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Published: Saturday, 7/18/2009

Media partnership generally poses no conflict

Jason Korbus was curious about The Blade s relationship with WTOL-TV, otherwise known as Channel 11.

I frequently hear different news anchors on WTOL referencing The Toledo Blade as their media partner, and I was wondering what a media partner is, and what the nature of this particular partnership is.

Fair question.

Ron Royhab, the newspaper s vice president-executive editor, notes that this sort of arrangement is not uncommon in major metropolitan areas these days. The idea is for both newsrooms to combine resources to give both readers and viewers as much as possible.

That doesn t mean that either organization loses its independence. Most of the time, the collaboration has involved breaking or public news, events that are available to anyone. Plane crashes, for example, or press conferences. Additionally, the newspaper and the TV newsroom have undertaken some projects together sponsoring a series of debates between the mayoral candidates this fall, for example.

Executives of both organizations feel it is a win-win situation.

But does it violate any journalistic ethics or stifle competition?

Not as far as I can see. Nobody is going to wait for The Blade to come the next morning to find out, say, that a big crash closed I-75 the night before. By sharing resources, WTOL often has a more complete story, and viewers are reminded that The Blade may have a far more complete story the next morning.

Nor does The Blade share everything in advance, namely, its prize-winning investigative and enterprise coverage.

There could be an ethical problem if either institution started pulling its punches in reporting on the other. Mr. Royhab says flatly that wouldn t happen. Indeed, from what I have seen, WTOL hasn t shied away from reporting on labor situations at The Blade.

Nor, the editors say, would they suppress news involving the TV station.

However, if someone does think he sees something questionable, your ombudsman would like to know about it.

Several readers, not all of them Republicans, think The Blade dropped the ball on another story for political reasons. Robert Eric McFadden pleaded guilty in Columbus on July 9 to two felonies, which involved trying to market the services of a teenage prostitute.

That is eye-opening because McFadden was once Gov. Ted Strickland s director of community and faith-based initiatives. He was later transferred to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and subsequently laid off because of the budget crisis.

Is this one more case of The Blade trying to cover up for Democrats caught in scandals? one caller asked.

Mr. Royhab was out of town when the scandal surfaced, but after checking with his editors, he said, We did not do a story on McFadden for several reasons. He was not the head of the department at the time of the crime and is not from our area.

Indeed, The Blade can t do a story on everything in Ohio. But McFadden was a longtime statewide Democratic political operative, and I think the newspaper ought to have at least done a news brief.

The Blade also did not carry any stories about an incident in Akron on July 3, in which a white family of six were allegedly assaulted and beaten up by a large gang of black youths.

Is the media just too scared to do what is right? one reader wrote me last week. Well, it may be true that some news organizations have tailored their messages to some idea of political correctness. But this story was intensively covered in Akron.

And it still remains unclear what happened and why. The police have pointedly not classified this as a racial hate crime. No other similar incidents were reported that night or since.

That doesn t mean it didn t happen. One would hope that the Akron Beacon-Journal and law enforcement in that area are thoroughly checking it out. But should The Blade have had a story?

Not necessarily. Many of us still remember the case of Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who, in 1994, claimed a black man had hijacked her car with her two tiny sons in it. For days, police stopped and interrogated men who matched her description of the suspect. Then it was learned she had drowned her boys herself because a man she was having an affair with didn t want a family.

That doesn t mean Blade editors shouldn t keep an eye on the Akron story. But in this society, few things are more explosive than an unsubstantiated claim of racial violence.

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, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 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.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.

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