A tribute to Toledo Free Press

toledo free pressIt’s a sad day for fans of independent media. Toledo Free Press, a gutsy independent weekly just an hour south of here, has ceased publication after 10 years of fighting battles that needed to be fought and saying things that needed to be said.

Toledo Free Press wasn’t afraid to make waves. Founding editor Michael Miller regularly picked apart the rival daily’s stories and editorials in his weekly column; his successor, Sarah Ottney, picked up the torch when a Blade columnist labeled Woodville “the worst little town in Ohio” and she penned this no-holds-barred defense of her family’s hometown. And then there was the time the Toledo City Council inexplicably voted to bar a new charter school from opening up downtown. Publisher Tom Pounds devoted the entire front page to this editorial blasting the decision, calling it “stunning and arrogant” and dissecting the majority’s reasoning point-by-point. Not long after that, the council reversed itself.

Journalism should aim to make a difference. Toledo Free Press did that in spades.

But the newspaper wasn’t just a bomb-thrower. It was also a relentless booster of its home city, campaigning to rebuild Toledo’s pride. It’s appropriate the lead story in TFP’s final issue was headlined “Positively Toledo.” Toledo Free Press never flagged in its love for its city.

On a personal level, I was loosely affiliated with TFP as an occasional freelancer. I only wrote a handful of stories over the years, though, so most of my association with the Free Press came through assorted kindnesses done by the people who ran it. Michael left the job of news editor at The Daily Telegram shortly before I entered it in 2005; he took the time to meet me for breakfast one Saturday morning and talk to a brand-new 25-year-old manager about how to run a newsroom. And Tom was, in a sense, my boss when I worked as the advisor to the University of Toledo’s student newspaper. He serves on The Independent Collegian’s board of directors, and never failed to take my phone calls about everything from circulation problems to election advertising laws. Tom was unflaggingly generous with his time and his knowledge, and helped me navigate a lot of things that didn’t come easily to me.

I called this a sad day for fans of independent media, and it is. But the closing of Toledo Free Press shouldn’t take away from what it accomplished, and it shouldn’t make us give up on the idea that all of us better off when the news ecosystem is vibrant and full of diverse voices. I just discovered that TFP writer Jeremy Baumhower runs a site called IHeartGlassCity.com. Maybe his site will be the next Batavian or Fayetteville Flyer or Cary Citizen. Maybe somebody else’s will.

We are all stronger with independent media in the mix. For 10 years, Toledo Free Press was part of that picture. Hopefully Tom and Michael and Sarah’s example can inspire other ventures and something new can rise from the ashes.