S. Scott Schwab, a Toledo attorney, took issue with the full-page “Most Wanted” public service ad that runs on Tuesdays.
He finds the feature strongly objectionable — and more to the point, unfair — mainly because it implies that the fugitives listed are guilty of the crimes attached to their names.
Until now, an entry on what he calls the “criminal back page,” has shown a person’ s face with his or her name — and under that “Crime Committed: Robbery,” or whatever the offense is alleged to be. That, Mr. Schwab protested, amounts to conviction without a trial.
“Last I checked, the presumption of innocence was still alive and well in U.S. jurisprudence,” he said.
“It would be not only accurate but responsible to [put] instead something in the nature of ‘crime alleged.’?”
Your ombudsman thinks the attorney is right — and so did Joseph H. Zerbey IV, The Blade’s president and general manager.
“We appreciate it when readers take the time to write about their concern for accuracy. In this instance, the writer is right on!” Mr. Zerbey said. “We sincerely appreciate Mr. Schwab’s input and will immediately change the wording under the photos to “alleged crime.”
- Speaking of ads … the news-gathering, or editorial department, traditionally has nothing to do with the ads that run in The Blade, and advertisers are not allowed to influence news coverage.
The editors are very concerned to make sure that there is no confusion between news and advertising. Reader Tom Schoen was troubled by an ad for Procter & Gamble’s digestive product “Align,” which runs on a full-page background of what appear to be old Associated Press news stories.
“Why does the word ‘advertisement’ not appear at the top of the page? Am I missing something? Overreacting? Please advise.”
Again, both your ombudsman and Kurt Franck, The Blade’s executive editor, think the reader is right. A sophisticated reader such as Mr. Schoen might quickly recognize that this was in fact an advertisement, but ethically, this needs to be clearly labeled.
Mr. Franck said that in the future, there will be a notification in sizable type indicating that this is, in fact, an ad.
- Alan Bremer, another Toledo reader, was mystified by the failure of The Blade — or any other local media — to report on what he heard was a fatal auto accident on Broadway.
“A neighbor reported the driver was killed.” Mr. Bremer’s wife also saw something posted on Facebook that the driver was a Woodward High School teacher. But why didn’t this appear in the paper? “Is there some reason that the investigation needed to be suppressed at this time?” he wanted to know.
Not at all. What happened was this: The Blade did list the accident, which happened May 27, on its Web site two days later. But the name of the victim was incorrectly given as Robert Murry, which a reporter said was the spelling provided by the coroner’s office.
The victim was Robert Murray, the assistant athletic director at Woodward, and the newspaper ran an obituary about him on June 1. However, the obit listed the cause of death as a heart attack, based on information provided by the family.
“The coroner told us initially that Mr. Murray had heart problems,” said Kim Bates, The Blade’s city editor. In fact, the newspaper is still awaiting a final ruling on the cause of death.
“He could have had a heart attack, got into the accident and died, or he could have died from injuries in the crash,” she added.
Such confusion is not unusual in cases where a motorist has a heart attack while driving and then gets into a crash. The Blade has run a correction on the spelling of the deceased man’s name.
Hopefully, this account sets the rest of the story straight as well.
- Confidential to the gentleman from Perrysburg who has a plan for a memorial to all wars: I would be happy to talk to you, but you did not leave a number or anyway for me to contact you when you called. Please call me back.
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, 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. 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.