Grammar Girl recently addressed this topic in "Present Tense in a Story." Her basic thesis was that the tense of the verb sets an expectation that may or may not adhere to the situation. If I say, "Her name was Susan," does that imply that it no longer is Susan? You might be setting someone up to think she's either dead or married since! For that reason, even if it is "right" it may seem wrong, because it connotes a change, even if technically it doesn't denote one. What Grammar Girl does not say is that English actually lacks the ability to properly express this condition.
The truth is that this situation calls for an aorist verb - one that began in the past and may or may not be continuing. Aorists are the "non-temporal" verb. They are unmarked in respect to time. They say "it doesn't really matter when this action occurred."
Greek uses this extensively - especially in the New Testament. English, like most Latin and Germanic languages lacks this, however. As such, either the past or present tense (or even a present progressive or past progressive) is valid, because we do not have a single case that covers both.