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Monday, September 15, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 9/15/2013

Commentary

Listing restaurant health violations is public service

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN
Jack Lessenberry. Jack Lessenberry.
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Sometimes it seems that the Daily Log entries — births and deaths, dogs adopted and killed, etc. — are some of the most popular pages in The Blade. Two readers had recent questions about restaurant inspections, a section that seems especially well-read.

Alan Buck, Sr., asked, “Occasionally in The Blade I see health department inspection violations of food servers in Toledo and the surrounding area … how often are they published?

Dave Murray, the managing editor, noted that “we publish the restaurant inspection log every Monday,” after receiving the latest reports from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

But reader Gary Smith doesn’t like the way the paper ranks the entries. “Just wondering why the restaurants with violations are listed first, while the restaurants without violations are listed at the bottom … Shouldn’t you celebrate those restaurants who get it right before you expose those food service operations who have issues?“

Your ombudsman’s response is … well, no.

Fortunately, most area restaurants do not have severe health department issues. The log isn’t designed to “celebrate” or congratulate businesses who are doing what they are legally required to do. The newspaper runs it as a service to the reader.

What is most important is that users can quickly scan the log and see which restaurants have had problems. That might be useful to a couple, say, who have decided to go out to dinner tonight.

We don’t often think about this, but by its nature, news assumes that most businesses are honest and that most people lead good, normal, stable, and productive lives.

Sadly, “news” happens mainly when people screw up, commit a crime, or meet with a calamity. Or, that is, when an institution like a restaurant fails to comply with health department rules.

● A reader who insisted on remaining anonymous here wrote me a letter that I am sure was very hard for him.

Some years ago, he was convicted of a particularly embarrassing felony. He did his time and now wants to get on with his life. Except — thanks to the Internet — the story about his conviction can still be read by anybody with a search engine.

This was, he said, a first offense, and he has since gotten his criminal record expunged. However, the story is still out there. He wanted to see if it could be removed from the archives.

Kurt Franck, The Blade’s executive editor, said, “Our policy is we don’t remove stories from our site unless someone’s life is in danger, and then we must have proof.“

Even if that were ever the case, he noted, it would be difficult or impossible to “erase the story from the Internet” or the world’s various search engines and data caches.

Your ombudsman is sympathetic to the anonymous man. Who, after all, hasn’t made some embarrassing mistake in life? 

However, even if the record could be easily erased, I would be against taking it out of the newspaper’s records.

 The very idea is reminiscent of the nightmare world of George Orwell’s 1984, where the past is regularly rewritten to comply with the needs of the dictators.

The writer seemed most concerned about his old conviction affecting his ability to be employed. Possibly the best thing he could do is follow the time-honored philosophy of “if you mess up, ’fess up.”

Explain, and hope employers are impressed by his candor.

● Lindsay Smith knows something about titles of nobility, especially where the British Commonwealth is concerned.

A former Australian, he was once a member of that nation’s Ceremonial, Hospitality, and Protocol Department in Canberra. He politely took issue with The Blade‘s obituary of legendary television interviewer David Frost, who had been knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II.

The Blade referred to him as “Sir Frost.” The proper reference, Mr. Smith said, is “Sir David.”

He added, “Anyone with some literary and historic background would know a knighthood for a male brings the honorific of, for example, Sir Winston [Churchill].”

Mr. Smith (who perhaps ought to be made Sir Lindsay for his eagle eye) is correct.

The Associated Press Stylebook, the unofficial style Bible of the newspaper industry, says that for those knighted, “Use ‘Sir’ before a name if appropriate in the context: Sir Harold Wilson on first reference, Sir Harold [not Sir Wilson] on second.” The Blade’s style rules agree.

The newspaper made an error, and the editors tell me they regret the mistake.

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 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.

Contact him at: omblade@aol.com



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