Star public editor: Star need not take all responsibility for perception gap

By Kathy English, public editor of The Toronto Star

By Kathy English, public editor of The Toronto Star

In judging this week that the Toronto Star reported fairly and responsibly on Mayor Rob Ford and the “crack video” scandal, the Ontario Press Council expressed concern about a “difference in perception” between journalists and the public.

That’s somewhat of an understatement to me. From my seat in the public editor’s office, I’m often keenly aware of a perception gap between journalists and the public in whose interest we operate.

Indeed, a significant aspect of serving as the Star’s public editor involves communicating readers’ concerns about the Star’s journalism to its journalists and explaining journalism and the Star’s journalistic standards to its readers. This is in line with the Star’s commitment to transparency and accountability.

The press council is right in concluding that “the robust and extensive journalistic standards that good newspaper reporting should meet are not well known or understood by the public . . .

“This lack of knowledge is contributing to the disconnect between the parties and should be of some concern to the newspaper.”

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I expect most anyone who attended the press council’s recent public hearings that scrutinized the Star’s reporting on the mayor and the video — and also examined the Globe and Mail’s reporting on the Ford’s family’s alleged history with drug dealing — came away with a visceral understanding of this perception gap.

In its smart and thoughtful decisions, the press council concluded “the onus is on the press” to demonstrate that it reported responsibly “following appropriate journalistic guidelines” in a manner transparent to the public.

While I agree with the overall thrust of that, on the Ford file I don’t think the Star (or the Globe, for that matter) need take all of the responsibility for this difference in perception.

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