The following column should have appeared the week of April Fool’s Day but got bumped by the even more foolish, but true, incident of Scene editor Bruce Dobie’s threatened arrest for trying to get copies of old clips from The Tennessean library.
So, here’s a farewell spoof (see “Ends” below) dedicated to my favorite local daily.
[The first two paragraphs, by the way, are true.]
Not long after publicly criticizing The Tennessean’s coverage of local news, Scene editor Bruce Dobie sent an e-mail to the paper’s media critic:
“Is it just my imagination,” he asked, “or is The Tennessean suddenly running local stories across the front page like crazy? Started about 10 days ago. Did they do another focus group or something? I got a suspicion they did. bd.”
“According to my sources,” the omniscient critic answered, “your off-the-cuff comment provoked an emergency conference in the news room.” Using a mini-cam hidden in a Gannett tote bag, the Scene can now reveal the inner workings of a once pretty good newspaper:
“Dobie’s right, of course,” managing editor Dave Green began. “We need more local news.” As an eager-to-please, Native American intern rolled her wheelchair over to the blackboard and added “local news” to the list of “Key Topics,” the assembled staff began a three-hour discussion over how many times a week local news should appear in the newspaper.
Despite some initial enthusiasm for the idea, however, turf conscious editors soon pointed out that so-called “local news,” while perhaps of interest to a segment of elite, Nashvillecentric readers, should not crowd out important features like “Shortcuts,” “Health and Fitness,” and “Adopt-a-child,” all of which the editors at Gannett really, really liked. And besides, they argued, everybody knows that readers get their local news from television, so who needs to put it in the paper?
“You’re right, of course,” repeated Green, having long forgotten Dobie, “and besides, this is what the editors at Gannett really, really like.”
But just as city editor Gail Kerr, the last advocate for local news, had given up hope, she heard the distant notes of an old song. As the music grew louder, a hush fell over the room as they recognized the half-forgotten words of “Abraham, Martin, and John.”
The Old One had returned.
“You must put local news in the newspaper,” John Seigenthaler said in his gentle but authoritative voice. Turning to Green, he spoke softly but his eyes shone with ancient power.
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
“You’re right, of course,” said Green, wondering silently what the hell the Old One was talking about. “From now on, local news will be in the paperalmost every day.”
As the music and the Old One faded away, Green directed that each reporter attend a six-week training session on where to find local news, established a weekly quota of local news stories, and announced an annual contest for the best essay on “What is local news, anyway?”
“And from now until our next planning meeting,” he ordered, “there shall be a local news story across the top of the front page every day.”
“But Dave,” Kerr mildly objected, “is KDF going country really more important than starting a war over Kosovo?”
“Silence Kerr,” Green said, “our focus groups say people don’t care what happens in Crossville.”
Inspired by Green’s forceful leadership, the editors clapped and cheered as they left the room on their way to other, even longer meetings.
“Ssssssssh,” whispered Beverly, the editor’s secretary, as the crowd passed her desk. “You’ll wake Frank.”
This will be my last regular column for the Scene. Editor Bruce Dobie has decided it’s time to let someone else trip the landmines in “Desperately Seeking the News.” I expect the paper may use an in-house staffer. There are several who could do it well.
My law firm (Boult, Cummings, Conners & Berry) and my clients are looking forward to getting more work out of me. I suspect Dobie and Scene publisher Albie Del Favero are looking forward to not being called “bizpigs” in their own newspaper.
I’m looking forward to weeks without deadlines, watching CNN instead of the local news, and being able to socialize in public once again with my friends in the media.