New Blade spelling of Gadhafi aims for consistency

The always dapper Benjamin Brown was one of a number of readers who raised an excellent question over the past few turmoil-filled weeks: “Why does The Blade spell the last name of the Libyan leader “Kaddafi” in print and in some articles “Gadhafi” online?”

There’s a reason for this, which I will get to shortly, and it’s not one of careless spelling on the part of The Blade.

But first — from now on — that inconsistency should no longer exist. As of March 22, The Blade has switched to the spelling “Moammar Gadhafi,” for both print and online.

Executive Editor Kurt Franck said, “We are going with the AP [Associated Press] style because it seems to be the style used by most news organizations” and to avoid confusing our readers.

This makes a lot of sense. The Associated Press, a cooperative founded in 1848, is the largest news-gathering and disseminating service in the world. Virtually every major news organization is a member and uses AP stories.

Much of the confusion is still caused by the fact that there is still no universally accepted way of transliterating names from Arabic, which uses an entirely different alphabet.

Mr. Franck, who has looked into the issues, reports that there are 112 different spellings and combinations of the Libyan leader’s first and last names.

For some years, The Blade’s style had been “Kaddafi.” But the online newspaper carries stories directly from the AP wire, which automatically went onto the site with the spelling of “Gadhafi.”

Standardizing the spelling makes sense. By the way, according to Mr. Brown, the official Library of Congress transliteration would be “Qadhdhafi.” Not easy to try and say, or fit into a short headline.

-In another question about why the paper does things the way it does, Leslie Sheridan, retired dean of libraries at the University of Toledo, was curious about what it means when a story is attributed to “Blade News Services.” The answer is that it is the best of a blend.

“We often have our editors combine dispatches from several organizations to give readers the most complete and up-to-date information,” Mr. Franck said. The Blade, he added, gets state, national, international, business, sports, and feature stories from a variety of news sources, including the AP, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times.

Mr. Sheridan did have one complaint your ombudsman thought legitimate: On March 9, a “Blade Wire Services” story reported a questionable offer by the ubiquitous Mr. Gadhafi, without indicating the source of that report. The dean wanted to know where this was coming from, so he could judge its reliability.

Fair enough. In such cases, stories should say, for example, “according to the New York Times, Mr, Gadhafi promised whatever,” so that readers can see where the information comes from.

-A reader named Steve has a complaint about The Blade’s letters-to-the-editor policy. “Why, when a teacher, or especially a retired teacher, writes in support of schools or on a school issue does The Blade see a need to add a footnote that the writer is a teacher or a retired teacher? I think it is a wrong practice.”

Editor David Kushma disagrees. “Readers have a right to know when a letter writer has a self-interest in the topic she or he is discussing, so they can assess the writer’s credibility.

“If they don’t acknowledge that interest in their letters, we do it in an editor’s note when we determine it is relevant.”

Your ombudsman agrees with the editor and thinks The Blade’s already overworked staff should — when possible — make a bigger effort to identify the interests of writers on other topics.

Teachers, and those campaigning against them, should have their vested interests laid out for the readers.

Otherwise, it would be much the same as allowing Democratic political activists to bash Republicans in print — or vice-versa — without having where they are coming from made known.

-Jim Damschroder has a beef about The Blade, and he is right. On Jan. 30, the newspaper ran a front-page article by Tom Troy with an accompanying map showing the size of various states’ budget deficits and what percentage that represented of total spending. The figures for Michigan were, as Mr. Damschroder pointed out to me at the time, wildly off.

The Blade printed a correction on Feb. 24 but ought to have corrected this earlier.

The correction stated that Michigan’s 2011 budget was $20.9 billion, which included the general fund and school aid fund.

For the record, the total size of Michigan’s current budget, including all funds, is $47.5 billion.

Estimates vary, but the deficit for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 is thought to be about $1.8 billion.

This column was originally published in the Toledo Blade on March 30, 2011.

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