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Published: Saturday, 3/7/2009

Insults lobbed at Issue Day on news media stun students

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
cty MICHAEL MILLER    Photo from Public Relations Society of America website (nwohioprsa.org)     ***   NOT BLADE PHOTO       Michael Miller, editor in chief, Toledo Free Press.  2008 photo cty MICHAEL MILLER Photo from Public Relations Society of America website (nwohioprsa.org) *** NOT BLADE PHOTO Michael Miller, editor in chief, Toledo Free Press. 2008 photo
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

"Who here reads the newspaper?" Toledo lawyer Fritz Byers asked a room full of high school students.

Two teachers in the back raised their hands. So did two of the nearly two dozen students at this presentation on the First Amendment during Issue Day at Maumee Valley Country Day School in South Toledo.

Yet considering this era of aggregate Web blogs and text-message headlines, the two young newsprint readers seemed too many to take at face value. There's a difference between the home-delivered Blade and toledoblade.com, and Mr. Byers was skeptical.

"You actually read a hard copy of it?" the attorney grilled one student. "Regularly?"

The boy nodded. Mr. Byers appeared genuinely surprised. "Do your parents subscribe?"

The news media and its evolving forms and business challenges were the spotlight issues Friday at Maumee Valley. The school invited 27 speakers to the all-day event, including journalists, public officials, news anchors, and communications experts.

There was discussion about the future of investigative journalism, the survival of community news, the convergence of media forms, and the practicality of reapplying the Fairness Doctrine to the radio waves, among other topics.

Highlights included an acrimonious encounter between two speakers: Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Toledo Free Press, and Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party.

The confrontation occurred when Mr. Stainbrook peered into the doorway of the classroom where Mr. Miller was preparing to give a talk on "The Death and Resurrection of the American Newspaper Industry."

Mr. Stainbrook, who attended Maumee Valley, was scheduled to talk in a nearby classroom.

It was unclear who was responsible for initiating their exchange, which began minutes before class time. However, Mr. Miller escalated the dialogue and uttered the only direct insults, calling Mr. Stainbrook a vulgar word for anus, preceded by the adjectives "Toledo's premier."

After Mr. Stainbrook made a leering grin and walked away, Mr. Miller made more remarks while the class of about nine students listened in disbelief.

"There's good guys and there's bad guys in the world, and one of the things we do is put the spotlight on the bad guys - and that's a bad guy," Mr. Miller said, pointing a finger toward Mr. Stainbrook's classroom.

A student asked the editor if he was kidding. He replied that he was not.

"Jon Stainbrook and I go back to college. I didn't like him then, and I don't like him now," he told the students, and called the doorway incident "a clash of the titans."

"You have to believe to your core that you're in the truth-telling business," Mr. Miller told the students in his seminar, using additional profanity during his talk to Maumee Valley students.

Reached later, Mr. Stainbrook said Mr. Miller's behavior "was completely unprofessional," especially using profanity at the school. "He claims to be an impartial journalist, but it's obvious he has a personal vendetta against me."

During a humorous and insightful presentation on the radio business, Brian Wilson, program director and afternoon host of WSPD-AM, predicted Democratic elements in the federal government will, through "incremental restrictions," eventually reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine.

"They'll get around to it. It's just a matter of time," Mr. Wilson said. He warned that if it's brought on too fast or all at once, "there will be riots in the streets."

Joshua Benton, 33, a former reporter for The Blade and the Dallas Morning News who is now director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, was the event's keynote speaker. Mr. Benton described the problem plaguing newsrooms across the country: Readers are abandoning subscriptions for free content online and advertisers do not pay as much for Internet ads.

So even though more people are reading the products of newspapers than ever, fewer are paying for them, Mr. Benton said.

Mr. Benton told the students he had no solution to journalism's current predicaments, but predicted someone would in five to seven years when they've graduated from college.

His advice in the meantime: "Buy a newspaper, please."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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