Was the Globe’s university ranking story a conflict of interest?

An article in the Oct 4 issue of Maclean’s asks “Was a Globe front-page story featuring its new owner’s prized asset a conflict of interest?” 

On a day when most major papers had the U.S. Tea Party on the front page, the Globe featured a story about a global university ranking above the fold, Maclean’s reports.

The Globe story notes that the company behind the ranking, Times Higher Education, has partnered with Thomson Reuters. Maclean’s points out that the Globe story does not mention that Thomson Reuters belongs to the Woodbridge Company Ltd., which had just announced that it would acquire a 85% stake in the paper.

Maclean’s asks if neglecting to mention the connection to the paper’s new boss is a conflict of interest (or a perceived conflict of interest, which is also a faux pas in many newsroom codes of ethics). The story quotes journalism professor Chris Waddell:

“‘Normally, there’s a few words [noting] that this company is affiliated with the company that owns this newspaper,’ says Chris Waddell, director of the school of journalism and communication at
Carleton University, who worked at the Globe from 1984 to 1991. ‘The general sense is, if you’re making that disclosure, it’s up to the people to decide if it means anything.'”

Maclean’s has long been the leading publisher of university rankings in Canada, territory in which the Globe has competed with its annual university report since 2004. (This is not mentioned in the Maclean’s story about the Globe story.)