'Citizen Journalist' Quotes Deceased Couple in Oakland Press Article

November 28, 2012, 8:35 PM by  Alan Stamm

Oakland Press editors "will fully investigate" an error-marred article by a clergyman who has contributed free articles for four years on religion and social service topics.

Tuesday coverage of the final worship service at St. Dennis Catholic Church in Royal Oak says "Tom and Mary Jo Hurley of Madison Heights listened" to the mass, which brought a comment under the article from their son:

Rev. Lawrence M. Ventline

"Unless resurrected for the last service, my parents have been deceased for years," posted Tim Hurley of Royal Oak, a former altar boy at the church and student for eight years at its school. His mom passed away in 1991 and his dad died six years later.

He learned about the story by the Rev. Lawrence M. Ventline, right, shortly after publication. 

"A friend from my high school graduating class (Lamphere 1972) called early Tuesday morning," Hurley recounts via email. "He said; 'Timmy, I thought both your parents had passed. You better read what the Oakland Press printed.' "

The son's emotions included disbelief, anger and sadness. 

"The grief hit while trying to compose a response without using profanity," he says. "A flood of memories came rushing in." 

The Oakland Press sent a two-sentence response to three e-mailed questions. 

"We're looking into this. We will fully investigate this," says Julie Jacobson Hines, local news editor.

Layoffs that began in 2005 have decreased newsroom staffing at The Press, a squeeze felt at papers nationwide. The Journal Register Co., its parent, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring in September -- the second time it did so in three years. Its newspapers increasingly rely on what they call "community journalism" to provide content.

Tim Hurley Of Royal Oak, 43
Tim Hurley of Royal Oak

Tim Hurley right, also challenges background in the second paragraph, which says:

St. Dennis was home for 62 years to Eastwood Clinic [and] multiple 12-step groups of Alcoholics Anonymous . . .

Hurley notes in his message: "Eastwood Clinic moved into the convent in 1986, not 62 years ago."

Ventline, a 63-year-old priest from Harrison Township, addressed questions about his article – loudly at first – in a pair of phone conversations.

"What business is it of yours?" he asked initially in response to an inquiry about how he thought he met the late Hurleys. "Why are you bothering me? I already spoke to the editor."

Ventline attended the church's last service, he says, and after interviewing the man seated next to him asked the man to write down his name and that of his wife. That's how the Hurleys' names were used, as Ventline tells it. "I was sitting next to them," according to Ventline.

Without knowing that, Tim Hurley suggested this explanation: "I was able to piece together that the guy had 'interviewed' or at least talked to my brother Dan." 

Dan Hurley apparently had mentioned his parents in talking to Ventline and wrote their names on Ventline's paper, and they wound up in the article as being in the church rather than as former parishioners.

In any event, Ventline insists any errors aren't his. "Whoever edited it condensed and took out a lot," he says. "My editor screwed it up."

Oak Press HedThe writer -- a Press contributor since August 2008, according to digital archives – says his work usually is handled by Hines or online editor Stephen Frye, a former police and courts reporter at the Press. He assumes Hines edited the latest contribution.

"I'm a citizen journalist," Ventline says. "I do this for the community good."

A biographical note below the article uses the title reverend and identifies him as a doctor of ministry, "a pastor, a board-certified professional counselor, and a former first executive director of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights."

In contrast, Royal Oak Patch covered St. Dennis' farewell worship ceremony with a paid professional journalist. The parish merged last June with St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Madison Heights as part of an archdiocese consolidation plan for financial reasons.

[This article has been corrected to add an "e" at the end of Stephen Frye's name and to remove a reference to The Daily Tribune, which reposted The Oakland Press content.

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