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Public editor: A look at why comments are closed on some Rob Ford stories

Toronto mayor Rob Ford discusses his consumption of alcohol at the Taste of the Danforth Friday night, during his weekly radio show with brother Doug at the CFRB radio studios, Sunday August 11, 2013.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

I hope you have seen the article on the ongoing improvements to the commenting system on globeandmail.com. It's important to repeat that this process is ongoing – but these improvements are a good step.

On Friday at 2 p.m. ET, senior communities editor Jennifer MacMillan and I will answer questions on these changes. But before that, I thought I would answer a few questions about stories that have been closed to comments. Most readers understand that stories about ongoing court cases or criminal charges must be closed for legal reasons. They also understand that at times, comments are open and then closed because they attract too many abusive comments, personal attacks or hate speech, contrary to The Globe's stated guidelines.

But a few wondered why comments were closed on the story about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's recent trip to the Taste of the Danforth food festival, after drinking "a few beers," according to his brother Doug.

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Another wondered why so many stories about the Mayor have comments closed. " I understand that the Mayor is a polarizing figure who attracts negative comments but as (Globe columnist Marcus) Gee wisely points out, he is the author of most of his misfortunes. He is also the Mayor of Toronto and his actions should properly be the subject of comment and public discussion."

Executive Editor Jill Borra said that "editors have been instructed to leave comments open on stories that involve municipal politics or city issues, but to close comments on stories involving his legal issues or allegations of drug use and/or a video of him using crack. The recent Rob Ford stories mention previous allegations of public drunkenness or drug use, which is one reason why they're closed.

"While we would like to allow comments on all of our news stories and other content, in some cases we are forced to turn off that feature, either by closing the story to comments when it is published or by not allowing new comments at some point after it has been published."

While I agree wholeheartedly with the aim to balance encouraging readers to comment on stories with efforts to stop personal attacks or hate speech, in my opinion the readers have a point and that equation could be shifted somewhat to take into account the importance of debate about our political leaders and their actions.

You can send me an email on this issue at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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