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Published: Sunday, 7/3/2011

State budget headline didn't amount to liberal bias

Reader Dave Pooley was one of a number of readers who thought The Blade showed liberal bias in this Wednesday headline: "GOP muscles budget past state Senate."

"In this day and age when bullying is such an issue, the term 'muscles' certainly carries a bad connotation," Mr. Pooley added.

The story, by Blade Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance, reported that the Republican majority in the Ohio Senate had passed the two-year state budget without a single Democratic vote. Those GOP senators can do that because they have the political power, or "muscle," and the headline was meant to convey their clout.

"Muscle" may not have been the best choice of word, precisely because some people see it as implying bullying. The copy editor who wrote it wasn't thinking that; he or she was most likely looking for a word that would reflect the Republican majority's clout.

Actually, the copy editor was probably thinking about something else just as strongly: Finding the right word that would fit into the space assigned.

Reporters don't write the headlines for their stories; editors in Toledo do, once it is decided where the story will appear and how much space there will be for the headline. Then, they have a very short time to find the words to fit in a very small space. If you think that's easy, try it sometime.

While I agree that "muscle" wasn't the best word, the last thing on the copy editor's mind was casting political aspersions.

Incidentally, Mr. Pooley also said he thought the liberal bias at the paper was being directed by Joseph H. Zerbey IV, The Blade's president and general manager. Mr. Zerbey is in charge of the business functions of the paper, but he is not involved in the editorial operation, and he does not make newsroom decisions. In fact, like other readers, he generally does not see the news stories, editorials, or headlines until they appear in print.

Speaking of Mr. Zerbey …

Reader Linda Nestor wrote: "I saw an ad in the sports section recently that truly upset me. The ad -- in large bold letters -- announces: The Ultimate Sexual Experience. Sex on Demand"

Not surprisingly. this was actually a come-on to sell a product. But Ms. Nestor was offended. "Is this the image 'One of America's Great Newspapers' wants to project?

"Will you run any ad if the money is right? Do you feel any responsibility to the children that will see this ad?

"Shame on you!" she added.

Your ombudsman found the ad tasteless too, and my first thought was that I wouldn't want my 10-year-old goddaughter Nora seeing it. My second thought, however, is that she probably has seen worse on the Internet or even cable TV.

However, just as the business side of the paper has nothing to do with the news-gathering folks, reporters and editors don't have anything to do with determining which ads the newspaper will run.

Those folks ultimately report to Mr. Zerbey, and while monitoring The Blade's business functions aren't part of my responsibility, I asked him to respond.

Here is what he said:

"Newspapers are a marketplace of ideas. We are the only media not licensed by any level of government. We provide readers all types of news and advertising information in a transparent manner leaving judgment of the content to each reader.

"If the ad copy meets legal guidelines and contains no information that would endanger or threaten the reader, then that advertiser has every right to advertise. I can understand how this particular ad would draw objections from some Blade readers. They have ability to restrict their children or grandchildren from reading the ad, or better yet, explain to them why they shouldn't read it."

However, he added, "The newspaper should never find itself in the role of censorship. Stop publishing these ads and, what is next, banning ads for certain religions, books, political ideas, or people? It is far better for the reader to judge how newspaper content is viewed in the home. It is always better to talk about issues and explain parental guidelines in a family context.

"That is not a newspaper's role."

Jay Shenk of Maumee thought he caught The Blade in an act of blatant hypocrisy. He noted that the newspaper ran an editorial in April criticizing Gov. John Kasich for proposing to direct readers to a state Web site for certain legal notices, instead of paying to publish them in newspapers such as The Blade.

But an article in the paper June 11 about a summer food program for the needy referred readers to the newspaper's Web site toledoblade.com for a list of sites where meals were available.

"Here's the hypocrisy: the editor's objection was that only 70 percent of Ohio households had access to the Internet," and those who don't included a large proportion of the poor.

"Now for something as important as where to go to get meals for hungry children, these same readers are referred to a Toledo Blade Web site for details," Mr. Shenk complained.

Dave Murray, The Blade's managing editor, said, "The difference between legal advertising and lists published in news columns is that there is unlimited space for legal ads, because they are paid for, and very limited space for news coverage. Thanks to the Web site we are able to provide readers with so much more information that in the past we couldn't provide them in the paper alone."

Nevertheless, Mr. Murray added: "I agree with Mr. Shenk that the list of feeding programs for kids in the summer is very important, so I've asked the city desk to publish the list once a month in the local news section on a Monday. "We'll do this throughout the summer."

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 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. Reminder, however: If you don't leave me an email 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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