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Wednesday, October 01, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 8/24/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

COMMENTARY

At a newspaper, neither people nor machines run perfectly

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN
Lessenberry Lessenberry
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News flash: The people who run The Blade are human. Not just the reporters and editors, but those who print the papers, load them in the truck, deliver it to your doorstep.

And human beings make mistakes. Some more excusable than others. What has baffled me most in the years that I have been an ombudsman is how angry people tend to get with the newspaper.

Sometimes over the slightest things. Last week I got a very angry email from a man named Brian, who wrote to me, among other things: “I bought The Blade today and got two newspapers, one inside the other. Neither of them had a Peach Section. The most expensive paper in Northwest Ohio can’t get it right?”

Well, yes, that shouldn’t have happened.

But if you understand newspaper technology, that was almost certainly a machine error, not a human error. Nobody plotted to give Brian a defective “conjoined twins” newspaper, but in folding and bundling 100,000 or so multiple-section papers, mistakes will happen.

What Brian could have done is taken the paper back to the vendor, who would have given him a correct one.

And while my job as ombudsman is not to do PR for the business side of operations, in my experience, The Blade also works exceptionally hard to satisfy home delivery customers with legitimate “beefs about The Blade.” Back in July, Denny Shea, who lives in Sylvania Township, got a Sunday paper that erroneously contained the previous week’s comics. He was not happy.

He came to me and I notified the circulation department. Soon afterward, I again heard from Mr. Shea:

“The Blade’s home delivery manager personally delivered last Sunday’s comics along with a great cartoon umbrella! Many thanks!”

I was happy to be of help, but customers who have delivery problems might get faster service by calling circulation directly: 419-724-6300.

Speaking of mistakes: Last week, The Blade was in the embarrassing position of having to correct a correction.

On Aug. 20, the newspaper ran a correction to a previous story, identifying a steeple as belonging to the “Sylvania United Methodist Church of Christ.” There’s only one problem with that.

There is no such church, and I believe just about every member of the congregation in question let me know.

Nearly all, I must say, were very polite. Roberta Thornton, for example, wrote me that such a church would be impossible, because, “that would be a merger of two different Protestant denominations. And theologically, they’re not ever going to merge.”

The church pictured was, in fact, the Sylvania United Church of Christ, not Sylvania First Methodist Church. The Blade corrected the mistake, and I have a hunch the editors are going to be extra careful about church names for a long time.

Finally, this has been a good month for hearing from readers from the Sylvania area. Robert Kelso, of SyIvania Township, wishes “The Blade would stop devoting a half page to advertisements on (the opinion) page Monday through Saturday.”

Mr. Kelso would like to see the newspaper “push advertising off the editorial pages to make room for readers’ letters that don’t cost anything." He added, "I am a frequent letter writer and most of them get published, but many times they appear after the topic I wrote about has disappeared from the news.”

Well, I don’t know anyone who has spent a lifetime in newspapers who is happy with having to run ads on the front page, let alone the editorial page.

Yet the sad fact is that the economics of the newspaper business have changed, and today most papers, including The Blade, find it necessary to run advertising on pages where they once did not.This may be jarring to some of us old-timers.

But I do teach newspaper ethics at Wayne State University in Detroit, and ethically, there is nothing wrong with running advertising on the opinion pages, provided the ads are clearly labeled and cannot be confused with journalistic content.

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.

Contact him at: omblade@aol.com



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