Cross purposesWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Newspapers receive a lot of what I call “library information desk requests.” People call to ask for historical dates, names of elected leaders, confirmations of rumors and to lodge consumer complaints against restaurants, doctors, etc. One of the most common appeals is for help in reaching elected officials.
“I e-mailed Politician X about Issue Y but have not heard back. Can you help?” comes up a lot. It’s good customer service to follow-up on such requests whenever possible; I always keep in mind that it was record store owner Brian Epstein’s dedicated effort to meet customer Raymond Jones’ request for a single copy of “My Bonnie” that led him to discover The Beatles.
So on Jan. 23, when David Eichenberg posted a photo to our Facebook page and asked, “Anyone know why the new Beverly School on S. Detroit, where the old Bowsher was located is sporting Christian Crosses around the top of the Gymnasium? I tried contacting the TPS Board but none of them have replied,” it was part of our normal routine to try to help him find an answer.
Up to that point, there was no news. One person asked one question we promised to answer. Toledo Free Press Web Editor Lisa Renee Ward sent the picture to Toledo Public Schools officials on Jan. 23. On Feb. 14, James Gant, chief business manager for TPS, told Ward that the cross design “was not part of the original plans, and that the design was to have been what could be described as a plus sign.”
He then said the architect responsible was going to fix the problem, and the fix would not cost TPS any money.
Now there was news to report. Someone at TPS saw the design and decided it would be prudent to contact the architect to have the elements removed. Remember, during the 22-day span between Ward asking the question and Gant answering it, Toledo Free Press did not publish the photo, or any news story or editorial on the topic. I had lunch with Gant, TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko and TPS Board of Education Vice President Lisa Sobecki on Feb. 9 and never broached the subject.
When the story was posted and linked on Facebook on Feb. 14, there was an instant reaction.
“Your kidding me right!” wrote Steve Crippen, a sentiment echoed by Beth Beley Cutcher and Kim Bristow Dilloway.
Less than 10 minutes after the post, Chris Coan wrote, “Is it you TFP, that had a problem with this?”
Amy Hanson DeAnda wrote, “From what i’m reading, TFP is not in touch with their readers, and may lose fans from causing controversy over something like this … your story doesn’t mention ANYTHING about a concerned resident … just a representative of TFP trying to find a story where there isn’t one.”
Charlie Ramirez wrote, “TFP is this what you call in reporting news get a life … way 2 go give yourself a dam pat on the back for reporting that you have a problem with the cross and what it stands for.”
Lord knows (that’s my Christian Lord, by the way) I am used to reading criticism of our work online, but it bothered me that some of the readers assumed we approached the story from an anti-Christian angle and somehow bullied TPS into making a change on the building. The story clearly stated that the photo was sent from a reader and did not contain a single word of our opinion, but several readers still assumed we “felt” a specific way or “Have a problem with the cross.”
Ward responded with some calm comments, but soon, some level-headed readers who actually read the story spoke up.
Lauren ‘Lulu’ Tipton wrote, “Why is everyone pissed that TFP is doing what they are supposed to do & reporting on things in our community? You’re going to stop reading their paper because of that?! Really??”
Jason Arbogast posted, “I’d like to applaud the TFP for actually caring what the citizens of their community think.”
Most importantly, Eichenberg pitched in: “It was not TFP that started this, it was I. So why did I do it? … First it is unconstitutional for our government to back one religion. Since this is a public building being paid for by all Toledo tax payers, including myself, it can not have these symbols … I was not trying to bash Christians … what I was trying to do is to get the problem fixed while the tax payers of Toledo did not have to foot the bill … I am glad that the TFP helped in getting the answers to my questions and that the TPS is working out a solution with the builders. I also wish that the TPS board would have had the decency to answer the inquiries that I sent them.”
There was also an interesting comment from Dave Smith: “I’m a Jew. I live approximately 250 feet from the building. I pay taxes just like you do; however, every time I drive away from my house, I have to see the three crosses of Golgotha that are blazed across the gym roof line … It’s simply wrong-headed and violates my rights under the US Constitution…which doesn’t say anything about sorta, kinda, sometimes…it speaks quite directly against the “establishment of religion” and not just when it suits the majority. Thanks to TFP for being that other part of the First Amendment, a truly free press. I applaud your efforts.”
The conversation continued, mostly in civil and intelligent tones. As Toledo Free Press melds social networking into its information stream, this interaction and accessibility is crucial to our mission to serve the Toledo community. If you have a library information desk request, contact us and we will help if we can.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.