling did say matters.

So what did the ruling say and what does it actually mean? Let’s look closer.

This Was a Draw, Not a Win.

Conversing with the eaves.ca legal team*, the consensus is that the ruling is a draw, not a win for the media. Very little has changed. Prior to the ruling, ascertaining if a confidential source deserved protection was up to the courts who used the four part Wigmore framework to make their assessment:

  1. the relationship must originate in a confidence that the source’s identity will not be disclosed;
  2. anonymity must be essential to the relationship in which the communication arises;
  3. the relationship must be one that should be sedulously fostered in the public interest; and
  4. the public interest served by protecting the identity of the informant must outweigh the public interest in getting at the truth.

Nothing about this case changes this framework. Courts, not the media, continue to determine if a source should be confidential, and the criteria have not changed. In short, the media has not been given “new” tools. Essentially the same tools as before apply.

Indeed, this case is at best a draw (albeit an important one) for the Globe‘s lawyers. This is because they were arguing for new and special rights, specifically the recognition that “the basis of the journalist-source privilege is a constitutional one.” In other words, they wanted to court to state that journalists have an inherent right to protect sources in the same way lawyers have a special solicitor-client privilege or medical doctors have doctor-patient confidentiality privilege. However, as the decision states:

the Court was unprepared “[t]o throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever ‘sources’ they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality and on whatever terms they may choose to offer it.”

Ouch. That’s not a victory, it’s outright defeat. Indeed, the court doesn’t even think journalists are a group with any unique rights as it:

also rejected the existence of a class-based privilege, on the basis that there is no formal accreditation or licensing process for journalists in place, as there is for lawyers for example, and no professional organization regulates the profession and maintains professional standards.

But that’s not it. On the fourth Wigmore criteria – the question of public interest – the Globe‘s lawyers also wanted the onus to shift to the party seeking production/testimony. In other words, to keep a source secret it shouldn’t be up to the Globe to persuade the courts that the story IS in the public interest, but up to the other party (person, corporation and government) to persuade the courts that it ISN’T in the public interest.

But the court did not agree with this request either:

The Court rejected this argument. Given that the evidence is presumptively compellable and admissible, the burden of persuasion remains on the media to show that the public interest in protecting a secret source outweighs the public interest in criminal investigations. The Court ultimately concluded that every claim to journalist-source privilege — be it in the face of testimonial compulsion or the production of documents — is situation specific, with the public’s interest in the freedom of expression always weighing heavily in the court’s balancing exercise. [my bold/italics]

Strike two.

So, to recap so far: First, the court has not made journalists a special class.  We all enjoy the rights to publish content and if that content were tested legally, the Wigmore framework would be applied to our sources. Second, the court essentially preserved the Wigmore test, so it has not “given media the tools”; it has simply preserved and reaffirmed the tools that already existed. Essentially the courts mostly sustained the status quo that existed before the lower court upset the apple cart.

I don’t want to belittle this outcome. This is an important victory for all Canadians as it preserves everyone’s ability to engage in investigative journalism if they so choose.

So what’s with the language in the Globe‘s editorial? Why claim a big victory and dump on bloggers? What you are really reading is a lot of spin. Which is part of what makes the editorial so frustrating – I hold the editorial board to a high standard, and I expect them to not spin stories, especially about themselves and a subject as serious as freedom of speech.

So let’s unpack that spin…

Mixed Messages

The first is the effort to qualify the victory.

As we previously saw, the Globe‘s lawyers argued that journalists should be a protected class and journalist-source relationships should enjoy constitutional protection. As we also saw, however, the Supreme Court did not agree. But look at the quote from the piece below:

“Bearing in mind the high societal interest in investigative journalism, it might be that he [Mr. Leblanc] could only be compelled to speak if his response was vital to the integrity of the administration of justice.” That is a high bar, indeed. The protection of sources should never be absolute, but the Quebec Superior Court will have to give it full consideration, in light of the important public interest at stake, when it ultimately decides the matter.

So first, the bar did not really move. Yes, the court overturned the lower court, but it essentially re-affirmed the Wigmore framework. Again, this is great news, but this is something preserved, not gained.

But more intriguing was the editorial board saying that the protection of sources should never be absolute. A constitutionally protected journalist-source relationship either is absolute, or if I understand it correctly, pretty close to absolute. So why say it shouldn’t be absolute when this is what your legal team was essentially asking for? One suspects that had the court given journalists a special, constitutionally protected relationship with sources (which really would have demanded a dramatic editorial) than the paper would have argued that the journalists sources had finally achieved the absolute protection they so richly deserve and need.

Burying the Lead

But what is particularly interesting about the Globe‘s editorial piece is its treatment of pretty much everyone who isn’t employed by the mainstream media. The entire framing of the piece is that this is a win for journalists and the media, even though the court goes out of its way to say they are not a protected or even recognized class.

Indeed the real story is that important rights that belong to all Canadians have been preserved! But that story is buried.

Rather, the Globe seems very keen to divide the country into two groups – creators (that’s them) and (passive) consumers (that’s you).  Coming back to the first quote from the piece, the Globe notes that.

In an era in which every blogger is a self-proclaimed journalist, the court clearly puts great stock in the organized media’s ability to probe behind the closed doors of powerful institutions.

In fact, the court does no such thing. First, the Wigmore framework applies to anyone who publishes. That would include people like myself who blog. That also means you (since really anyone can blog, or tweet, or publish something these days).

Second – and this is where it feels like the editorial board really misleads the public – the court did not put great stock in organized media. Indeed, if anything, it went out of its way to say it put very little stock in it.

The basis of the above line in the editorial is, I presume, this part of the ruling:

Justice Binnie put particular emphasis on the significance of the third and fourth factors [of the Wigmore framework], in the journalist-source context. The third factor, whether the relationship is one that the community should sedulously foster (para. 57), introduces a certain degree of flexibility in the evaluation of the different types of sources and different types of journalists. He suggested that whether the relationship is between a source and a blogger, or between a source and a professional journalist, will impact upon the court’s weighing exercise.

So yes, the credibility of the person will matter. But this also means a fly-by-night newspaper may not enjoy the same protection as an established blogger. But even here the wording is quite conservative – “a certain degree of flexibility” and the difference is “suggested.” This is all pretty qualified, and hardly a sign of the court putting “great stock” in established media.

Of course, what little there is gets watered down even further in the next line of the ruling:

But, according to Justice Binnie, the fourth factor [of the Wigmore framework] does the lion’s share of the work, and the court’s task is to “achieve proportionality in striking a balance among the competing interests” (para. 59).

So the public interest is what really matters – not who (e.g. blogger or newspaper) is seeking to preserve the confidentiality of the source.

In Conclusion

This piece is, in many way, a continuation to a piece I wrote in December after a previous Supreme Court ruling which the court went out of its way to put journalists, bloggers and citizens on a equal footing. In the same vein, my problem with the editorial board’s piece isn’t that they played up the significance of their victory – it is still an important victory. It’s that the piece suggests the victory is the (large) news industry’s to enjoy exclusively (or at least, that we ordinary citizens may only enjoy its benefits through them). This is not the case and it does a disservice to citizens, bloggers and journalists to suggest as such.

The Globe and Mail will likely have a long and illustrious reign as the newspaper of record of Canada – but that reign is more likely to continue if it provides credible insights into both the technological and legal realities of the digital world. This editorial suggests that it does not; and I believe that the country, and the paper, are weaker for it.


*Thank you for those who helped me with the legal legwork on this piece, and for those who’ve stuck through to the end; I know this is an unusually long post.

Urban Aboriginal Interview and survey

For those who haven’t caught it, there is a great piece/interview by Jeffrey Simpson of Mark Podlasly in the Globe and Mail about urban aboriginals, identity politics and economic opportunity. I encourage you to take a look – it’s a quick read.

If, however, you find all of this deeply interesting… I strongly encourage you to swing over to the Urban Aboriginal People’s Survey website and, to even download the report. The report summarizes the findings of the first survey of Urban Aboriginal People in Canada – looking at their identity, aspirations and situation. The questions were designed, and the conclusions shaped by, an Aboriginal advisory circle so that the substantive of the report has been driven by first nations people. Mark – happily – was a part of this circle.

As Canadians this is deeply interesting and important stuff. An increasing number of aboriginal people live in cities and they are forming a growing part of the work force. It’s an issue that is likely to impact many communities – especially those in the west. Hope you find it interesting!

Open Canada – Hello Globe and Mail?

Richard Poynder has a wonderful (and detailed) post on his blog Open and Shut about the state of open data in the UK. Much of it covers arguments about why open data matters economically and democratically (the case I’ve been making as well). It is worthwhile reading for policy makers and engaged citizens.

There is however a much more important lesson buried in the article. It is in regard to the role of the Guardian newspaper.

As many of you know I’ve been advocating for Open Data at all levels of government, and in particular, at the federal level. This is why I and others created datadotgc.ca: If the government won’t create an open data portal, we’ll create one for them. The goal of course, was to show them that it already does open data, and that it could do a lot, lot more (there is a v2 of the site in the works that will offer some more, much cooler functionality coming soon).

What is fascinating about Poynder’s article is the important role the Guardian has played in bringing open data to the UK. Consider this small excerpt from his post.

For The Guardian the release of COINS marks a high point in a crusade it began in March 2006, when it published an article called “Give us back our crown jewels” and launched the Free Our Data campaign. Much has happened since. “What would have been unbelievable a few years ago is now commonplace,” The Guardian boasted when reporting on the release of COINS.

Why did The Guardian start the Free Our Data campaign? Because it wanted to draw attention to the fact that governments and government agencies have been using taxpayers’ money to create vast databases containing highly valuable information, and yet have made very little of this information publicly available.

The lesson here is that a national newspaper in the UK played a key role in pressuring a system of government virtually identical to our own (now also governed by a minority, conservative lead government) to release one of the most important data in its possession – the Combined Online Information System (COINS). This on top of postal codes and what we would find in Stats Canada’s databases.

All this leads me to ask one simple question. Where is the Globe and Mail? I’m not sure its editors have written a single piece calling for open data (am I wrong here?). Indeed, I’m not even sure the issue is on their radar. It certainly has done nothing close to launching a “national campaign.” They could do the Canadian economy, democracy and journalism and world of good. Open data can be championed by individual advocates such as myself but having a large media player repeatedly raising the issue, time and time again brings out the type of pressure few individuals can muster.

All this to say, if the Globe ever gets interested, I’m here. Happy to help.

The Irony of Wente, Opinions, Blogs and Gender

Once again a Globe Columnist talks about technology in a manner that is not just factually completely incorrect but richly Ironic!

Earlier today Margaret Wente published a piece titled “Why are bloggers male?” (I suspect it is in print, but who knows…). The rich irony is that Wente says she doesn’t blog because she doesn’t have instant opinions. Readers of her column likely have their doubts. Indeed, I hate to inform Ms. Wente that she does have a blog. It’s called her column.

Reading her piece, one wonders if Wente has ever followed a blog. Her claim that women don’t like to emit opinions every 20 minutes struck me – as an incredibly active blogger – as odd. I post 4 times a week. Of course, as anyone who actually uses the internet knows, there is a blogging like medium where people are more predisposed to comment frequently (although not every 20 minutes). It’s called twitter. But if, as Wente claims, women are hardwired to not share opinions, why then – according to Harvard Business School – do women outnumber men on twitter 55% to 45%? Indeed, what is disturbing about the Harvard survey is that rather than some innate desire to have opinions, women suffer from the disadvantage of having their opinions marginalized for some other (social) reason. Both women and men tend to follow men on twitter rather than women.

But forget about the complete lack of thought in Wente’s analysis. Let’s just take a look at the facts.

Her piece starts off with the claim that men are more likely to blog than women. Of course Wente doesn’t cite (or hyperlink? the internet is 40 years old…) a source so it is hard to know if this is a fact or merely an opinion. Sadly, a quick google search shows Wente’s opinions don’t match up with the facts. According to a 2005 Pew Research Centre study (look! A hyperlink to a source!):

“Women and men have statistical parity in the blogosphere, with women representing 46% of bloggers and men 54%”

Awkward.

But it get’s worse. In The Blogging Iceberg by the now defunct Perseus’ Development Corporation claims that its research shows that that males were more likely than females to abandon blogs, with 46.4% of abandoned blogs created by males (versus 40.7% of active blogs created by males). That might even tilt the balance in favour of women… And of course, in France, that is what Médiamétrie has found, with over 50% French bloggers being female.

I do agree the men are potentially more likely to share their opinion than women. But there may be strong social reasons for this and it is clearly not that cut and dry. Many women have decided they want to share their opinions via twitter – indeed more women than men have. And of course, when it comes to being “quick to have opinions on subjects they know little or nothing about” men hardly have a monopoly. One need only look at Wente’s daily blog. Or, I meant to say, column.

Okay, that’s two blogs in one day. I’m taking tomorrow off.

Added March 19th: Nick C sent me a link to a fantastic post by Spydergrrl in which she points out that this was probably all a gimmick to get people to show up to an event Wente is putting on. It is a dark, unnerving perspective but one that sounds plausible. So, I say, boycott Wente’s event.

Today in the Globe: Facebook's Political Reach

I have the following piece published in the Globe and Mail today. It isn’t going to further endear me to Michael Valpy (who is already not impressed with me)… but felt another perspective on the issue was needed. He, like many traditional columnists, is not a fan of social – or digital – media. Indeed, he has argued it is destroying our country’s social cohesion and democracy. Those familiar with me know I feel differently . By allowing us to self-organize, connect to one another and to our politicians, social media is enabling a different and very powerful type kind of social cohesion and democratic expression.

I respect Valpy a lot and hope we get a chance to sit down and talk social media at some point. Given our collective interest in journalism and statements like this, it feels like it would be fruitful for both of us. Hopefully it will happen.

Facebook’s Political Reach

Yesterday, Michael Valpy posted an interesting piece about a Nanos poll showing Canadians – including younger Canadians – question how much influence political Facebook groups should have on any government.

The problem with the piece lies in the headline: “Facebook forums shouldn’t sway government, young Canadians say.” It suggests that online activism – or social media in general – isn’t credible with the public. This, however, isn’t what the poll showed. Indeed, the poll says little about the credibility of Facebook, particularly compared to other forms of political activity. It does, however, say a lot about social media’s dramatic growth in influence over the past five years.

Critically, the poll didn’t compare forms of political activity. If one had done a similar poll asking whether Canadians believe a demonstration should sway the government, or if direct action – such as when Greenpeace hung a banner from Parliament – should alter government policy, would the numbers have been dramatically different? I suspect not. Governments have electoral mandates – something Canadians broadly agree with. Most political activity, both on and offline, is designed to shape public opinion and ultimately, people’s decisions at the ballot box. That is a threat influences government.

Consequently, it may not be the medium that matters as much as the number of people involved. Do people believe the government should pay attention to a 1,000 person rally? Likely not. Should they pay attention to a 10,000 person Facebook group? Likely not as well. But at a certain point, with large enough numbers, almost any medium matters. Would people think that the government should reconsider a policy in the face of 10-million-person petition? Or a five-million-person Facebook group? Possibly. What about a 500,000-person march? Even this might prompt respondents to reconsider their response.

Ultimately, the Globe article jumps to a negative interpretation of Facebook too quickly. This is understandable in that traditional news organizations are still coming to grips with social – and digital – media. But by allowing us to self-organize, connect to one another and to our politicians, social media is enabling a different and very powerful type kind of social cohesion and democratic expression.

More interesting is how split Canadians appear to be over political groups using Facebook “to share ideas, information and to help mobilize their activities” (30 per cent have a positive view, 30 per cent have a negative view and an enormous 40 per cent are undecided). Here is a technology few Canadians knew existed five years ago, and it is already viewed favourably by a third of Canadians as a way to engage with political groups. As people become more familiar with these online activities I suspect comfort levels will rise, since many people often don’t initially understand or like new technologies. This survey shows us online political organizing is moving into the mainstream – perhaps even more mainstream than a protest or a petition.

So should Facebook influence the government? The prorogation debate shows it already can. But do people believe Facebook should be less influential than other (more traditional) forms of political activity? In this, the survey reveals very little. Indeed as Nik Nanos, the pollster who conducted the survey, adds at the end of the piece (and in contrast to the title): “we still haven’t come to grips with what [Facebook groups] really mean.”

Facebook, Politics and Proroguing Parliament

I’ve got a special to the Globe and Mail this morning titled Harper underestimates Facebook at his own peril. I’m happy and surprised to see the piece has climbed to the top of the site in terms of views (see sidebar)

Part of it is born out of the fact that a number of political commentators seem to discount online political engagement. I cite Matt Gurney in the piece as he seems to be upset about the current facebook group – although he was notably silent last year when there was a facebook group supporting the Conservatives and even attended a rally in Toronto that the online group helped organized.

Globe and Mail Most Viewed 2010-01-11 at 8.49.19 AMOf course, National Post commentators have a history of flip flopping depending on what helps or hurts the Conservatives so I’ll concede they may not have been the best group to cite.

More frustrating is the At Issue political panel on the CBC where Susan Delacourt says, “it is easy to just click on something, we’ll have to see what happens at the rallies” and Coyne saying “Will people show up at rallies.” (Around minute 9:30 onward)

What?

So politics only matters if it is hard? Next thing we know is that they’ll not only be against electronic voting, but promoting a system where you get to vote only after you’ve successfully run the Wipe Out obstacle course. Because only then will a voter have demonstrated that their vote should REALLY count!

obstacle courseSo pundit summary: We want citizens to care about parliament and are glad they are on facebook… but it only really begins to count once they start marching. Like we did back in the 60s.

Glad we cleared that up.