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Public editor: When a headline misses the point

This story and the headline, "What to do if you're caught texting behind the wheel," sparked anger in a letter published in Thursday's Globe and Mail and in the comments online.

"What to do if you're caught texting behind the wheel (March 17): I look forward to future instalments in this series like 'What to do if you're caught drinking and driving.' What happened to responsible journalism?" Peter Gorman wrote.

Others commented online in the same vein. "This article is irresponsible! How about discussing the real dangers of texting and driving instead of posting an article that tells you how to fight the charges?" said the top-rated comment online.

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There have been strong articles as part of a series in The Globe recently on the dangers of texting and driving. This heartbreaking one by Jessica Leeder, titled "Distracted driving now deadlier than impaired driving," lays bare the tragic consequences of texting and driving. It also includes a list of laws and penalties for distracted driving across the country.

Peter Cheney also wrote about his view that distracted driving needs to become as unacceptable as driving drunk. There is also this piece, titled "Distracted driving: 'Multitasking is a myth,' " by Robert Collison.

All of these are responsible stories outlining the dangers of a serious public-safety issue.

The article that caused the upset had a better headline in the newspaper: "Tempted to text at the wheel? As distracted driving fines increase, courts will be tested."

This headline better reflects the main thrust of the story, which shows how fighting a ticket for distracted driving could take you months and could cost you a few thousand dollars, a battle about to become more costly with higher fines in many provinces.

The idea for the reference on how to avoid a charge was to report how lawyers would be advising their clients, not to advocate a means of beating the charge.

But, in my view, the article fails to make that point and rather than say this is what lawyers are doing now, it merely repeats the advice of one paralegal on how to avoid a charge.

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Even worse, though, is the original Web headline, which suggests a way to dodge responsibility for your action.

The series on the dangers of texting and driving has been a great public service, but this headline especially was a misstep, which takes away from the strong work done in the other articles.

The editor of the section has changed the headline of the online article to reflect what the newspaper headline said.

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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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