Last week the Globe’s Leah McLaren was given about 700 words to convince readers to buy her “charming red brick Victorian row house” in Toronto with “its pretty perennial garden, ten-foot-high ceilings and sun-filled living/dining room” which she listed for $ 599,000.
It didn’t take long for readers, and more than a few journalists, to point out that there seemed to be a conflict of interest in allowing a columnist to use her position of authority in the newspaper in an attempt to benefit economically.
“Has Ms. McLaren now joined the ranks as a real estate agent?” wrote reader Lizzie S on the article on the Globe’s website. “What a brazenly shameless advertisement for the sale of her home under the thinly veiled guise of journalism. The paper should feel embarrassed.”
Public editor Sylvia Stead agreed with those commenters.
“I agree with our readers and told the editors last week that in my view they should not have published it. It is clear to me that Globe staff members or freelancers should not be involved in articles in which they could stand to gain financially or in which there is an appearance that they may,” she said in a note Thursday.
“Globe editors agreed this did not show proper judgment and should not have happened. They 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.”
“A number of people have asked this week about an article that appeared in Friday’s Real Estate section, in which one of our columnists wrote about her own property for sale. It was an unintentional oversight on our part, but to clarify, it is not Globe editorial policy to allow people to write about things that could result in their own commercial gain,” features editor Kevin Siu wrote in an internal email titled “Note on conflict of interest.”
The Globe and Mail has been at the centre of a media ethics debate this past week after columnist Margaret Wente was accused of plagiarizing a 2009 article. Stead’s initial response to the accusation, drew all sorts of criticism, including calls for her resignation.
Globe and Mail Editor-In-Chief John Stackhouse eventually said the paper had taken “appropriate action” against Wente, although he did not specify what action that was. CBC Radio’s Q suspended Wente from a panel she regularly participates in following the accusations.