Public editor: The rites and wrongs of spring—the Star’s blooming bungle

By Kathy English, public Editor for the Toronto Star

In the seasons of our lives, the blossoming of spring is our annual rite of hope.

By Kathy English, public Editor for the Toronto Star

In the seasons of our lives, the blossoming of spring is our annual rite of hope.

There is perhaps no more visceral symbol of that hope than the glorious sight of cherry trees in their oh-so-brief peak bloom. Year after year, we anticipate the return of those pretty pink petals that signal the end of winter and the beginning of a new cycle of life.

Such ardent anticipation goes a long way to explaining the unfortunate error in the Star this week that misidentified the “fleeting flora” in a beautiful photograph published Thursday on the front page of the GTA section.

Call this our “floral faux pas” (as indeed, someone on Twitter labelled it). The Star’s photo caption stated that the photo showed the “Yoshino cherry trees” in Toronto’s High Park and told you that “High Park’s dazzling cherry blossoms have reached peak bloom.”

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However, as several readers were quick to point out, the blossoms in photographer Vince Talotta’s image were not in fact the much-anticipated cherry blossoms of High Park — they were the magnificent magnolias of High Park.

“Them ain’t no cherry blossoms,” reader Pauline Hodge wrote in the subject line of her email, telling us in her note that, “We were in High Park just yesterday, noticing how beautifully the magnolia tree there was blooming.

“Many of the cherry blossoms are out, but they are not as big and flamboyant as the magnolia’s blooms,” Hodge said. “You will likely be hearing from other readers as well, as interest in the cherry blossoms is high.”

Indeed, interest in the eagerly awaited annual blooming of the High Park cherry trees is high within the newsroom as well, so much so that a number of editors simply assumed Talotta’s photo had captured the peak bloom that lasts only a few precious days each year.

I’ll tell you more about that, but first, it should be made clear that this was not the photographer’s error. Talotta had been assigned to capture a “weather shot,” a routine assignment for Star photographers. He knew the tree he photographed in High Park was a magnolia. He should know: he has a large magnolia tree in his own front yard.

Full disclosure: Talotta is married to public editor associate Maithily Panchalingam. On seeing the early morning emails from readers questioning the photo, she went straight to the source, expecting he would indeed “know better” and not have mistaken magnolia blooms for cherry blooms.

She was correct. The information Talotta had filed with his photo made no mention of any blossoms whatsoever; it referred only to the beautiful spring morning in High Park.

But, the newsroom had been eagerly awaiting the blooming of High Park’s “Sakura,” the Japanese name for the cherry blossoms. It was this anticipation that led to the false assumption that led to this error.

Of course, there are far more serious errors in journalism than this blooming bungle. But, like most mistakes, there are lessons for the Star’s newsroom here on the risks of making assumptions and not verifying and double checking information.

Given how much the Sakura blooming means each year to the people of Toronto and beyond, with thousands descending on High Park to see the trees at peak bloom, this is a newsworthy event that always promises spectacular photos.

To continue reading this column, please go where it was originally published.

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