Sometimes we are accused, as all media are, of favouring one political candidate over another in the way we write a story or headline, or take a picture. The fact is, we try very hard to be fair. Sometimes we fail, but we try.
A little after 11 last night (Tuesday), as we were heading toward wrapping up our election coverage (our press deadline was 1 a.m.), news editor Mike Cornell came into my office and asked to look at the election-night pictures in the photo “browser.” When I saw the picture of winning Conservative candidate Cathy McLeod, my reaction was the same as Mike’s: “Let’s find a different picture.”
The photographers had proposed the picture because it showed her hugging a friend and they felt it captured the emotion of the election victory. But when Mike and I looked at it, we found it a little bland. Worse, it was not a flattering picture of McLeod. We’ve all had pictures taken that don’t show us looking our best. On McLeod’s night of victory, she deserved a front-page picture of herself looking happy and pleasant.
The picture we settled on, I think, depicts McLeod in the appropriate way.
It was about midnight when “the desk” (which designs our news pages) printed a first proof of the front page. Earlier in the evening, I’d approved a headline that read, “Here We Go Again!” It was a simple statement about the fact we were going to have yet another minority government — the third in a row — in Ottawa.
But page one was then designed with the headline overlain on McLeod’s picture. Alarm bells went off. It seemed to me the headline, when placed on top of the picture, could be interpreted as negative. It could even be seen to be a slight against both McLeod and retiring MP Betty Hinton, as in, “Oh, great, we’re getting more of the same in Ottawa.”
(Incidentally, a picture we published on the front page of Tuesday’s edition was the subject of much discussion in the newsroom. The picture showed a small sea of election signs, but Liberal candidate Ken Sommerfeld’s was not among them. Several of us saw it the moment we picked up the paper Tuesday morning. It turned out that a better picture, one with Sommerfeld’s sign in it, had been passed over for the other. An easy error and certainly unintentional, but important if you’re a Liberal supporter. That’s what I mean when I say we sometimes fail.)
Pooling our creative genius, we mulled over a few alternatives for the election headline. The most clever and popular was “Deja Blue,” a reference to Tory Blue returning for another term in government. But, my paranoid mind surmised that the “blue” reference could be interpreted by some (who might not get the play on words) as a suggestion the country should be depressed about the Conservative victory.
I thought about “Cathy McLeod, That’s Who,” which captured the whole issue around her lack of name recognition (the “Cathy Who?” label) going into the campaign, and that she would now be a household name.
But, we went with “Another Tory Minority,” not clever, not a grabber, but safe, and descriptive. It might have had something to do with the fact that our 12:30 deadline was fast approaching, and that it was time to button everything up and send it down to the press room. Sometimes, facing a deadline, you have to compromise and just get it done. We made our deadline with a minute to spare, and the pressroom made theirs by the same margin, firing up the press at 12:59 a.m.
If politics is a game of compromise, so is reporting on politics.