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Posted: July 03, 2020

What they talk about, we talk about

Analyzing news about the federal leadership debate provides an opportunity to understand the issues and the ways they are covered

Key Concepts:


Last night the leaders of Canada’s six main political parties participated in a national televised debate — presenting their ideas and critiquing opponents’ views, with the goal of winning the votes of the Canadian public.


Debates are a cornerstone of a healthy democracy and can contribute to a well-informed and active citizenry. They also provide a chance for citizens to hear directly from the leaders.


Leaders debates are also newsworthy, and are covered broadly by Canadian news media and political pundits.


Following a debate, there is much discussion and analysis: Who won or lost? Who performed the best, or made the worst mistakes? What is the significance of what happened to the campaign, and what might it mean for the outcome of the vote?


Analyzing news about the debate can be helpful for putting its themes into context, and for comparing different perspectives about what happened.


Reviewing news coverage, there are key distinctions to keep in mind:


1. Fact-based news vs. opinion coverage


Fact-Based News Reports

Some of the debate coverage takes the form of fact-based journalism. These reports describe the who, what, when, where and how of the event. (This is also known as ‘straight reporting.’)


News articles will not contain the author’s opinion, but may quote experts who offer analysis as to who won or lost, performed well or poorly, and what that might mean for the campaign overall. These assessments will be contained in quotation marks and/or attributed to experts.


When news reporting is done well, multiple views are represented and perspectives treated fairly.


Opinion Reports

Much of the coverage of the debate will be opinion reporting, or commentary. Columnists and pundits will interpret the events, and provide personal opinion about their significance.


When done well, opinion reports are based on facts, and present well-reasoned and well-constructed arguments. This is typically the case for professional columnists, who use their expertise to help interpret and contextualize events. However, knowledge of a subject is not required to form an opinion, and there is a broad range of quality when it comes to arguments.


2. Editorial positions

News organizations provide the service of informing the public, but they are also businesses and brands that try to appeal to different types of audiences. As such, some news outlets will look more favourably or critically on some candidates than others. Sometimes this media bias is subtle, and sometimes it is more pronounced. To understand the news we consume, we need to be aware of the structure and constraints of news production, and how that impacts the results.

Comparing and contrasting media examples is a helpful way to analyze the events of the debate and how they are covered. Below you will find three suggested activities.

1. Newspaper Front Pages

A selection of front pages from Canadian newspapers are linked to below. Review these with your students, and note the similarities and differences.

  • What is the headline for the debate article? Who or what is emphasized?
  • What photo (if any) accompanies the story? Who is in it? Is it flattering? Unflattering?
  • What words appear in the photo caption? How do they shape your understanding of the people or issues involved?
  • Why do you think these choices were made? If you were an editor, what choices would you make?


2. News vs. Opinion

Select from the examples provided below, and ask your students to sort the fact-based news articles from the opinion examples.

  • How can you tell which is straight news reporting, and which is opinion?
  • Do any blur the line between straight news reporting and opinion?

Choose one news article and one opinion article to analyze:

  • How does the opinion example differ from the news one?
  • Do they share any facts? How is the presentation of facts the same or different?
  • What did you learn from one that you didn’t learn from the other?
  • Why do you think the author made the choices they did in presenting the information?

3. Opinion vs. Opinion

Compare and contrast two opinion articles

  • On what points do the authors agree / disagree?
  • Who has the more persuasive argument or interesting perspective? What makes it so?
  • Does one use better facts or back up their argument more effectively?


Choose one fact to check

  • Select one fact from one or both of the articles, and research to see what else you can learn about it. Is the fact accurate? Is it used fairly?


Research the authors of the articles to learn more about them

  • What consistencies can you find between their articles?
  • Do you think the authors are credible or reliable sources? Why or why not?


Opinion Articles 


News Articles 


Front Pages



The ability of the news media to determine which issues become the focus of public attention. 


Fact-based journalism

Focuses on the reporting of events, issues or developments with the goal of informing people. While it may include analysis or assessment, it is based on facts and not opinion.



The specific perspective or angle from which a news story is told.



The gathering, evaluating, creating, presenting and communicating of news and information.


Media Bias 

The favouring of one worldview or interpretation over others that influences what news stories are reported and how.



A personal view, attitude or judgment. Opinions are personal and highly subjective, and shaped by experiences, values, knowledge and perspectives.


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