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Published: Sunday, 5/21/2006

Adult-oriented service ads draw reader's consternation

A reader from Findlay called to say she loves our sports section, and takes the paper for her 14-year-old grandson, who is an enormous Toledo Mud Hens fan.

But Lorrell Pfaltzgraf has a problem with the adult-oriented ads - for massage parlors and escort services - that appear discreetly at the bottom of an inside page. "To me, this is just plain, old-fashioned pornography," she said.

Technically, that's not correct; the ads themselves do not contain pictures or any especially suggestive language, though your average teenage boy should easily be able to figure out what is being offered here. Some of the ads suggest Web sites, and when you go to them they leave nothing to the imagination.

What is going on here? Clearly, the newspaper is in need of all revenue it can raise, as are most newspapers around the country, many or most of which have now begun carrying such advertising.

"My feeling is that the newspaper is a free market," Joseph H. Zerbey IV, The Blade's vice president and general manager said. "We are very careful about what they can show. We don't allow anything very explicit, and we try to keep them in an unobtrusive part of the paper."

Few people like advertising like this very much, including me, even though the average teenager can see more sexually explicit things on TV any night of the week, not to mention the Internet.

The fact is, however, that the editorial staff of The Blade, including the sports writers and editors, has nothing to do with what ads run.

Nor do I.

But I pass your complaints about this material on to the advertising staff, especially because of something else Mrs. Pfaltzgraf told me. "Doesn't this look a little strange when you are doing all these stories about teen prostitution and its effects on the community?" Seems to me she has a point.

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Anyone who thinks The Blade doesn't listen to its readers hasn't been paying attention to the crossword puzzle wars. A few weeks ago, the newspaper began running answers to the daily puzzle the next day. That's how most newspapers across the country do it.

But our readers didn't like that. Make that, they hated it, and they let us know, in no uncertain terms. So we began running the answers the same day, with a twist.

"We borrowed an idea from a reader who suggested running the answers on the same page, upside down. We felt that was a winning solution," said Kurt Franck, The Blade's managing editor.

Most readers agreed. Cliff Donley, however, dissented. He, it seems, can read upside down. "What I have to do now is have my wife cut the answers out of the middle of the clues, which is a real pain. Can you put them on another page?"

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no.

"We don't have the space to move the answers to another section because we brought back Non Sequitur, a very popular comic strip, after we had to remove it to make room for the Sudoku puzzle," Mr. Franck said.

"Our overall goal is to add more content to The Blade at a time when news space is diminishing at papers throughout the country."

Hard to fault the paper for that.

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Anyone with a concern about fairness and accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 189 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit MI 48202. You may also call me, at 1-888-746-8610 or email 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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