Reader contends Blade lacks diversity

Does The Blade have enough African-Americans in its newsroom? A reader who signs his name Thomas Fink doesn’t think so and thinks this is deliberate. “It is my contention that the Toledo Blade [has] established and maintained a totally unacceptable policy of racial bias in employment opportunities and news coverage.”

What’s your ombudsman’s opinion?

First of all, the newspaper should indeed have more black reporters and editors. But then, so should most papers in the country.

Part of most newspapers’ ability to diversify has been hurt by a “double whammy” newspapers have faced over the last decade. The migration of much classified advertising to the Internet has hurt all papers’ bottom lines. The recession that followed has caused most papers to have to get along with fewer staff members, rather than more.

Executive Editor Kurt Franck agrees: “Yes, we need to improve our diversity. In fact, we always take that into consideration when we hire people. We pick the best candidates, but I always want us to interview minority candidates when possible.”

Historically, The Blade was a leader in minority hiring. The late Bill Brower, an associate editor of The Blade when he retired, was one of the first African-American reporters to work at a major newspaper when he was hired by The Blade in 1946.

His award-winning career at this newspaper lasted half a century. More than once, The Blade has hired African-American former students of mine whom I have recommended. However, many went on to bigger papers or other careers after some time.

Currently, there are six African-American staffers in the news and editorial departments, including Associate Editor Rose Russell, who writes a regular column and has been with The Blade more than 30 years.

At least one reader was upset that The Blade is seeking the video-camera footage that shows Don RedFox, the elephant manager at the Toledo Zoo, being injured by Louie, an African elephant. On July 1, the elephant knocked Mr. RedFox down, breaking his wrist and several ribs and puncturing a lung.

This raised questions as to whether proper procedure was being followed by Mr. RedFox – and also about the temperament of the elephant, which previously had been thought to have an especially close bond with the keeper.

One woman, who said she was a member of Mr. RedFox’s family, emphatically said she did not want the video where anybody could see it, that this would be too upsetting to the family.

Dave Murray, The Blade’s managing editor, was sympathetic to her feelings. Nevertheless, the news comes first. Will The Blade put it on the newspaper’s Web site? He told me, “I can’t say for sure till we get the video, which could be months now that the issue is in court. But I would say that most likely we will, possibly editing out any graphic sequences. It is clearly newsworthy, will document the zookeeper’s job performance, and will document the treatment of the elephant at the zoo,” Mr. Murray said.

One reader who prefers to remain anonymous was troubled by a story on July 11 about the Lucas County Republican Party’s drive to gather petition signatures to reorganize county government.

The story ended by saying, “Those interested in helping gather signatures are asked to call GOP headquarters …”

The reader didn’t like this. “Asked by whom? The Blade? It makes the report read like this is a Stainbrook/Blade project.”

Mr. Murray agreed: It was a goof on the wording.

“The reader has a good point,” he said. “We did this in a previous story but said, ‘Mr. Stainbrook asked volunteers to call.'”

There was no intention to imply The Blade supports, or indeed has anything to do with, the petition drive.

This column was originally published in The Toledo Blade on July 18, 2010

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