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Published: Saturday, 3/27/2010

Story on Cross stirs criticism

Several readers were upset by a March 13 story about a letter the University of Toledo received detailing former men's basketball coach Gene Cross' “alleged relationships with women.”

The story noted that the coach, whose Rockets compiled a horrendous 4-28 record this season, had resigned and quoted him as saying “the letter had nothing to do” with his quitting.

“I fail to see where the article regarding Gene Cross's personal life qualifies as sports news,” a woman from Holland, Ohio wrote.

“It is very much the definition of gossip,” she said.

She didn't think the story belonged in the paper at all.

Others readers had no problem with the story itself but thought it was clumsily written and edited. One man wrote: “I thought the story lacked the necessary editing to inform the readers of the most important detail” early enough: the fact that Mr. Cross is single. The man reasoned that there is a big difference between a single man dating several women and a married man doing so.

Having reviewed the story carefully, I think the critics have two valid points. The story should have said that Mr. Cross is single much earlier than it did — that detail was the 15th paragraph. I was also bothered that the story did not include any reaction from university officials until later than that. (The vice president for external affairs said UT took it “very seriously” but there would be no investigation since the coach had resigned.)

Finally, was it fair to run the story at all?

I think that it was proper to run some version of this story — though for matters of taste, I might have downplayed some of the details. Still, Mr. Cross was a public figure in Toledo, and sports are big business. And the coach resigned just days after the letter arrived in the UT athletic department, and he left without receiving more than $700,000 owed him by his contract.

Rumors about why he quit had been all over town, and some of the whispers were far worse than those claimed in the letter. In fact, the letter doesn't seem to allege anything worse than caddishness on the coach's part.

From the story, many readers may conclude that all this was the work of a jealous or jilted lover. They also may find it reasonable to conclude that Mr. Cross' resignation had more to do with his team's abysmal record than anything else.

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Speaking of UT, a few readers aren't happy with the coverage the women's basketball team has been getting. Or to be more correct, they think The Blade's sports staff favors Bowling Green State University. “I am hopeful you will give some credit to the UT grads and be more even-handed in the coverage of both teams,” Debbie Rump wrote to Frank Corsoe, The Blade's sports editor.

I asked Frank to check this out, and he took the time to do so. “The University of Toledo Rockets were on our sports cover 37 times this season, by far the most times in the last five years,” he reported.

“We also documented the Rockets' run in the [Women's National Invitational Tournament.]”

Your ombudsman hasn't had the time to read every story about BGSU and UT, but I haven't seen any sign of overt unfairness. My guess is that for some BG fans, any mention of UT is too much — and vice versa.

Especially, that is, because Toledo lost to Bowling Green in the MAC tournament final.

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Lindsay Smith, a former Australian diplomat who settled in Toledo, caught a mention in the Peach section on March 18 that it was actor Peter Graves' birthday.

Trouble was, poor Peter had expired four days earlier. “Is The Blade onto one of the greatest stories since the first Easter?“ he wrote, tongue firmly in cheek.

Obviously, we dropped the ball. How did this happen? Assistant Managing Editor Luann Sharp investigated and found that the editor who does that section had been on vacation that week and had gotten several days worth of birthdays ready in advance.

Graves was still among the living then. But when it was published several days later, “we didn‘t review the preloaded list carefully enough,” Ms. Sharp said. “We should have caught it and didn't. The editor responsible feels horribly about it.”

When I explained all this to Mr. Smith, he said “very understandable … the responsible editor has my sympathy!”

Anyone who has 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: 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. Reminder, however: If you don't leave me an e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

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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