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Public Editor: Trump, truth and the journalistic endeavour: The Globe’s readers weigh in

Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

The Globe and Mail

The President of the United States has declared a "running war with the media."

He called journalists "among the most dishonest human beings on Earth" for their accurate reporting that the crowds at his inauguration were smaller than at Obama's eight years ago.

His newly installed press secretary, Sean Spicer, in the briefing room in the White House, falsely said last week saw "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe." On NBC on Sunday, Chuck Todd of Meet the Press asked Mr. Trump's aide Kellyanne Conway why Mr. Spicer had uttered "a provable falsehood." Her response? Mr. Spicer had been presenting "alternative facts." (After that statement, sales of George Orwell's 1984 soared to sixth on the Amazon list.)

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We are living in a new world for journalism and it is time for journalists to rethink how they work. Readers of The Globe and Mail have said what they want to see.

1. Point out lies and falsehoods.

"When the U.S. energy secretary states that humans' impact on global warming is still unknown, you nowhere in the headline or the article point out that this is a bald lie," a reader from Victoria wrote. "To report this statement you need to note, in equally large print, that this is a mere anti-scientific claim. Otherwise, a man of such authority is likely to tempt people to believe a complete falsehood." I would add you cannot just say something is false, the reporter must show, not just tell, how it is a lie.

2. Headlines matter.

Readers were upset earlier this month with the headline "Trump scores victory as Ford shelves plans for Mexican plant." Headlines are incredibly difficult to write but their impact is large (huge?). The article said Ford's plan allowed Donald Trump to claim a victory. In the headline, "claims" would have been a better verb than "scores." "I am totally disgusted with your headline," wrote one reader from Toronto. "Trump had nothing to do with Ford's decision, but has merely taken credit for it … The media, especially in Canada, must keep his feet to the fire rather than unquestioningly repeating his false claims." Another reader criticized a headline on Donald Trump's inaugural speech which called it "historical." "Words matter and the Globe seems to be getting more and more careless with them. That speech was certainly not historical; it was not even historic."

3. Don't be distracted by trivia.

"Did the issue of Donald Trump's alleged germaphobia really merit the attention and resources of The Globe and Mail?" asked one reader. The reader is absolutely right – there are many more consequential stories to tell. Here's another reader: "My subscription is valuable to me if I'm supporting the work of a free press, not more 'infotainment'."

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4. More non-Trump coverage, please.

This from a clever reader in Peterborough: "Here is a suggestion for online content for Globe news to spare users four years of Trump fatigue. Create an edit to exclude any news stories from view if articles contain 'Trump' and include stories that mention 'Trump impeachment.' This would be a great service to weary Globe online readers!"

5. Do original Canadian work.

One reader who recently moved back to Canada after living in the U.S. called on the Globe to continue writing investigative pieces about Canadian public policy issues "that might otherwise go unnoticed." Another complained about too much Trump (sorry for this column too). "The entire paper talks about it. Can we return to discussing something Canadian or something else?"

6. More transparency.

A Vancouver reader who wrote in to point out a detail on a source's background that was left out of a Canadian political story wondered "what the Globe deems important to tell its readers." Journalists now need to give more detail and edit out less. In my view, that includes more links to studies referenced and more background description of their reporting. In the case of the disputed inauguration crowd size, running contrasting photos in the paper from 2009 and 2017 would have been helpful (they did run online).

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7. Be clear what is opinion.

I regularly hear from readers upset with an opinion expressed by a columnist or outside contributor. While generally columnists are marked as opinion, many readers are concerned about analysis veering to opinion while it is not marked as such. In my view, especially now, opinion needs to be much more clearly marked.

Jay Rosen, a U.S. media critic and journalism professor at NYU told Recode Media in an interview that "for the press to recover some authority, so that what it says about Trump makes a difference, I think journalists have to conduct an extraordinary act of listening that they've never tried to do before."

I think that starts with listening to your readers as well, who want coverage that will enlighten them about the important issues of the day, avoiding the distractions. For this newspaper, it means covering Mr. Trump but also covering important Canadian issues. And readers need to be brought into the tent more on the journalistic process: we need to provide details of how many people were interviewed for a story, a description or links to evidence that something is false or seriously exaggerated,more relevant details on the background of people interviewed, avoid anonymous sources where possible and show, not just tell, the facts, so readers can make up their own minds.

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