No One's Laughing
What started as a joke at Toledo's Blade ends in a reporter's
suspension, cries of censorship and the withholding of bylines by
staffers and management alike.
By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.
What started as a joke at Toledo's Blade ends in a reporter's suspension, cries of censorship and the withholding of bylines by staffers and management alike.
Once a year for the Toledo Press Club's Ribs & Roast dinner, Blade staffers distribute a parody paper, called the Bleed , focusing on local media issues. This year's hot topic: a battle between the paper and a local radio station, which resorted to raising questions about Blade Copublisher and Editor in Chief John Robinson Block 's penis size.
Much fodder there for a parody, but Executive Editor Ron Royhab thought one graphic the Bleed planned to use went over the line. He asked reporter Larry Vellequette , the one in charge of the spoof, not to run it, says Block. Vellequette objected and Bleed staffers protested.
"A group of us met and decided it would be wrong to let [Royhab] do this to the Bleed," says a staffer who asked not to be identified. So this year's Bleed consisted of one page, the word "Censored!!" splashed across it, and the offending graphic in the corner. "Who's got the biggest News Organ in town?" it asks, answering with a bar chart of hand-drawn penises, comparing local news outlets. The Blade's is the biggest.
"Sick, juvenile, high school-level humor," says Block. He says he was not involved in Royhab's decision to suspend Vellequette without pay for five days, but he supports it. The reporter used Blade equipment, Block says, and was guilty of "insubordination." Vellequette referred questions to Christine Reardon , attorney for the Toledo Newspaper Guild/CWA.
The unnamed staffer says, "We should not have run those graphics," but adds many disagreed with suspending a reporter for something he did on his own time. Local news, features, sports and business writers went on a byline strike in protest March 8 and 9, and, says Reardon, noneditorial guild members wore red to show solidarity.
On March 10, many of the local news bylines didn't return. Block resuscitated an old Blade policy, jettisoned in the mid-80s, of not using bylines on every story, particularly straight news pieces. He says he had wanted to do so for some time. "We believe that bylines are for the reader's benefit, not for the writer," he says.
At press time, the guild was involved in talks with the paper over the new bylines rules and had filed a grievance on Vellequette's behalf. Block says that everyone in the newsroom was upset, but he doesn't plan on bringing back the missing story credits. "If they want to talk about it, of course we'll talk about it," he says. And the paper will "also talk about this effort to embarrass us." ###