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Globe & Mail public editor Sylvia Stead wrote that it was wrong for the newspaper to publish a column promoting the writer's own house. (Credit: Globe and Mail, screenshot)

Globe and Mail public editor Sylvia Stead reported Sept. 27 that the newspaper’s “editors agreed” it was inappropriate for freelancer Leah McLaren to write about “her own house which was up for sale” in a column for the newspaper’s real estate section.

For her own part, Stead wrote that the Globe and Mail “should not have published” McLaren’s article, “Home of the Week: A Worker’s cottage built for family life.” The article promotes her house for sale describing it as “charming,” “perfectly positioned downtown,” “love at first sight,” and “a sweet and cozy home … with far more warmth” than other “condos” she had seen.  The article boasts of her having “painstakingly improved the house” and how the house’s location is now “super chic” and “the beating heart of downtown.”  The article is essentially an advertisement, iMediaEthics notes.

McLaren told iMediaEthics by email that “there seems to be some misunderstanding about what happened here.” She distinguished between her “regular column” in the Globe and Mail’s “Saturday Arts section” and the post about her own house.  She wrote:

“The Home of the Week story was NOT one of my regular columns, it appeared in a boutique section of the paper, one which in stories about people and buying and selling their homes regularly appear. Over the years countless writers (for the Globe or otherwise) and people in the Canadian public eye have written about and/or had their homes featured in Globe Real Estate, which is a weekly service section set apart from the more serious news arm of the paper. Most respectable broadsheets feature such sections, there is nothing unusual in any of this — what’s unusual is the way this story has been framed.”

McLaren added that

“The Home of the Week feature was suggested to me by a section editor and passed through all the regular editorial channels. The story went viral because the Globe has been under ethical scrutiny for other reasons and because, like many columnists, I receive a great deal of online criticism.  As it turns out the Globe has a policy against publishing stories that could result in the writer’s financial gain. However given that this was a boutique section of the paper with a long precedent of running such pieces I had no way of knowing that.”

McLaren told iMediaEthics by email that “on reflection, I do see there was a conflict and my editors and I have spoken about it and resolved the issue.”

Globe and Mail executive editor for features Kevin Siu told iMediaEthics by email that the feature was an “error in judgment by the editor of that section, who shouldn’t have accepted Leah’s pitch to write about her home” as House of the Week, which he described as a “long-running weekly feature…typically written by a reporter who is not connected to the house.”  That editor “thought that Leah’s home, because she’s familiar to a lot of Canadians, would be interesting to readers” but “didn’t consider that this offers preferential promotion for her property that she could benefit financially from,” Siu wrote.  Siu added that he didn’t “believe this was Leah’s primary motivation, either” but that McLaren and the editor “should have known better that this could — correctly — be called out as a conflict.”

McLaren’s post now carries an “editor’s note” linking to Stead’s blog on the article and reading that Stead also called the article “an error in judgment.” Stead’s post added that “Globe editors…said The Globe and Mail shouldn’t run articles about the sale of an employee or freelancer’s house whether that article is written by that person or anyone else.”

Canada.com noted that McLaren “admitted the shameless self promotion on Twitter” writing “Please read my piece of shameless real estate promotion…” It appears that tweet has since been deleted.  McLaren confirmed that she did delete her tweet about her column because she said “I thought it seemedd glib in retrospect and I did not want it endlessly retweeted adding fuel to the increasingly hysterical online vitriol.”

According to Canada.com, the Globe and Mail’s Siu sent a memo on McLaren’s article, which she called “an unintentional oversight” and against “Globe editorial policy.” On top of the editor’s error in running the article, Siu accepted responsibility for the column because he was on vacation and “didn’t put in place sufficient secondary oversight” on the section in question the week McLaren’s post was published.

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Since McLaren’s column, Siu added that he and Real Estate editor D’Arcy McGovern “reviewed this and other potential areas of conflict in Real Estate.”  For example, he wrote:

“Specific to House of the Week, we’ve explicitly outlined the following parameters (which are, in general terms, also addressed by the paper’s Code of Conduct):

  • The feature cannot be written by the home owner. It must be written by a reporter.
  • We cannot feature homes that are owned by staff/regular contributors, nor can we cover homes by relatives of staff.

“As part of our review, we looked at the past six years and identified three other cases that wouldn’t have passed that standard. We’re also reviewing other sections, such as Travel, to see where there may be potential for conflict.”

McLaren added:

“Please note that there was never anything underhanded going on here. It was a naive and misjudged story certainly, but the notion that my journalistic credibility should now be called into question, or that I should be tarred with the same brush as those accused of plagiarism or misattribution is both outrageous and downright defamatory.”

Jim Romenesko noted that McLaren’s house “sold …three days after the feature ran — for $1,000 over the asking price.”

iMediaEthics wrote last month about the Globe and Mail’s “disciplinary action” for columnist Margaret Wente after blogger Carol Wainio called out “similarities” between one of Wente’s columns and other published work.

Hat Tip: Rob Granatstein

UPDATE: 10/4/2012 7:38 AM EST: Updated above to add in McLaren’s response

UPDATE: 10/4/2012 4:00 PM EST: Updated above to add in Siu’s response.

UPDATE: 10/4/2012: 6:43 PM EST:  Sui wanted to clarify his words that “Leah and the Real Estate editor, not myself or the Globe in general” “should have known better that this could — correctly — be called out as a conflict.”  Updated above.

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Globe & Mail ‘Should Not Have Published’ Article Promoting Writer’s Home for Sale

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