Dave Murray, managing editor of The Toledo Blade, says "mistakes were made" and apologized for a story which ran this weekend about the recent officer involved shooting. Social media created a storm of controversy when people suggested that the paper had printed two different copies of the Sunday edition for different parts of the city to enflame racial tensions. Murray explained that the facts were different than what social media suggested and that it was simply a mistake in the first story being corrected before the second printing went out to subscribers.
In the newsroom whenever you hear “officer-involved shooting” come across the police scanners, or these days see it on the Toledo Police Facebook page or Twitter account, everything stops for a second, waiting for what comes next — “officer down” or details about the shooting of a criminal.
At The Blade, as in newsrooms across the country, it’s our job — our most important job — to be accurate.
That didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen again on Saturday night.
We messed up. Mistakes were made.
Inserting the race of the man shot and the police officer who shot him on Page 1 Sunday was wrong. We saw the error late and fixed it, but 25,000 papers were already en route.
As soon as we heard a man had been shot Friday and police officers were involved, a reporter and a photographer were sent to the scene. Reports came in quickly via Facebook and Twitter that police had shot and killed a person. A second reporter and photographer were sent out.
The Blade is not just a newspaper these days, but a multiple-platform digital operation, meaning we first report the news on toledoblade.com and on The Blade’s social media accounts, mainly on Facebook and Twitter. We send push alerts out to thousands of cell phone and tablet readers sending them to our website and app — Blade NewsSlide.
As part of the newsroom there is a web desk, with editors and designers waiting to distribute the latest news to an audience larger than the people who read the printed newspaper.
The first of several mistakes we made in covering this breaking story was to share on our website a Facebook Live feed of a young man recording the gathering crowd in North Toledo and what people were saying. The man repeated over and over that police had shot a “young boy,” a “16-year-old boy,” telling his Facebook audience that “someone said” the boy was kneeling in the street when “the police” shot him.
None of that was true.
This man was not a reporter, was not a trained journalist, and in our haste to “get something up” we grabbed his Facebook video and shared it. This video was removed as soon as we heard from police they had shot a 25-year-old armed-robbery suspect.
The second mistake was a headline written by a web editor at 10:12 p.m. Friday: “Police gun down man in North Toledo.”
At 10:53 p.m. a reporter covering the story changed the headline to: “Police shoot and kill man during pursuit in North Toledo.”
In this case the editor was wrong. “Gun down” is inflammatory language that shouldn’t be used in a sensitive breaking news story.
What you need to know, and even I find amazing, is that according to The Blade’s computer system the web story about this tragic incident Friday night changed almost 100 times throughout the evening, with editors and reporters covering the story jumping in and out of the story, updating it as more details came into the newsroom.
The next error in judgment on Friday night was the main headline over the story on Page 1 of Saturday’s Blade: “25-year-old shot dead by police in N. Toledo” in 64-point bold type, what we call a “play head” reserved for the biggest and most important stories. Although accurate, the headline didn’t explain why the police shot the man — that he was a suspect in multiple armed robberies, he was running from police, and that he had a gun.
We heard from many supporters of the police about how unfair the headline was. This was a case where the headline was accurate, but I believe not fair to police because it didn’t portray what was really going on. Writing good headlines is one of the hardest things newspapers do, especially on deadline, but that’s what we’re paid to do, night after night.
The next, and bigger error in my opinion, happened Saturday night. The race of the victim and the race of the officer who shot him were included in one of the follow-up stories for Sunday’s Page 1. It was not necessary, and it was wrong to include it.
Many readers were enraged that the story allowed the shooting victim’s family to say he had big dreams that were cut short. It’s important to allow the family to comment, but to allow them to say what a great guy he was without including his criminal background was wrong.
The story came in late and by the time I saw it on the pages the first edition presses were already running. I called the news editor and told him to delete any references to race from the story, but by that time it was too late.
The story was changed for the final edition, and those 69,000 papers had no reference to the race of those involved.
Social media has been full of comments about how The Blade purposely delivered papers to the central city of Toledo saying the officer who did the shooting was white, but we took that fact out of the stories sent to the suburbs.
Kurt Franck, executive editor of The Blade along with being its president and general manager, said the first edition is delivered to outlying circulation areas, and to stores, newsstands, and Blade boxes throughout the area, including central city Toledo. The final edition is delivered to home delivery subscribers in the city and the suburban area.
“We did not purposely send the inappropriately edited story to the central city. That was never our intention. Lessons were learned. This was truly a consequence of our production and distribution process,” he said.
Even though there were more than a dozen reporters, photographers, and editors handling this story, I am responsible for the news that is published by The Blade and I take that job seriously. I’m sorry that mistakes were made.