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Earlier discussion

Globe editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon takes questions

Globe and Mail Update

Do you like what The Globe is doing?

Got a beef with us?

What do you think of our political coverage, including last weekend's Liberal leadership convention where Stéphane Dion emerged as the surprise compromise choice to lead the party into the next federal election.

How about our month-long series on cancer in Canada — how it impacts ordinary people, our national shame of having had no national strategy for combatting the scourge until a few weeks ago and the hopes and fears of researchers and cancer activists for scientific breakthroughs.

This was your chance to talk to the man in charge of The Globe's journalism.

Editor-in-Chief Edward Greenspon was online earlier today to take your questions.

Your questions and Mr. Greenspon's answers appear at the bottom of this page.

Mr. Greenspon has been editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail since July, 2002.

He has an honours degree in journalism and political science from Carleton University and was a Commonwealth Scholar at the London School of Economics, earning a masters degree in politics and government with distinction in 1985.

Mr. Greenspon began his journalism career at The Lloydminster Times and also worked for The Regina Leader-Post and The Financial Post before joining The Globe in 1986 as a business reporter specializing in media industries. He has held various positions over the years, among them, European Correspondent, Managing Editor Report on Business, Executive News Editor, Founding Editor of, and Ottawa Bureau Chief.

Since 2000, Mr. Greenspon has been closely involved in challenges facing all newspapers in an increasingly electronic world.

He is also co-author of Double Vision, The Inside Story of the Liberals in Power, for which he shared the 1996 Douglas Purvis Award for the best public policy book, and Searching for Certainty: Inside the New Canadian Mindset. He has also won the Hyman Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism.

Editor's Note: The same rules will apply to this live discussion as normally apply to the "reader comment" feature. editors will read and approve each comment/question. Not all comments/questions can be answered in the time available. Comments/questions will be checked for content only. Spelling and grammar errors will not be corrected. Comments/questions that include personal attacks, false or unsubstantiated allegations, vulgar language or libelous statements will be rejected. Preference will be given to those who ask questions under their full name, rather than pseudonyms.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, Welcome, Ed. Thanks for joining us again today to take questions from the readers of

Edward Greenspon, Editor-in-Chief, The Globe and Mail: Hello, Jim. It is a pleasure to be with you here today. I always find these live discussions challenging for my brain and my fingers.

I don't get much opportunity to get into the reporting field very much anymore, but did spend last weekend in Montreal helping out on the Liberal leadership convention. As a political junkie, I can attest to the fact it was an extremely exciting convention. The permutations were plentiful, but once Gerard Kennedy made his move, it looked clear that Stéphane Dion would win. In fact, I had picked Dion in the office pool since momentum is such an important force in a convention and since Ignatieff and Rae seemed hopelessly deadlocked.

In any case, I will be pleased this morning to talk about our political coverage, the continuing cancer series, of which we are proud, or anything else our readers choose to throw at me.

Banquo's Ghost: This is regarding the Globe's coverage of the Afghanistan front.

In the age we live in, it is possible for anyone anywhere to have access to the news of the day as reported by virtually any news organization on the planet. I most assuredly do not mean blogs or opinion sites, I am referring to the legitimate, reputable news-gathering organizations of many different nations.

Frequently, over the past few years, as we have become more deeply engaged in the Afghanistan conflict, I have found that The Globe's coverage has tended to become more narrowly and parochially Canadian in scope, almost as though it is assumed that there is little news of worth to report about our allies or that Canadians wouldn't be interested.

I have come to the somewhat unavoidable conclusion that there is an exclusionary principle at work. There is, however, news generated out of bureaus of France, Italy or Germany (just to name some examples), our allies after all, that is sometimes startlingly relevant to our own involvement in Afghanistan.

Can you explain why The Globe, which is after all a publication that prides itself on it's worldwide coverage, should choose to decline to report relevant Afghanistan-related news disseminated by other organizations out of Rome, Berlin or Paris.

Edward Greenspon: Good morning, Banquo. It's good to talk to a fellow truth teller this morning.

Unfortunately, I can't agree with the premise of your question. In fact, I would say that our interest in the development of Afghanistan and the social, economic and political dynamics of the country and region are heightened, not lessened, by Canada's involvement there.

Naturally, we are covering Canada's military and developmental commitment. Canadian lives are at stake and the form of our participation has become an important point of debate in this country.

And Canada, unlike the Germans and Italians, has all its soldiers on the front lines. Look at the casualty figures.

That said, we are not ignoring the broader story.

I'm sure you would have noticed in the last few weeks that Graeme Smith, one of our talented correspondents rotating through Afghanistan, paid a vist to Quetta, not an easy thing to do. Quetta, over the border in Pakistan, is Taliban Central. Graeme interviewed Taliban leaders about their perspective on the battle.

We have also written extensively about relations between tribes on the ground and political leaders and on opium and Afghan-Pakistan relations, to name a few subjects.

So I think we are doing what you say we should do.

Owen Perry, Guelph, Ont.: First, I would just like to say that you run a very informative and up-to-the minute website.

You also deserve kudos for allowing readers to comment on each and every story you run. The end result is a first-hand view of how Canadians from a vast array of backgrounds perceive the major issues in the world today.

In fact, I believe you should take it a step further and create a separate area of the website and dedicate it to discussions on important current issues — perhaps a chat room or forum?

What do you think?

Edward Greenspon: Thank you for the positive feedback, Owen. I know the people working on will be very pleased.

We understand that the Internet is a different medium than the newspaper, each with its own strengths. One of the strengths of the web is that readers can participate much more fully in discussing and debating issues of the day. I think of it as an electronic salon, attracting a well-informed and opinionated group of Globe readers.

The comment feature has certainly proved popular since its launch. We receive about 50,000 comments every month. We have to police these comments for foul language, defamation etc., but our basic thrust is not to get in the way of this rollicking conversation.

I think the idea of extending this conversation into special rooms in the salon dedicated to particular issues is worth a good look.

JDM Stewart, Toronto: Mr. Greenspon, as you know, I love The Globe and Mail and all it does.

I am wondering why The Globe does not run more verbatim remarks from things such as speeches or exchanges from the House of Commons. In the 1970s and beyond, The Globe used to run a regular feature during which they highlighted these types of things. The New York Times will often run the text of important speeches and I think if The Globe did this, it would contribute to giving Canadians a better idea of what happens in Parliament, where too often this is defined by what is seen on television. If a backbencher gave a very thoughtful speech about an issue, it could get some play in the paper.

If The Globe used to do this type of thing, why not bring it back? Or at least make it a Web feature on

Edward Greenspon: Thank you very much for joining us today. I think all our readers know not just how much you love The Globe, but how much you contribute to it through your letters.

As I said earlier, the paper and Web are different media with different strengths. The paper is governed by space, a limited amount of it, whereas the Web is wide open territory.

That means we must be far more selective in publishing verbatims in the paper. Not that we don't do, we just tend to be choosy.

Does it help a reader understand an event or issue better? This morning, you will have noticed, we published verbatims of yesterday's exchange of letters between Giuliano Zaccardelli and Stephen Harper. We thought that added value. Often, we will point readers of the paper to the Web for more of this sort of material.

Jonathan Kilius, Mississauga, Ont.: Thank you for your time, sir . . .

How do I trust old media in this day and age? There are now 20,000 facts-checkers of mainstream media in this day and age. Every day, I can find bias and it has really shaken my confidence in major papers. Now I know your paper does its best (your paper is a must read for politics and business) but how can you honestly claim to be unbiased?

Your reporting on the environment alone is very ,very suspect. I just can't understand how you can slander [Environment Minister] Miss [Rona] Ambrose but give [Liberal Leader Stephane] Dion and the Liberals a free pass on this issue.

But on a good note, your website is the best out of all the papers in Canada. Give the guy who runs it a pay bump.

Edward Greenspon: Thank you, Jonathan. I suspect that the guy who runs will be in my office in the next half-hour asking for that raise.

In the meantime, let me deal with the issue you raise about bias. I don't pretend that any journalist is totally objective. You can't experience life and retain complete objectivity. I think what we strive for here at The Globe, and what we generally achieve, is fairness and straight-forwardness in our reporting.

We also try to ensure that our Comment pages contain a variety of views.

Part of our job is to hold people in power to account. I would say that's what we've done with Ms. Ambrose. It hasn't been a major pre-occupation of ours, but we want to make sure that she can explain in a coherent manner the government's position on such issues as climate change and pollution.

We have and will also hold Mr. Dion to account. We challenged him as well when he was environment minister on the gap between the previous government's rhetoric and actions on Kyoto. Now that he is Liberal leader, he will be subjected to even greater scrutiny.

The part of your note that troubles me the most is the reference to the 20,000 fact checkers our there, presumably, in the blogosphere. Generally, this is where I tend to detect a lot of bias. In fact, 20,000 fact checkers is penny ante stuff.

The paper has a million readers a day and the Web site millions more every day. They have always served as fact checkers and hold our feet to the fire. Our letters to the editors page is often more entertaining for the readers than the editor!

Dar Cullihall, Rocky Harbour, N.S.: Mr. Greenspon, a question that has been troubling me for such a long, long time is why respected newspapers decide, during political campaigns, to choose sides.

As an avid reader of newspapers, I'm a little intimidated when, after following a campaign on television and through the print media, I see an editorial in a major newspaper that actually offers support to one side or the other.

When I see this, I automatically get the feeling that whatever I read from the editorial pages of that particular newspaper for the remainder of the campaign will be unbalanced, bias and, to a degree, unfair.

I also feel that the paper is undermining my ability to make up my own mind as to who is best to be elected to a particular position.

I find it a little condescending to have an editorial board make recommendations (which is what they are doing, really) as to whom I should vote for.

Would love your comments on this concern, especially as to (a) why you do this, and, (b) how your arrive at a particular decision. Many thanks for this opportunity.

Edward Greenspon: That is a good question and one I receive frequently, Dar. Indeed, we have debated it internally over the past year.

On the one hand, one has to worry that an endorsement must muddy the waters for readers in terms of our fairness to other contenders for public office. We take pains here to separate our editorial board from our reporting staff. In the recent Liberal leadership race, none of our reporters knew who we were endorsing until it was published in the paper. The editorial board didn't even know until we debated the matter a few days before the editorial ran.

I don't think it is condescending to readers to endorse a candidate or party. We have the advantage of being able to give these races our full attention.

In the case of the Liberal leadership, all four of the leading candidates visited our editorial board in the last few weeks of the campaign. We could question them, on behalf of our readers, in a way not available to other individuals. And, of course, we cannot make anybody vote the way we say is best. Readers respond to many inputs. Our endorsement being just one.

Not the Alliance: Mr. Greenspon, thank you for taking this question.

You often hear criticism on The Globe's online forums that the G&M is biased for the Liberals, a "leftie rag," etc. These same people usually feel there is a media conspiracy and rely on blogs for their "news."

Yet The Globe endorsed Harper the last election. No doubt, many of the conspiracy theory buffs feel that this endorsement was a sham, made only so that you could criticize him post-election. Please comment on perceived media bias.

Edward Greenspon: Bias seems to be on a lot of minds this morning.

All I can say about our election endorsement of Mr. Harper is the Liberals didn't find it a sham. It was a bad day for them to have The Globe and Mail come out in favour of their adversary. But even when we endorsed Mr. Harper, we expressed reservations and put him on notice that we would be watching him very carefully on issues such as today's vote on same sex marriage. At that point in time, we felt that the Harper Conservatives were the best choice available. We were particularly concerned that in democracies, change is required from time to time. And that the Liberals seemed to have run out of gas.

By the way, we had endorsed the Liberals in the 2004 election. We are independent and beholden to no party.

We are mindful of the choice we made last January, acting in our role as adviser to our readers. But we did not take out a Conservative membership card and therefore feel perfectly free to criticize the government when we think it is warranted.

Josh Wales, Montreal: In both the Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 issues, World AIDS Day received little to no coverage. I would have expected a day of such global importance to have been significantly acknowledged in our national newspaper.

While the Liberal leadership race was undoubtedly an important event, surely a day of international solidarity with the 40 million people infected by HIV/AIDS and commemoration of the millions who have already died, merits front page coverage. Was this an editorial decision or simple lack of awareness?

Jack Doober, Brantford, Ont.: Yesterday (Dec. 6) was the anniversary of the killing of 14 women in a school in Montreal and one rose was added for the Dawson shooting. But this was not covered in the Globe so I could comment [on the article online]. Why was that? I have a question to raise about the responsibility of gun manufacturers.

Edward Greenspon: Josh and Jack, independently, you've both essentially asked the same question so let me address them together.

I will start with World AIDS Day. This paper, as you will know, has devoted an extraordinary amount of coverage to the issue of AIDS. We are one of the few papers in the world to have a staff correspondent in Africa — the estimable Stephanie Nolen (currently on maternity leave) — largely dedicated to the AIDS issue. Stephanie has probably done more than any single other person with the possible exception of Stephen Lewis to educate and sensitize Canadians about the horrible human toll HIV/Aids is taking in Africa.

This past summer, Canada hosted the International AIDS conference. We again devoted pages and pages of coverage to this gathering as well as special Web reports.

However, we are a newspaper. And so we write about things when they are newsy, not when some agency pre-determines a day.

Today, for instance, is International Civil Aviation Day. (It's also Pearl Harbour Day.) I'm not comparing the two, but most days actually have a serious anniversary attached to them.

Which brings me to the second question. Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of the horrific shootings at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Every year, there is a commemoration.

On the 10th anniversary, we gave this event major coverage, as we had every year before that. We may reflect on it again on a future anniversary.

We also need to make sure we devote our energies to the issues that are percolating today, such as climate change, the state of the RCMP and, as you say, gun control.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, Thanks very much, Ed, for joining us today to take questions from our readers. Any last thoughts or comments?

Edward Greenspon, Editor-in-Chief, The Globe and Mail: Thank you, Jim, for the opportunity to join you today.

And thank you to all those readers who sent in their comments and questions. It is important that we don't get isolated from our readers and this is an important forum to ensure that doesn't happen.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, To our readers: We're sorry we could not get to all of the dozens of questions you submitted today. Our "Ask the Editor" discussion takes place on the first Thursday of every month.

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