Can we trust the Globe and Mail if we can’t trust their Executives?


Do you trust people who act one way in public and another in private? The helpful neighbour who shovels your walk but leaves dirty socks around the house for his spouse to launder? The leadership guru who belittles her own employees? The politician who crusades on a platform of anti-corruption but cheats on their taxes?

My tolerance has worn thin for duplicitous people and even more so for duplicitous organizations. I’m referring to the Globe and Mail. How can they be the courageous and credible voice Canadians trust when they can’t communicate straightforward managerial decisions (the behind the scenes stuff) with courage and credibility?

Last week G&M editor-in-chief David Walmsley wrote generic emails to inform long-time columnists Leah McLaren and Tabatha Southey that they were toast. He explained the decision was a result of a review of the G&M’s “freelance footprint” and that they “considered overall gaps and strengths in our current and future coverage plans and overall budget priorities.”

  • Communication 101: Email is a lousy form of communication to convey sensitive messages. Southey lives in Toronto. The G&M office is in Toronto. While McLaren lives abroad, Walmsely probably has her cell number.
  • Communication 101 (part 2): Writing cleverly is never as important as writing clearly. What is a “freelance footprint”?
  • Communication 101 (part 3): When your external brand is communication, your brand suffers when you fall down on internal communication.

McLaren wrote to Walmsley mimicking the tone of his memo to her. She mocked that after conducting her own review, she came to her own conclusions regarding the insensitive way (after almost two decades as a columnist) in which she was axed: “The review considered overall gaps and strengths in inexcusable management style, appalling jargon-filled memospeak and a complete lack of human empathy.” That message is clear.

One must be concerned about the quality of leadership at the G&M. Without great leaders, our once national treasure is doomed. It’s no secret the G&M is a shadow of its former self. If there was ever a time for strong leadership, this would be the moment.

A case in point. McLaren wrote a rambling and very inappropriate essay a few months ago (referred to as “lactate-gate”) about attempting to breastfeed Conservative MP Michael Chong’s baby (without permission). The story appeared briefly on the G&M website before being removed, but not before going viral and causing an uproar. The official explanation was that the story was published by mistake before it was reviewed. Why then was McLaren suspended without pay for several days? Suspending her seemed like the sort of old school tactics our grandparents used for discipline – “You’re grounded young lady”.

After “lactgate”, Walmsley sent a memo to staff: “If your gut tells you a story is problematic follow the instinct… Do not allow group think to take over. Speak up in a meeting even if it means – especially if it means – going against the flow.” It’s not human nature to take these kinds of “going against the flow” risks if we feel we won’t be supported by management. How much risk-taking does Walmsley expect when he suspends one person for what he tells the public was someone else’s honest mistake? And, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that risk-taking is essential for the G&M to remain relevant and survive.

A few months ago, I had my own small taste of executive communication (again courtesy of the G&M). I had written a story about a Toronto sex club for LiisBeth.  Six weeks later, the G&M published a story on the same topic. LiisBeth’s publisher wrote to the G&M’s Public Editor, Sylvia Stead alleging plagiarism. Stead replied that the G&M story had been commissioned months earlier and written without seeing LiisBeth’s story.

I have no concrete evidence that Stead isn’t telling the truth; I have to take her at her word about this. But when she added: “There is no similarity in the writing of the two articles and no overlap that I see,” that defied credibility. My smart community – journalists, authors, lawyers, professors –thought the G&M story looked too similar to be coincidental. Stead may have thought she provided a legally prudent response (which she still could have done by acknowledging obvious similarities) but it didn’t do much to build my trust.

My husband and I have been subscribers for several decades and we almost cancelled our subscription last year (months before the incident above). I wrote the G&M a letter explaining our reasons. After a clever response from the G&M’s Director of Loyalty and Retention, we decided to give them another chance. Reading Southey has been the highlight of our subscribership. Now what?

If we can’t trust the G&M not to fumble simple messages behind the scenes, can we really count on them to provide courageous and honest reporting within the public domain?


Photo credit: Flickr/amber dawn pullin





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