Selected excerpts from a Globe newspaper published in Toronto on February 10, 1864

A friend of a friend found an old newspaper inside the wall of a house he was renovating — not an uncommon thing to find, since many people used them for insulation. But this one is really old: it’s a copy of The Globe (a newspaper published in Toronto) from February, 1864. That’s three years before Canada even officially became a country. It was very stiff and damaged by what appeared to be water, but I was still able to make out most of the text on the front page at least.

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One interesting thing is that there are ads all over the front page — for things like steamship travel, houses for rent, and new technology like the steam engine and “self-adjusting spring skates,” whatever those are. One steamship company was offering passage from New York to London: a first-class cabin cost $80, a second-class cabin was $50 and steerage was just $30.

Interestingly enough, most of the items on the front page aren’t what we would consider news stories but are letters from abroad, written in a personal style and frequently with little news at all — one reprinted from the London Telegraph is probably over 1,000 words and mentions that Montreal has a population of more than 75,000 and is therefore “the most populous city in British North America.” It also mentions (no doubt playing to the home-town crowd) that “the assertion that the British provinces are anxious to join the Union is baseless and absurd.”

There’s also a notice to the public of “an imposter, wearing the dress of a Roman Catholic priest… he is a drunken vagabond — an Irishman.” And another notice mentions the wonderful new technology of “coal oil” lanterns, describing how people were endangering their eyesight by reading or darning by the light of the fire or a shared candle, and how with this new technology, “each house can have for the same expense a light exceeding half a dozen candles.”

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When it comes to ads, in addition to the steamship advertisements, there are ads for spectacles, boots and shoes, live hogs and furniture — but the largest ad stretches the length of the page vertically and is for “Dr. Hoofland’s German Bitters,” which the ad says is “not a rum drink but a highly concentrated vegetable extract” that will “effectively and most certainly cure all diseases rising from a disordered liver, stomach or kidneys.” It then lists the symptoms of these diseases as:

“Constipation, Inward Piles, Fulness or Blood to the Head, Disgust for Food, Sour Eructations, Sinking or Fluttering at the Pit of the Stomach, Swimming of the Head, Hurried and Difficult Breathing, Fluttering at the Heart, Dots or Webs before the Sight, Deficiency of Perspiration, Sudden Flushe of Heat and Constant Imaginings of Evil”

The ad also goes on at some length about how other bitters are “compounded of cheap whiskey or common rum,” and that this class of bitters “has caused and will continue to cause hundreds to die the death of the Drunkard.” And it recommends that Dr. Hoofland’s be used specifically for “delicate children… suffering from marasmus, wasting away, with scarcely any flesh on their bones.” One bottle, the ad says, and “they will be cured in a very short time.”

There’s also a large ad about an estate auction to be held at a law office on King Street “in pursuance of a Decree by the Court of Chancery of Upper Canada, at twelve of the clock noon.” The lots to be sold include one at the corner of Queen Street and William Street with “a Blacksmith’s Shop and a small frame Dwelling House” which are being leased for “24 pounds per annum.”

A community guidelines FAQ

As anyone who has commented on a Globe and Mail story probably knows, we have a policy on what kinds of comments are appropriate and which ones are removed, but I confess that we haven’t always done a great job of communicating that policy clearly and consistently to our readers — in part because our policy has been evolving, and continues to do so (which I would argue is a good thing).

So why and how are comments on Globe stories taken down? Why doesn’t the Globe require commenters to use their real names? Why do some comments simply disappear, while others are replaced by a message that says they weren’t “consistent with our guidelines?” Do Globe reporters ever respond to comments, and under what conditions?

These are the kinds of questions that our Community Guidelines FAQ was developed to answer. It also deals with how we approach other forms of community engagement, including live discussions (which we do using software from Toronto’s Cover It Live) and forums, which we are in the process of rolling out on our Globe Investor site, and hopefully elsewhere.

In coming up with our policies, we have looked at the way many other media outlets handle comments and community — including sites such as The Guardian (whose policies are here), the CBC and the New York Times — as well as non-media communities like Metafilter and Slashdot. Like all of those sites, we want to allow our readers to comment on issues they feel strongly about, but at the same time we want to maintain a civil tone that encourages dialogue instead of partisan attacks.

We are probably never going to achieve that balance completely, or to everyone’s satisfaction. But we are trying hard to do so, because we know that many of you look to the Globe as a place where you can discuss important topics, and we want to encourage others to do so.

The FAQ is a work in progress, so please let me know what you think, either by posting a comment here or by reaching me at @mathewi on Twitter or via email at mingram@globeandmail.com.

The Policy Wiki: A new issue — climate change

Some of you may have read — either here or elsewhere — about one of the social-media projects that I’ve been involved with at the Globe, a joint venture with the Dominion Institute known as the Public Policy Wiki. We started the wiki in January, as a way of soliciting input from concerned Canadians about a range of public policy issues, and the first issue we launched with was the federal budget. Almost a thousand people signed up in a matter of two weeks, and we got dozens of excellent “briefing note”-style policy proposals submitted, commented on, voted on and promoted in the forums. On the day the budget was released, we took the two most popular proposals and sent them to the Finance Minister in Ottawa.

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The Globe and Mail: Using social media

I gave a short presentation at the Podcamp Toronto “unconference” a few days ago about some of the things we’re doing at the Globe and Mail (the national daily newspaper I work for in Toronto, for those of you from elsewhere), and a number of people asked me if I would be putting the slides up anywhere, so I uploaded them to Slideshare and have embedded the presentation here in this post (RSS readers can click here to go straight to Slideshare and see them). If you want to see and hear the presentation, there’s a video link at the Podcamp wiki.

Here’s the condensed version: I introduced myself as a former reporter, columnist, technology writer and blogger for the Globe who is now the paper’s online “communities editor,” for lack of a better term. That means I am trying to think of — and follow through on — as many different methods of creating, enhancing, fertilizing and connecting with communities of readers around various topics. I went through a few of the ways we are trying to do that, as well as the rationale behind them and what we have learned from them, and then I closed with what we are hoping to do in the future.

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The Policy Wiki: An end and a beginning

With the tabling of the federal budget this afternoon (which we are live-blogging), the Globe’s first experiment in merging public-policy debate and social-media tools — the Public Policy Wiki, a joint venture with the Dominion Institute — comes to a kind of conclusion, but the discussion that we helped start about the economy will continue as long as Canadians have ideas they wish to share.

We’ve collected the data on the two policy proposals that our contributors and readers supported the most, and we’ve sent that information to the Finance Minister as we promised. But while the budget process is now complete, the economic portion of the Policy Wiki will remain available for contributions, even as we begin a new chapter aimed at discussing Canada’s policy towards Afghanistan.

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