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Public editor: The importance of photos in our political coverage

(L-R) Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper


Last week, I wrote about the number of mentions of the three federal party leaders and found many more references to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That didn't surprise me because the leader of any country is always much more in the news than any other political leaders. What did seem unusual, though, was that the leader of the third party, Justin Trudeau, has received many more mentions lately than Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.

One reader described the column as "disingenuous." She said that a story in Saturday's paper about "federal leaders" went on to describe Stephen Harper as Prime Minister and not Conservative Leader, while Thomas Mulcair was described as NDP leader and not Official Opposition Leader.

Another reader said: "The fact that there are five times as many references to Mr. Mulcair as party leader than as Leader of the Official Opposition does, in fact, indicate a pro-government bias by The Globe and Mail. The fact that The Globe also did this to another opposition leader is no excuse to continue the practice. …You also gloss over the fact that there are nearly twice as many references to Trudeau as Mulcair. You use a cowardly and unsubstantiated criticism of Mr. Mulcair's "ability to sell the brand" by referencing invisible, unnamed New Democrats, to justify your publication's lop-sided representation of our political leaders."

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Still, others raised the very important issue of photographs, which I did not mention. The choice of photo, the tone, the dress, the selection of the facial expression and the number of photos are so important to the image of a politician.

"I know he is photogenic, but can't we have just one issue of The G&M without a picture of Justin in it?" one asked. Another said, "you have pointed out that The Globe and Mail is biased, quantitatively, in its coverage of the political leaders, but said nothing about the content of that coverage. And one only has to point to the 'angry Tom' pictures and go from there, in 'news' stories – editorial aside."

As I said before, my check of the database included just the number of mentions and that does not tell the full story. Where the story appears, what the photograph shows and whether the stories are substantive and on policy issues or more slight are all important issues for the editors to consider.

Please send me an email at on this or any other issue related to The Globe's journalism.

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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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