Leonard Hargrove, a longtime Toledo reader, has a problem with the newspaper's religion coverage: He thinks there is too much of it. "The Blade continues to push religion down the throats of its readers," he complained. He thinks the fact that the paper "publishes two pages on religion every Saturday" is excessive.
He cited long recent articles about the retirements of the Rev. Jim Bacik, a Roman Catholic priest, and Orthodox Rabbi Edward Garsek, the last with "an over-the-top headline referring to him as a 'Rabbinic giant.'"
He asked how the paper could justify putting such a story on its front page. Meanwhile, he charged that "as far as The Blade is concerned, nonreligionists do not exist."
Perhaps the world's best-known atheist and man of letters, writer Christopher Hitchens, died in December. "Did The Blade publish an article on his accomplishments and books?" he asked, snorting, "I think not."
So what does your ombudsman think?
First of all, the last of Mr. Hargrove's complaints is the easiest to answer. The Blade did not have "an article" on Mr. Hitchens: The newspaper published at least five. These included a long obituary that drew complaints from some because it ran on the Religion pages, plus an editorial that praised his independent mind.
The newspaper also reviewed many of his books over the years and ran stories about his final illness, including one about Christians praying for him, and ran an online link to a guest book where people could share their reminiscences of him.
Beyond that, however, is The Blade pushing religion?
Frankly, I see no evidence of that, and I suspect I would notice; I am a cheerful agnostic myself. Religion, however, is a big part of the lives of many, if not most people in the Toledo community, as it is elsewhere in this country.
Recent surveys show more than nine out of 10 believe in God in some form; more than four out of five people consider themselves members of a particular denomination.
Religion clearly has a profound social, cultural, and economic importance that no newspaper can afford to ignore.
That doesn't mean the newspaper is out to push or whitewash religion, or any denomination in particular, any more than the newspaper's coverage of the Jeep plant means The Blade is trying to get everyone to go buy a Chrysler product. The Blade angered some people a decade ago with a massive investigation of sexual abuses committed by Roman Catholic priests in the Toledo area.
The newspaper also didn't pull any punches in its coverage of the sensational murder trial of former priest Gerald Robinson, who was convicted six years ago of the brutal slaying of a nun.
Incidentally, if Roman Catholics get more attention from the newspaper than, say, Presbyterians or atheists, it is likely because there are many more of them.
Not everybody is required to be interested in everything. If someone isn't interested in religion, that's fine -- but it certainly doesn't mean it shouldn't be covered. Personally, I would regard having to watch basketball as torture, but I recognize that the paper needs to cover college and professional sports at all levels.
Rabbi Garsek and the Rev. Bacik have both been important and familiar personalities in their communities and in the wider Toledo community for decades. I see nothing inappropriate about putting well-written stories about their lives on the front page.
By the way, Mr. Hargrove wanted to know whether the paper's coverage of religion had anything to do with the fact that Joseph H. Zerbey IV, the president and general manager of The Blade, was a "committed" member of one particular denomination.
The fact is that Mr. Zerbey has nothing to do with directing news coverage. And while I have talked to him many times, I've never had the faintest idea about his religion -- and my guess is that few, if any, of the newspaper's editors do either.
There continues to be continued controversy over letters to the editor. Peter Kern of Ottawa Lake told me that he will no longer write letters because The Blade has imposed a policy of "censorship."
David Kushma, the editor of The Blade, said that some readers don't understand the job of editors. The problem is that Mr. Kern insists on having his letters "printed without alterations."
That won't, can't, and shouldn't happen. Editors strive not to change a writer's meaning but often have to correct spelling and grammar and condense both for clarity -- and so more views can be heard. As a professional writer for many years, your ombudsman is very glad that my own work almost never appears "without alternations," thanks to good editors at, in this case, The Blade.
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 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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