Tag Archives: Globe and Mail

Death to unsigned editorials

A lot has been said about newspaper endorsements just prior to Monday’s federal election.

As we now know, the Globe and Mail bizarrely endorsed the Conservative Party of Canada but not its leader, leading to mockery online. And Postmedia, my employer, ordered its newspapers to write editorials endorsing the Conservatives. That decision led to spiking an Andrew Coyne column that would have argued differently, and Coyne resigning as comment page editor for the National Post.

Despite what the editorials in question say, there are some serious questions that can be asked about why so many mainstream media outlets are openly calling for the re-election of a government that has been so hostile and unhelpful toward the media during its last mandate.

But even then, it doesn’t bother me so much that newspapers endorsed the Conservatives. (They’ve been doing that for a few election cycles now.) What bothers me is that the endorsements happened under the cover of anonymity.

It wasn’t until the Globe and Mail got Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey to confirm it that it was clear the order came from up top, that the editorials represented the positions not of the individual papers’ editors-in-chief, or publishers, or editorial boards, or collective of journalists, but of executive management of the parent corporation. The fact that each newspaper wrote their own editorial (except the Sun Media papers, which ran a common one) seemed, frankly, deceiving.

Even I didn’t know who made the call on this. And I work there.

And it’s not just Postmedia. Last year, the Globe and Mail overruled its own editorial board, switching an endorsement from the Ontario Liberals to one of the Progressive Conservatives.

If the editorials had carried the boss’s byline, or a line that said the endorsements were the position of executive management, at least it would have been clear. Everyone would have had all the information needed to evaluate the endorsements’ value. And they would be evaluated based on their content and source, not the process used to get them published.

Without that information, we’re left with opinions whose sources are unclear. We are in effect granting anonymity to the source of an opinion piece, one with the power of the newspapers’ reputations behind it.

I’m not outraged, but I am disappointed. Despite all the challenges, despite all the changes that have caused quality to suffer, despite all the decisions made that I’ve disagreed with, I remain proud of the work I and my colleagues do at the Montreal Gazette, and will continue to defend it against those who say it’s worthless. And the Globe and Mail’s reputation remains excellent, as do many other papers caught up in this.

Because I know this isn’t about “evil corporate media”. It’s a lot more complicated than that. While there was outrage over front-page advertisements that banked on newspapers’ reputations to try to sway the election (The Gazette wasn’t one of those papers, it had a Linen Chest wrap that day), Postmedia has taken steps to make it clearer to readers how advertisers are influencing their content. Advertorial content is clearly disclosed, and generally uses a different layout style and fonts than editorial content. Where there’s a possibility of confusion, there’s a note saying the story was written by the advertising department instead of the newsroom.

Newspaper election endorsements are such a silly issue to me. When was the last time your mind was changed on something because of an unsigned newspaper editorial? And yet it seems to be the only time when upper management at Postmedia, the Globe and other papers seem to care enough to impose their will on editorial boards.

So I say death to unsigned editorials in newspapers. If the CEO or publisher or whomever wants to veto an editorial board’s decision and issue an election endorsement, let that person have the courage to put his or her own name on it.

And that goes for all other editorials, too. If it’s a collective decision of the editorial board, list their names. If it’s the publisher, put the publisher’s photo next to it and email address underneath. That would also have the effect of better shielding journalists from the public’s blame for those editorials.

“As far as we’re concerned, if you’re the editor, you support the editorial position of the newspaper,” Godfrey is quoted as saying in the Globe and Mail article.

I’m with Coyne on this. It’s not wrong for colleagues to disagree on things. It’s not wrong for the media to publish opinions they disagree with. In fact, these things should be encouraged. Because employer-enforced groupthink isn’t how society progresses.

But this isn’t the hill I’m going to die on. Because I can work for people I disagree with.

The Globe Ad Fail

Newspaper advertisements – both in print and online – often suffer from failure of context, where the ad seems inconsiderate next to specific kinds of news stories (usually bad ones).

In newspapers, it tends to happen because advertisers don’t know what copy will appear next to their ads, and copy editors often (for good reason) don’t know what ads will appear next to their copy. The most obvious example is an ad for an airline next to a story about a plane crash (which is why airlines regularly pull their ads after plane crashes, and editors are told not to put plane crash stories next to airline ads).

The Globe and Mail Jan. 20 Pages A8-A9

In today’s Globe and Mail, American Express has one of those special-order ads, the ones with a weird shape that dominate pages without filling them, purposefully leaving holes for editorial copy so that readers’ eyes will stay on the page.

The ad reads: “Tired of standing in line?” (or, more accurately, “Tired of standing in liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine?” – the lower-case “I”s like little stick figures weaving across the two-page spread), with a kicker that talks about travel (it doesn’t say so explicitly, but the assumption is plane travel for a vacation).

You can probably figure out where this is going by now.

Two editorial holes appear on the page, and both contain news about Haiti. On the top, two standalone pictures from photographer Peter Powell of people struggling for survival. The headline reads: “Where food and water are worth fighting for”. On the bottom, an article from Paul Koring about the overtaxed Port-au-Prince airport.

It’s not just an ad fail, it’s a huge, spectacular double fail filling a two-page spread in the middle of the A section of Canada’s national newspaper. Making fun of standing in line is cute anywhere in a newspaper except next to a picture of starving Haitians beating each other up for the necessities of life. And having an ad about vacation travel works everywhere except next to a piece on how the airport is congested at the most awful place on the planet right now.

It’s not like it was a massive coincidence that this stuff ended up on this page. Haiti coverage is all over this paper, and has been for the past week.

So, then, I have to ask: Did no one at American Express Canada (wow that’s a silly name) think for a moment that the holes they left for editorial content might be filled by news from a disaster that’s already a week old, and that such coverage might not play well with their campaign? Did no one in the Globe’s advertising department put two and two together?

This is the risk you run when you book these kinds of ads, especially in the A section. Advertiser beware.

See also: Timothy Hunt, who points to a similar problem with a similar ad in another edition.

All your eggs in one Scribd

This blog post at the Globe and Mail is kind of funny.

It started off innocent enough: the Globe wanted to embed a part of the auditor-general’s report into a news article, so it posted a chapter to a website called Scribd, which converts PDFs into embeddable Flash applications.

The auditor-general, however, apparently took exception to that move. It wasn’t because of copyright infringement – the report is freely available on the AG’s website. It was because, the office said, “On the Scribd website, it appears, or it makes it appear, that anyone using the document or accessing the document has an ability to adapt the content and use it in different ways.”

Their concern was people altering the document, and potentially making others believe the alterations were genuine.

Setting aside for the moment the AG office’s apparent misinterpretation of technology and the power people have to alter other people’s Scribd documents, not to mention the fact that this in no way prevents people from forging AG reports (is this really a big issue? Is there a huge auditor-general-report counterfeiting industry out there I don’t know about?), I suppose such a concern makes sense. And besides, all they were asking was to link to the report on the AG’s website instead, a small accommodation.

The Globe initially relented, replacing their embedded Scribd document with a link to the PDF on the AG’s website. But after the public (well, okay, noted copyright activist Michael Geist) objected, the Globe changed its mind and reposted the Scribd document.

The auditor-general, determined to push its case, then filed a copyright infringement claim with Scribd itself, and Scribd took the document down. The Globe responded by hosting a copy of the PDF on its server and pointing to that.

As Geist says, this is a clear case of government exploiting crown copyright against the media (unlike in the United States, government publications and works in Canada are subject to copyright, though it is rarely enforced). It also brings up questions about the Globe’s editorial processes and the auditor-general’s office wanting to control information.

But the last part of this story makes me wonder: Are we relying a bit too much on fly-by-night third-party free-as-in-beer services?

It’s one thing to use Google Analytics or WordPress or Linux, but Scribd? Twitter? CoverItLive? These services are young, run mainly out of venture capital financing (instead of a sustainable business model), and there’s no guarantee they won’t just close up shop tomorrow, taking all our data with them. (And unlike Linux or WordPress, they’re not open source, which means they control their software and your data.)

As the Scribd case showed the Globe, the service can unilaterally delete your data, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Twitter has periodic outages that nobody can control, yet some have already turned Twitter into a mission-critical component of their business model.

Just because it’s free – even to big media companies – doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Journalism: It’s just for fun

The Globe and Mail has launched a new contest: Journalism Dream. The winners of this contest (one writer, one photographer) get a some-expenses-paid trip to Vancouver where they would become part of the Globe’s Olympic team in February.

Except, they wouldn’t be treated the same as the rest of the Globe’s Olympic team. While real journalists will get all their expenses paid, plus a proper salary, these “guest” journalists get airfare and hotel, a laptop and $1,000 spending money, which works out to $200 per photo assignment or article that they’re expected to write over the two weeks of the Games.

According to the rules: “Prize winner and his/her travelling companion are solely responsible for all costs not expressly described herein including, without limitation, applicable taxes, fuel/currency surcharges, ground transportation, meals, beverages, room service, gratuities, merchandise, telephone calls, insurance together with any required travel documentation, and all personal expenses of any kind or nature, together with any applicable overnight layover. … No further compensation will be made to the guest journalists for their submission of articles/photographs.”

Some of you might think that this is an equitable trade, even a beneficial one for participants in the contest, especially if you consider the $1,000 (which would be used for things like meals) as payment for the articles or photos.

What bugs me about this contest, though, is just that: it’s a contest. Becoming a journalist is seen as some sort of prize to be won, rather than a job to work hard for. And this, by one of Canada’s most prestigious newspapers.

One of the big problems facing journalists these days is this impression people have that it’s somehow glamorous. So many people want to become TV reporters or newspaper columnists, and so few positions are available, that the cost of journalism is being brought down (the law of supply and demand). Freelancing rates have been stagnant (or even decreasing) for decades as inflation has reduced the value of those rates. New outlets (both traditional and new media) use “citizen journalism” as a code word for replacing expensive professionals with amateurs willing to do the work for free in exchange for what they hope will be fame or recognition (in the end, that never comes – even TV reporters and newspaper columnists can walk around town without being noticed).

CBC Radio’s The Current explored the issue of internships on Thursday (after an article in the New York Times about people paying to get unpaid internships), and it’s no surprise that media interns were a big part of that. (For others, you can check out the Unfair Internships blog).

I realize I’m part of the problem here. I took two unpaid one-week internships (one at the West Island Chronicle, another at CBC which led to a handful of paid shifts in radio), though I should point out that neither of those were major factors in getting my current job (which began with a paid internship).

I also work for free for this blog (though in that case, at least I’m exploiting myself and marketing myself at the same time). Though a few people stop me to say they love it (one cute girl told me that last night, in fact), I don’t pretend that I’ll get famous or rich through it, or that it will ever replace the work done by professional investigative journalists.

Still, the thought of turning this into a contest prize giveaway like some cheap laptop…

The Toronto/B.C. Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail is being all proud of its new Toronto section, which includes a content-sharing deal with the Torontoist blog.

In a chat with readers, Toronto editor Kelly Grant took a few minutes from being so gosh-darn adorable to counter a complaint that I was about to make: Isn’t this supposed to be a national newspaper? Here’s what she said:

I think you underestimate The Globe’s ability to do more than one thing at a time. We  have always been and always will be a national paper — in print and online. We have more resources in more parts of  Canada and around the world than any other newspaper in the country. This new initiative won’t diminsh our superb national and international coverage.

Those of you who don’t read the paper in the GTA and Ontario may not realize that we usually dedicate roughly two pages of space in the A-section to Toronto news. We have different editions across the country. (In B.C., for example, we have  a large bureau and a section front full of news you won’t see in other parts of Canada.) Yet online we buried the work of our expanded B.C. and Toronto bureaus until recently. I see no reason to shortchange our loyal online readers in two of  Canada’s largest and most important cities, especially when I know it won’t hurt our coverage of other parts of Canada.

She’s got a point, and the B.C. website is also impressive. But considering how little attention other places get (like, say, the entire province of Quebec) compared to Toronto City Hall, I still find myself wondering if the Globe is too focused on the few streets outside its two homes instead of the rest of us.

Let’s hope Canada’s national newspaper slowly moves to cover every city like it does the country’s largest.

Globe’s solution to recession: Add managers

The Globe and Mail is rearranging the deck chairs reinventing itself to create a sustainable future, and just days after excitedly launching a redesigned website, Editor-in-Chief Edward Greenspon has been fired, replaced by Report on Business editor John Stackhouse.

In a memo to employees from publisher Phil Crawley that’s filled with corpspeak, there’s lots of talk about a new focus on digital (I thought they were already focused on digital), and the news that he will be adding another senior executive to take on technology responsibilities that were under the VP of operations.

So as the paper cuts 90 staff in response to a recession, it is adding a new employee at the top.

Sadly, the Globe is not unique in thinking that guys in suits writing memos about synergy and “reimagination-inspired teamwork” are solutions to their problems instead of expensive wastes of offices and salaries.

Globeandmail.com redesigned, broken

The new Globe and Mail website

The new Globe and Mail website

In case you haven’t noticed already, the Globe and Mail redesigned its website this week.

The site is excessively slow right now, which I assume is only temporary, but still quite embarrassing.

As if to underscore how little has actually changed, the video introduction by Edward Greenspon (which I can’t embed here but looks like it was shot in a basement in the 80s) talks a lot about how great the website has been doing but very little about what’s actually changing, beyond the “new nav bar” (exciting!)

The old globeandmail.com

The old globeandmail.com

Among the changes from the old site:

  • URLs lose their /servlet/story/RTGAM…/BNStory/home nonsense, replaced by search-engine-friendly URLs like this one that are based on the headline. This change will probably make the most difference for traffic reaching the site.
  • After going overboard on the grey in their last layout, it’s much less prominent here in favour of black and red (making it look a bit Maclean’s-ish).
  • Speaking of colours, each major section is colour-coordinated, including a rather garish purple for Globe Life.
  • Gone is Trebuchet MS, replaced by serifed Georgia for headlines.
  • The story pages are much cleaner and less cluttered, but for some reason photos are limited to 360 pixels wide.
  • No more page showing articles that were in that day’s print edition, supposedly because they’re all found in their respective sections now and don’t need their own page.

But the most pretentious change is the name: It’s being rebranded from “globeandmail.com” to “The Globe and Mail”, because, Greenspon says, “it is the Globe and Mail and everything is integrated”. I can see the point (even if every newspaper says that and subsequently ignores it by spending 90% of its effort on the print edition’s front page), except Greenspon keeps referring to it as “globeandmail.com” and the video ends with the old brand.

Overall, I think it’s a positive change, if a bit over-hyped.

Globe settles with freelancers

Heather Robertson’s 13-year legal battle has finally come to an end.

More than two years after the former Globe and Mail freelancer won her class-action case at the Supreme Court of Canada in a nuanced and split decision, the paper and its pursuers agreed to an $11-million settlement to her and other former freelancers for the Globe’s illegal use of their works in a searchable electronic database.

This case is similar to that of a group of freelancers who are suing The Gazette and Canwest.

The court’s ruling essentially said that the Globe could reproduce copies of the paper in other media (microfiche, digital editions, CD-ROM, etc.), but that piecemeal repurposing of content (like in electronic databases) was not allowed unless permission was sought from the writer.

The Globe says this issue is “primarily a historical matter from the days before The Globe and Mail entered into written contracts with our freelance contributors.”

What that means is that the Globe (and other large Canadian newspaper publishers) now have strongly-worded freelance contracts that give blanket permission to the publisher to do whatever they see fit with a submitted piece – including putting it into a database or transmitting it through any media (even if it doesn’t yet exist).

UPDATE: Reaction in the blogosphere from freelancers Giancarlo La Giorgia and Mary Soderstrom.

Globe and Mail up for three EPpy Awards

On the same day that the Pulitzer prize winners were announced, Editor & Publisher also announced the finalists for its EPpy Awards, which up until now I had never heard of. There’s just so many journalism awards I tend to miss some of them.

Unless something escaped me, the Globe and Mail is the only Canadian finalist, and it’s in three categories. Once again I point out that the announcement fails to include any links, so I do so here:

UPDATE (May 7): Winners announced, and bolded above.

La Presse? What’s that?

Speaking of the linguistic divide, this from a story in the Globe and Mail about the state of newspapers:

In Canada, every major newspaper company (including The Globe and Mail) has undertaken significant layoffs in the past year and the Halifax Daily News has folded.

Now, I follow Canadian media pretty closely, and it’s true that Canwest, CTVglobemedia, Sun Media, Torstar, FP Newspapers, and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald have announced layoffs. But unless I missed an announcement somewhere, Gesca (La Presse, Le Soleil) and Le Devoir haven’t, and certainly haven’t undertaken “significant layoffs” unless they did so secretly.

But I guess since they’re French papers, they don’t count.

Come on, people, I can’t keep this country together by myself.

Another day of newspaper pink slips

The Globe got 60 people to agree to buyouts, but that still wasn’t enough, and they’ve laid off 30 more for a total reduction of 90. The cuts were previously announced, but now we know a third of them are involuntary.

Meanwhile, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, which we’ll remind you is newly without competition, is firing a quarter of its newsroom staff, confirming previous rumours.

Globe to publish on three Sundays, layoff staff

The Globe and Mail today gleefully announced that during the 2010 Olympics, it will produce special Sunday editions for the first time in its history. Unfortunately, they’ll only be distributed in British Columbia, where the games will be hosted, and they’ll only go out on three days: Feb. 14, 21, and 28, 2010.

Naturally, the article rams down our throats that these will be collectors’ editions and that people should buy 150 copies each.

What it didn’t so gleefully announce, according to J-Source, is a “voluntary separation” program to reduce staff at the paper. The email also threatens non-voluntary layoffs if not enough people choose to leave, which it suggests is likely. No hard number is given as far as the number of reductions the Globe needs. UPDATE: The Globe says between 80 and 90 people need to go, representing about 10% of the total workforce. Other coverage from AP and Reuters.

This appears to be unrelated to the 105 jobs CTV cut in November, as those were at its television assets.

For those who may know someone facing less-than-voluntary separation, Globe blogger Craig Silverman has some suggestions on how to deal with them.

Journalists watch TV

To those of you who might think that our local papers are getting too lazy in their reporting, and look to the respected media like the Globe and Mail and New York Times for insightful analysis on important issues, I point you to the following:

The Globe and Mail has an article about how big Vanna White’s head is. Literally. Who knows how much CBC paid the Globe to write an article about Wheel of Fortune just before it starts airing on the network, but this is certainly an interesting angle to take on it. Will the next piece be an in-depth look at Alex Trebek’s moustache?

Meanwhile, the New York Times summarizes last night’s Colbert Report, regurgitating the jokes made by New York governor David Paterson, who was the headline guest.

Globe thinks colour will solve newspaper crisis

The Globe and Mail and Transcontinental have signed a $1.7 billion, 18-year deal for the Montreal-based printer to print the newspaper everywhere but the prairies.

The highlight of the deal (from the Globe press release) is a promise from Transcon to buy new presses capable of printing full-colour on all pages. Currently newspapers have to budget which pages get colour and which stay black, mainly because colour is a four-plate process (CMYK) and black requires only one plate and one colour ink. (The change will also mean a shorter paper and another redesign)

That sounds pretty cool. But spending $200 million on new presses to satisfy an 18-year deal (2010-2028) when we’re not even sure that newspapers are going to last that long?

Like the New York Times and other larger papers, the Globe will probably weather the crisis a bit longer than most (the fact that it hasn’t drastically cut the number of journalists recently certainly helps). But 20 years is a long time in the future, especially when you consider where we were 20 years ago. In 1988, newspaper staffs were at their peak, television production values practically nonexistent, and nobody knew what the Internet was.