Wednesday, Jun 29, 2016
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Jack Lessenberry

More focused story would have helped this reader

"It's just a short hallway, but it connects two institutions that are very different." That sentence began a Feb. 12 story about the collaboration between the Toledo Museum of Art and the University of Toledo's art program.

But if those institutions are very different, there was great agreement in the reaction of faculty, staff, and students at the University of Toledo.

They thought the story was horribly unfair. Tobin Klinger, director of university communications, sent me a blistering letter.

"The most cursory of discussions with faculty and museum officials interviewed for this story will not only show the inaccuracy of the article, but may even cause one to believe there were intentional omissions."

Was he right?

Was The Blade's story, in fact, unfair?

Your ombudsman has read many letters from outraged University of Toledo faculty, students, and alumni. I have also talked to the reporters and some of the editors involved in the story.

My conclusions, as always, are my own, and do not necessarily reflect anybody else's. Possibly nobody will totally agree with me.

But here is what I think. The Blade's story, headlined "UT-Art Museum Collaboration Falls Short of Objectives," was, in fact, confusing.

It was confusing because the story did not completely reflect the headline, which was, in fact, what the story was supposed to be about.

Instead, the story at times appeared to be about the merits of the university's art program, and to be comparing it to places such as the Rhode Island School of Design. I can understand the university resenting that.

UT's art program is not only not in the same league as Rhode Island or Cranbrook or Yale University, it doesn't pretend to be. It is, according to people who know more about it than I do, a decent, not great, regional school with an open admissions policy. Many of its graduates go on to become art teachers.

Some of the best ones do go on to prestigious schools such as Cranbrook, and I heard from some of them, who were angry at what they felt was our mistreatment of their alma mater.

If The Blade story gave readers the impression it was faulting the school for not being the Rhode Island School of Design, that was unfortunate.

But it is also clear that the collaboration has not lived up to the goals university officials set for it when it was announced 20 years ago.

That's clear to anyone who reads what then-UT President James McComas said at the time. Twenty years is a logical point at which to assess such a collaboration. I wish the story had focused more intently on that and looked more in depth at why the partnership didn't do as well as hoped.

Why was the story confusing, and why did it not have bylines?

Anyone who has ever worked on an office project knows that sometimes different people have different ideas of what the project is supposed to be.

This apparently happened here, and this story not only had several different reporters working on it, it had several different editors.

When that happens, it is common practice for a story to appear in this, as in other papers, without bylines, since it is a group effort

Your ombudsman wishes this story had been more clear. Actually, I would have liked this story to have been a more sharply focused account of the partnership's weaknesses - coupled with a companion story showing what the University of Toledo's art program does, and what it was designed to do.

I am pleased that The Blade has run a number of letters from readers complaining about this story. Perhaps significantly, I have received no complaints from officials of the Toledo Museum of Art saying this story was unfair.

Incidentally, I also asked Mr. Klinger, director of communications at UT, if he could provide me with a list of any clear factual inaccuracies that appeared in this story. He hasn't listed any.

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Anyone with a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 189 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me, at 1-888-746-8610 or E-Mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com.

I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.

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