Best of Nashville 2009: Politics and Media 

Best Antidote to Metro Council Cavemen:
Megan Barry
Barry never really had to say much at all about her bill to ban workplace discrimination against gay and lesbian city workers. It was as though she cast a spell on the council knuckle-draggers who have prevented progress in this city so many times. And the bill passed easily, with very little fuss. "As a representative of Metro government, I think it's an embarrassment that we don't already have this law to protect employees," Barry said. "This is not cutting edge stuff. These protections have become, if anything, common and mainstream." Was that actually a sweet breath of reason coming out of Tennessee politics? JEFF WOODS

Best PR Guy:
Joe Pagetta, NPT/Nashville Film Festival
Like Elaine Wood, the Nashville PR veteran and event planner whose calls are always returned, Pagetta is successful first and foremost because people enjoy talking to him. He understands where different media outlets are likely to see the interest in his causes, so editors and reporters never feel he's wasting their time; he's also mastered the art of the gentle push, winning people over to his causes with informed enthusiasm. Both NPT and the Nashville Film Festival have benefited enormously from his efforts; we might give the edge to the festival, just because his vast improvement of the event's publicity has made a big difference in the way it gets covered now. JIM RIDLEY

Best Local Public-Affairs TV Host:
Bob Mueller, This Week With Bob Mueller
The age of media consolidation has turned the local public affairs show into the television version of the dodo bird in most cities. Fortunately, Nashville's WKRN-Channel 2 offers its own look at key issues and stories with This Week With Bob Mueller at 9 a.m. Sundays. Veteran anchor and journalist Mueller has the steady professionalism and on-air presence necessary to conduct concise yet informative interviews on the run with local, state and regional personalities. Like its network counterpart with George Will, WKRN has a right-wing pundit—Steve Gill—who dispenses GOP talking points while being billed as a "news analyst." That flaw aside, the program is essential for viewers seeking a local view on prime news events. RON WYNN

Best Pilot Idea:
The Vault, WSMV-Channel 4
You'd think the smash success of NPT's "Memories of Nashville" documentaries would have shown Nashville's news channels what a goldmine they have stashed away in their archives. Yet one local news outfit a few years back reportedly chucked hundreds of hours of tapes in the trash because it needed the space. One person who sees the value of that footage is WSMV anchor and documentary filmmaker Demetria Kalodimos, who has pitched a series called The Vault that would revisit events and eras from Nashville history using the station's treasure trove of period footage. If WSMV has any reservations about the show's appeal, tell 'em to tune in NPT on pledge-drive night. JIM RIDLEY

Best One-Stop Blog:
In the olden days, there were hip young women who knew all the fun stuff happening in town. If you were lucky, one of them dated your brother, and she would come over once a week for dinner and tell you what you should not miss out on. Then you’d be stuck doing dishes while the cool kids made out on the couch. In these more civilized times, you can just read Nashvillest ( Morgan Levy and Christy Frink do a better job of making Nashville look like an interesting place to live than the Chamber of Commerce. BETSY PHILLIPS

Best New (Old) Newspaper:
The Nashville Retrospect
Nashville history junkies, meet your new best friend, courtesy of publisher and former editorial cartoonist Allen Forkum. It's a pretty ingenious idea: If print newspapers are an antiquated notion—as most print newspapers seem convinced—why not start one as a nostalgia enterprise aimed at aging readers? Toward that end, each issue is stocked with reprints from the Banner and Tennessean archives, supplemented with history columns, features about the origins of local street names, and more of yesterday's news today. Want to know how Nashville received the moon landing? You'll find it here—and on the kind of big, wide, defiantly spacious pages that newsies used to hawk on street corners. Hold it, gripped like a sail between both hands, and sigh. JIM RIDLEY

Best Move Up the Dial:
Radio Free Nashville
As it gears up for its fifth anniversary on the air next April, the city's low-power community radio station has been given an extraordinary gift: a new frequency at 107.1 FM, which (unlike its current location) is clear of any competing signals. RFN is celebrating with a barn-raising Oct. 25 and 26, where volunteers will help hoist the station's new antenna and outfit its new office space. Radio Free Nashville has made it this far on the goodwill of volunteers and a budget that wouldn't pay Clear Channel's coffee bill. Their making it this far has the happy side effect of shutting up all the sneering right-wingers who wanted to see the station fail. Call 662-8229 if you want to pitch in, and check out the schedule (or see how to contribute) at JIM RIDLEY

Best Radio Voice:
Fred Buc, Radio Lightning
Most on-air voices these days are loud and obnoxious, assaulting our ears with lame jokes and sexual innuendo only a junior high schooler would enjoy. That's why Lightning 100's Fred Buc wonderfully bucks the trend. With his conversational calm and steady tongue, Buc skips all the nonsense, studio sound effects and self-aggrandizing lip and just...well, talks to us. As host of the Saturday-morning staple Retro Lightning, he draws attention to himself only with what he's saying, not how he's saying it—and when he rattles off the top TV shows of 1978, listeners amazingly feel like they've learned something. When was the last time you felt that way after listening to Bob & Tom? VINCENT TROIA

Best Local Country Music Blogger:
Jim Malec,
At the country music website, Malec writes so well you don't know whether to be delighted just to read him or jealous that you don't have that kind of talent. He's rough on country music in the way that only a person who loves and thinks deeply about an art form can be. He's also not afraid to sit down and interview local villain John Rich without backtracking from the tough things he's said about the Scene's favorite celebrity target. Malec is headed to the Czech Republic for a bit, so look for him next year to be named Prague's best local country music blogger. Our loss. BETSY PHILLIPS

Best Local Twitter Feed (Print):
Michael Cass, The Tennessean
Michael Cass covers Metro Nashville for the morning daily. He can also be found on Twitter @tnmetro. While Twitter is mostly the social-networking equivalent of a smoke break for people who get it (and inexplicable to those who don't), Cass has managed to strike the right tone of authoritative and informative. Whatever's going on in Metro, Cass is usually keeping his followers abreast of it in real time. The thing Cass does best, though, is to take the concerns of his Twitter followers directly to the people he can access that regular Joes can't. He's not just reporting, he's listening to—and asking questions for—his readers. BETSY PHILLIPS

Best Local Twitter Feed (TV):
Christine Maddela, WKRN
While she has won her share of awards for her in-depth, multi-part series on subjects such as the Tennessee Minuteman, what the weekend anchor and reporter is best known for online is her use of Twitter. Sure, everyone has a Twitter account these days—but have they ever broken one of the city's biggest stories with it? Maddela has. While every news organization in town was scrambling get news of Steve McNair's death to their various platforms, Maddela was widely credited with being first—on Twitter. It's not all about serious journalism, though. Maddela tweets about her dogs, her trainer, she even tweets during the newscast—just because she can. We've never seen the camera catch her midtweet. But we keep watching—and waiting. A.C. KLEINHEIDER

Best Show of Political Hardball:
Rep. Jimmy Naifeh
When the Democrats went looking for that final vote to keep Naifeh with his hand on the speaker’s gavel, they came up empty. But they did find a solution that would at least keep Jason Mumpower’s hand off it. Whoever truly first proposed the idea, we’ll never really know. But whether it was Kent Williams who made the counteroffer the Democrats couldn’t refuse, or whether it was Naifeh who cooked up the nuclear option just to incinerate the Republicans’ dreams of a conservative speaker, the move was hardball at its hardest. Some say Jason Mumpower is still reeling nearly a year later from the beanball pitch Naifeh aimed at his head. A.C. KLEINHEIDER

Best Local Women's Health Blog:
Women's Health News
Okay, Rachel Walden may have the only local women's health blog, but we shouldn't hold the lack of competition against her. At Women's Health News (, you can read tales of woe about women who have lost Tampons, you can keep track of the latest anti-women bills in the state legislature, and you can get good and entertaining information about women's health. We're not the only ones to notice how great Walden is. After a brief stint as a guest blogger at Our Bodies, Ourselves, they asked her to come on as an official co-blogger. BETSY PHILLIPS

Best Roman A Clef Blog:
Sorry for Partyin'
Partying is a universal theme, "the ultimate excuse for bad behavior," says Kelli Craig. The stylist, boutique proprietor, sometime standup comedian and former Raconteurs life partner started a blog in July (, as a companion piece to an as-yet-unpublished book of short stories. Each post details what she calls "adventures," good-time shenanigans that those involved "regretted, but not too much." They read like a cross between literature and blind gossip items, while addressing tricky etiquette questions: What to do after you've lured a hot busboy to your loft for a nonexistent cocaine party? How do you figure out if your convenience-store clerk is a narc? Fake guest bloggers and pseudonyms like "Rat Tail" abound, but Craig insists that the stories are 90 percent factual. EMILY BARTLETT HINES

Best iPhone App Developed by Some Local Dudes:
Local secret geniuses and all around computer gurus Jackson Miller and Nicholas Holland claim to have no viral marketing campaign for gpsAssassin, but it's virtually impossible to be on Twitter and not hear someone talking about how great it is. Now it's not just the local online community, but folks like TechCrunch who are calling gpsAssassin "the iPhone's next highly addictive hit game." The idea is simple enough: By using GPS, players can virtually attack other players who are near them in real life. And it's that simplicity which seems to have ensured that it's a hit, though the price—free—surely doesn't hurt. BETSY PHILLIPS

Best Jimmy Stewart Imitation in Tennessee Politics:
Rep. Kent Williams
Just like in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Williams started as the handpicked stooge of the political establishment. In January, in a bargain with the 49 House Democrats, he shocked the Capitol by snatching the speaker's gavel by a single vote—his own. He was kicked out of the Republican Party as punishment. But since then, he has proven himself a decent, common-sense guy with the bizarre idea that legislators should come to Nashville, vote their consciences and then go home. JEFF WOODS

Best Reason to Give the Republican Party One More Chance:
Rep. Beth Harwell
Harwell came across as a reasonable grown-up leader in the legislature this session—meaning she was skating on very thin ice with the Republican Party. She voted against allowing guns into bars. She led the move to dismiss a pointless ethics complaint against House Speaker Kent Williams, forcing crybaby Republican leaders to succumb to her wishes in the interest of bipartisan cooperation. Then she told then-GOP chair Robin Smith not to kick Williams out of the party. Smith ignored Harwell. Now, guess what? The party is thinking about taking back Williams because he's one of the most popular politicians in the state. JEFF WOODS

Best Country Wiseacre in the Legislature:
Rep. Frank Niceley
A wisecracking farmer from Strawberry Plains, Niceley has never lived down his brilliant utterance, "It's not exactly rocket surgery." This year, though, he helped found the "country boy" Republican House caucus, which promptly admitted Speaker Kent Williams in defiance of the GOP establishment. Niceley knew that with Williams on their side, Republicans could finally boast a majority. "Country boys can count to 50," Niceley explained. "Those city boys can only count to 49." Then he proposed that gubernatorial candidates stage debates next fall in each of the state's 99 counties—a move that would force the candidates to actually meet the voters and show some grasp of the issues. "It'd be kinda like going back to the days of Davy Crockett, when he was running against that peg-legged fella," Niceley said. We didn't know what he meant, but it was funny. JEFF WOODS

Best Web Monkeys at the Capitol:
Burney Durham and Russell Humphrey
The Tennessee legislative website was named the best in the country this year. The National Conference of State Legislatures said the site——stood out for its ease of navigation, depth of content and openness, and availability of information to the public. As soon as the award was announced, politicians took credit. But insiders knew who really deserved the praise: Burney Durham, longtime clerk of the House of Representatives, and Russell Humphrey, the Senate clerk. JEFF WOODS

Best Political Reporter:
Ed Cromer, The Tennessee Journal
Every week, Cromer writes the insiders' bible of state government and politics. His reports are full of insight and institutional knowledge that only a savvy veteran can provide. He's first with the big picture on policies and trends. Past editions of his journal are like library reference material. Plus Cromer, the consummate gentleman, is never flustered or angry, and he treats everyone with respect—a rarity in today's blog-driven loudmouth media. JEFF WOODS

Best Comeback:
A.J. McCall
When last we saw the scion of the Wilson County appliance empire, he was running for the state House when someone unearthed his DUI arrest records, documenting a drunken attempt to coax a lady into his van in a Walmart parking lot. Oops. That didn't stop ol' A.J., though—he's back for more this year running for state Senate. Several Republican legislators hosted a fundraiser for him, even though he's running a primary challenge against one of their own, Rep. Susan Lynn. So while it's no slamdunk McCall will reach the state Senate, the fact that he has convinced the GOP powerbrokers to let him give it another whirl is a comeback story in and of itself. A.C. KLEINHEIDER

Best Scandal:
Sen. Paul Stanley
No surprise on this one. In a flameout of epic proportions, the holy-rolling, gay-adoption-opposing state senator was not just caught cheating on his wife with an intern, but with an intern who A) had a past drug conviction, B) a husband in jail and C) a boyfriend on the outside who decided to dabble in extortion. While Stanley did not actually get caught with the proverbial dead girl or live boy, he came close enough. Whatever you might think of his legislative chops, one thing Paul Stanley can do is unravel a political career in a hurry. Kudos, sir. Kudos. A.C. KLEINHEIDER

Best Power Play:
Rep. Brian Kelsey
They say the hardest primary campaign is the one you run in unopposed. We don't know how Brian Kelsey went from a young punk putting bacon in envelopes on the House floor to securing a Republican nomination for state Senate with no pushback from the establishment—and, frankly, we don't wanna know. But we are pretty sure it involved some hardcore gangster maneuvering to ensure he didn't have to face another Republican in his journey to the seat. For that, Kelsey gets the nod for best political power play—even if we are not exactly sure how he did it. A.C. KLEINHEIDER


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