The Globe and Mail’s new editor-in-chief, David Walmsley, said the newspaper purchased the photos from a self-admitted drug dealer because “there was a requirement for us to be able to prove our journalism.”

 

Image courtesy of Newseum

By Tamara Baluja, Associate Editor

The Globe and Mail’s new editor-in-chief, David Walmsley, said the newspaper purchased screen grabs from a video that show Toronto mayor Rob Ford appearing to smoke  crack cocaine because “there was a requirement for us to be able to prove our journalism.”

Walmsley explained in a note to readers that the newspaper paid $10,000 for the screen grabs from a longer video.

While it isn’t normal practice for the Globe to pay a drug dealer, “part of our job is ensuring the electorate has all the facts about who is running Canada’s largest city, especially in the middle of a mayoralty campaign,” he said.

“It gives The Globe and Mail no pleasure to revisit once again the troubling social behaviour of Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford,” Walmsley said. “But in this instance, the Globe felt it was a matter of public interest, and that readers needed to see what our reporters watched and reported on.” 


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When the Toronto Star and Gawker published their stories last year about the mayor smoking crack cocaine, both faced a lot of heat for not purchasing the video. As reporter Robyn Doolittle wrote in her book, Crazy Town, many people initially disbelieved the crack-video story and many readers cancelled subscriptions. The “trust me, I am a journalist” era of journalism was over and readers demanded proof.

It was clear that reader reaction influenced to some degree the Globe’s decision to engage in “chequebook journalism.”

Video courtesy of the Globe and Mail

“I have reservations about and concern about the fact that there money is changing hands to get material,” Walmsley said the video. “But what I can tell you is there was a requirement for us to be able to prove our journalism. It has been clear on this specific story for the last 18 months that there has been a deficit between the public trust and journalism that has gone on before where people will not take the word of the journalists and as a result, it was incumbent on us and our public duty to show the material.”

Walmsley added that the Globe was interested in purchasing the video but declined because of the value and the “sense that the people we were working with had probably other motivations far beyond the simple distribution of the video.”

The Globe and Mail’s public editor, Sylvia Stead, weighed in on the issue, saying the newspaper’s code of conduct does not mention paying for sources or photos. She added that while it’s common practice to pay for freelance photos, “it does not explain these Rob Ford photos, which fall more in the line of paying for information than paying for a photograph.”

Still, she defended the Globe’s decision to purchase the screen grabs.

“Unlike paying a source for a personal story, which may or may not be true, you can see the video or photos yourself. It is hard evidence that still needs as much verification as it can in terms of reporting, but is a tangible thing that the reader can judge,” she said.

She also noted in her column that when she solicited reader feedback on the decision, the vast majority agreed with the newspaper’s decision.


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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.