So, for whatever reason, the Toronto Star decided to let readers play “You Be the Editor”. And since I love any opportunity to give my opinion on things, I decided to post the questions, my answers and my reasoning…
1. A Living columnist expressing her thoughts about winter fashion challenges writes that we shuffle through February “like overmedicated mental patients.” Do you publish this? YES/NO
Answer: NO – It’s cheap writing. If you can’t think of a more graceful, yet effective way of describing the “equilibrially challenged”, maybe writing isn’t for you.
2. Author Myrna Dey’s debut novel is the reader’s choice nominee for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The first sentence of the story refers to Dey, 69, as a “Saskatchewan grandmother.” Do you publish this headline: “Granny’s debut novel makes Giller Prize longlist”? YES/NO
Answer: NO – If you were to ask Ms. Dey to describe herself using the first word that pops into her head and she responds with “old”, then I suppose the headline is fine. But since she’s a Giller-nominated writer of fiction, whose book was among the first to be nominated by readers themselves, I have to believe the author of the story could do better than “granny”.
3. A news story reports that police have laid 57 charges against two Toronto residents in connection with break-ins in the Beach. Do you publish this headline: “Beach bandits face break-and-enter charges.” YES/NO
Answer: YES – Who doesn’t like alliteration?
4. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford attends a media event to mark the start of construction of the Eglinton-Crosstown line. A Star photographer takes several photos. Do you publish this shot of the mayor eating a Jamaican patty from a lunch truck? YES/NO
Answer: NO – If the Mayor was at the opening of the Jamaican Patty Festival, it would ne fine. But he wasn’t at the opening of any sort of food fest, he was at a TTC event. As such, intentionally posting a unflattering photo of the Mayor pounding down a snack is a cheap shot.
5. The Toronto Maple Leafs organization releases little information to the public after goalie James Reimer is sidelined by a head injury. A reporter phones the family home and his mother talks about her son’s condition. Do you run the story? YES/NO
Answer: If the reporter has clearance from the Mother, then YES. The Star isn’t responsible for keeping the Leafs’ secrets.
6. Near the end of regular season play, a reporter is assigned to interview Leafs fans about the team’s futile hopes of making the playoffs. One angry fan tells the reporter: “I hope their plane crashes tonight. Does that sum it up?” Do you publish this? YES/NO
Answer: YES – Saying that one hopes a plane will crash has never and will never make a plane crash.
7. A reporter interviews homeowners opposed to a controversial proposal to create a natural burial cemetery in which corpses are allowed to decompose without the use of chemicals. One angry resident tells the reporter: “What happens if someone has AIDS and that gets in the water?” Do you publish this? YES/NO
Answer: YES – It’s important for the public at large to understand the ignorance and prejudices of their fellow citizens and a newspaper is an ideal forum to disseminate that information.
8. An article about family-friendly dinners published on the Star’s parenting website, parentcentral.ca, includes links to recipes on other blogs. A salmon cakes recipe published on a mothering blog begins with the author’s comment, “I can’t f***ing wait” with the profanity spelled out in full. Do you link to this blog entry? YES/NO
Answer: YES – The blog is called parentcentral, not childcentral. As such, it’s reasonable to expect that the readers of the blogs will be adults and don’t need to be sheltered from profanity.
9. Following his first appearance in court, authorities release this handout photo of the man accused of the attempted assassination of U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Do you publish this mug shot on Page 1, above the fold? YES/NO
Answer: YES – It’s a big story and he’s a central character. Now, whether or not a Toronto paper should be committing the front page to a story from the Southwestern United States is another matter…
10. The shootings in Tucson, Ariz., touched off a politicized debate about blame. Many pointed the finger at Sarah Palin for an ad that showed Gifford’s Democratic constituency framed in the crosshairs of a rifle. Do you publish this editorial cartoon? YES/NO
Answer: …the cartoon was not included in the online version of the story. But I’m going to guess that if it were, I would have answered YES.
11. A Star investigation looking into allegations of high-school “credit mills” where fees are paid for credits given for little work. Do you assign a reporter to go undercover and pose as a student at summer school? YES/NO
Answer: Sounds expensive and highly unlikely to succeed, but YES. Take a shot.
12. When a law student who formerly worked in the sex trade dies suddenly, a reporter learns that the woman once corrected a law professor for referring to “prostitutes” instead of “sex workers.” In the story and headline about her life and death do you refer to her as an “ex-prostitute?” YES/NO
Answer: NO – I remember and participated in this debate on Twitter. This, like the question about Rob Ford and the beef patty are a perfect example of, “If you have to ask, you probably already know you shouldn’t have done it.” If the paper know that the person about whom you’re writing preferred the term “sex-worker” to “prostitute” and both are terms in common usage, what is the paper’s motivation to use “ex-prostitute”?
13. In the last moments before a York Regional police constable dies on duty he calls his dispatcher for help over the police radio while pinned beneath a minivan. Do you publish the transcript of this last call for help? YES/NO
Answer: If it’s helps the reader learn more about the officer’s death, then YES. If it’s just a poor man about to die crying for help, I’d say NO. In that case, I don’t see the value and can certainly perceive some harm.
14. Two kittens are found in a dumpster with their right eyes poked out. Do you publish this photo of the kittens following surgery to sew their right eyelids shut? YES/NO
Answer: YES – Animal cruelty shouldn’t be hidden.
15. During the federal election campaign a Star columnist writing on the Opinion page states that Stephen Harper’s targeting of perceived enemies “verges on the Stalinist.” Do you publish this? YES/NO
Answer: It’s an opinion column, so YES. Although, perhaps the author should cite how Harper’s action are specifically “Stalinist”.
16. The Star reports that a man is charged with the sexual assault of a preteen girl. Several months later the charges are dropped. The man asks to have the report of the charges removed from the Star’s website so that the information does not appear in search engines. Do you take down the story? YES/NO
Answer: YES – An man wrongly accused of a sex crime has a hard enough life ahead of him. Why not help him out by clearing up his search hits?