First, let us start off the column by saying that we did not lose any lawsuits to The Tennessean recently. Frank Sutherland is not offering Desperately Tim Chavez's job. And there is no Gannett stock at stake.
With those disclaimers out of the way, it's time to concede that The Tennessean has done a really good job lately just covering local news. At times, the paper shows flashes of its old selfcrusading, pesky, in people's faces and even influential.
It starts with the paper's Metro coverage. Reporters Brad Schrade and Anne Paine have been relentless in their coverage of the Metro Council. During the budget hearings, they busted the ever-bumbling legislative body for a pair of secret and illegal deliberations. They stressed that despite the body's self-congratulatory rhetoric, the council passed a budget that was more or less identical to the one the mayor submitted. They chronicled the council's petty and mean-spirited preoccupations over the reappointment of lesbian Maria Salas to the Metro Human Relations Commission.
Finally, Paine penned a priceless piece on Ludye Wallace after the loco council member sponsored an inane bill regulating lawn care. She noted how the overgrown brush in his own yard violated the provisions of his bill and that he didn't really know anything about what was in the legislation he proposed. Busted and shown to be the loony tune he plays twice a month on Channel 3, Wallace resorted to a timeworn charge. He called the newspaper "racist."
Also, in their never-ending stories about the Davidson County Election Commission, Paine and Schrade basically made it impossible for administrator Michael McDonald to keep his job. And that's a good thing. The commission canned the likable, honest and in-over-his-head McDonald earlier this month, after The Tennessean chronicled a series of mishaps from missed federal deadlines to questions about the office's voter rolls. Every media outlet in town, including the Scene, has followed their reporting.
Granted, the Metro Council and the election commission are low-hanging fruit. But that doesn't really matter. Good reporters don't suffer fools gladly. They shine the spotlight on them, so the fools' silly little schemes never come to fruition.
Schrade and Paine haven't done all the good work. Rob Johnson is mining compelling stories out of the federal court docket, and Ian Demsky is a diligent and creative police reporter. Michael Cassyes, we can't believe it eitherbroke just about every single story on TSU president James Hefner's doomed fight to keep his job.
There's Richard Lawson, who in his coverage over the debate on how to use the old thermal plant site, has included the kind of telling details that you don't typically read in most broadly brushed news stories. Leon Alligood is Leon Alligood. Finally, when columnist Gail Kerr writes about local politicsand only when she writes about local politicsshe is an entertaining must-read.
Meanwhile, the sports section also has been extra sharp latelybreaking the story that Ohio State was interviewing Kevin Stallings about its open men's basketball coaching job. ESPN.com even cited The Tennessean in its reporting of the story.
Desperately isn't in any way convinced that the paper's recent workmanship represents a Renaissance. Fundamental problems remain. The upcoming redesign threatens to make the paper look (even more) like a low-rent USA Today. The paper's editorials are about as tough as Laura Bush. It's been years since it published an investigative story that mattered. Tim Chavez and Brad Schmitt remain on the payroll. No one has told Joe Biddle that if he spent more than 20 minutes on his Sunday column, he wouldn't necessarily have an aneurysm.
Still, it's been encouraging to see The Tennessean throw its weight around like a daily should. It's worth noting that most Tennessean reporters who have been doing the heavy lifting are in their 20s and 30s. Hopefully, Frank will keep them off the Gannett Kool-Aid.
No way Jose
OK, we now return to our regularly scheduled programming: On Tuesday, in a Tennessean story about how Tennessee's new driver's license law discriminates against Hispanics, the daily identified the lawyer for the plaintiff as Jose Gonzalez. Actually, his first name is Jerry. The story did not refer to Gov. Phil Bredesen as Bubba.
There are approximately two reporters left at The City Paper? Well, not quite, but almost. Last week, sports editor Craig Ladd left the paper after an 18-month stint. In late May, the free daily laid off reporters Colleen Creamer, Megan Moriarty and night editor Danny Murphy. Shortly after, publisher Tom Larimer, who had been on the job for all of three months, quit to take that dream post otherwise known as the director of the Arkansas Press Association. After him, Lisa Davis, the paper's office manager, and founder Brian Brown's trusted lieutenant, quit. Recently, City Paper editor Catherine Mayhew penned an editorial assuring readers and advertisers that the paper was doing just fine. Kind of puts the paper's follow-up editorialwe're not kidding herethe one praising the "maturity" of the Metro Council in context.
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